Toy Story 3: An Illustration of Faith

            In the Summer of 2010, viewers nation-wide filled local theatres to cheer on Woody and The Gang in Toy Story 3. Premiering 15 years after the inaugural film, fans matured alongside the Disney Pixar trilogy creating an everlasting bond between audiences and beloved characters, which contributed to Toy Story 3 being the third highest grossing animated film (Box Office Mojo, “Animation”). As the culmination of the series, Toy Story 3 may appear as a traditional coming-of-age story, because the Andy and The Gang accept the inevitable reality of growing up. On the contrary, theological allusions of Christians’ faith to God can be ascertained through the toys’ lack of conviction to return to Andy, then punished at Sunnyside for lack of faith. The use of theological symbolization of characters and setting exemplifies Christian’s hardship in maintaining faith, crafting a religious allegory from the plot of Toy Story 3. Three key symbolic representations that will be analyzed are: Andy, Woody, The Gang and Lotso as religious figures in Christianity, setting as stages of life (hell, heaven, purgatory), and the combination of the two to emphasize importance of conviction.

An allegory is a typical literary device employing an extended metaphor to “convey on idea under the surface of another” (Nezami). It works as a narrative which suggests underlying themes, morals, or ideas not explicitly stated within any form of discourse. In the case of a religious allegory, the symbolic narrative concerns major figures, settings and stories of Christianity. For the purpose of this essay, the essential components of Christianity are: God, Jesus, Disciples, Devil, Heaven, Hell and their interconnected relationships. In Christianity, God is the omniscient creator of life and resides in Heaven with angels and devout followers. Jesus is God’s son and savior of the human race. A foil to Jesus is the Devil, who is the fallen angel that now rules Hell, the foil to Heaven, home of eternal punishment. These characters and settings are represented in the film through character relationships and storyline.

The iconic toys of the Toy Story series (Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Mr.  & Mrs. Potato Head, Hamm, Slinky Dog, and Barbie) face a major problem: Andy is moving to college and cannot bring all his beloved toys. Andy ultimately decides to only bring Woody and store the rest of the toys in his mom’s Attic. However, The Gang is mistakenly donated to Sunnyside Day Care Center where they are stranded in a foreign place. The toys feel betrayed, abandoned, and have no desire to return to Andy. Even though the toys are misplaced, Woody urges The Gang to return home for two reasons: 1) Andy loves them, 2) it is their duty to stick by Andy’s side. The toys ignore Woody’s pleas and remain at the seemingly hopeful daycare full of play, fun and love. Woody leaves Sunnyside in hopes of returning to Andy, but finds himself in a different yet wonderful environment- with Bonnie and her toys. Woody is incredibly happy and comfortable with his new family, but leaves it behind to save his old friends from corrupt Sunnyside. This daycare is where Lotso, the strawberry-smelling villain, strategically prohibits the newcomers’ freedom and happiness. Woody rescues the toys, leads them out of the hands of Lotso, and returns them back safely to Andy.  Although The Gang’s trust in Andy oscillates, they ultimately return and remain loyal by his side. In the end, Andy overturns his cherished friends to young Bonnie, as long as she promises to take care of them.

  1. Interconnected Relationships

The interconnectedness of Andy, Woody and the toys exemplifies the relationship between God, Prophet and followers. The most important figure of monotheism is God, who “has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and lives of people” and is the central figure of worship and faith (Merriam-Webster). Andy embodies these God-like elements because he has power, strength, and knowledge unknown to the toys all of which can affect their lives. Though Andy’s mom directed him to choose which toys to keep or donate, he alone is the sole decider of all the toys’ fate. On the other hand, the toys are loyal to Andy and completely at his will because they have no true control over their lives. They love and trust Andy to be a great owner, but at times become doubtful in his decisions which make the toys feel insecure. The toys experience extreme anxiety due to the unknown nature of Andy’s decisions, that Rex, the dinosaur, exclaims “Oh, I hate all this uncertainty…!” (Toy Story 3)[1].

            Woody acts as the liaison between the toys and Andy, just as a Prophet vocalizes God’s will to the disciples. Woody understands Andy’s true intentions of keeping the toys in the Attic and tries to convince the toys of the truth.  Woody urges them to remain faithful to Andy because their “job is to be there for him!”. In terms of loyalty, Woody is the perfect example for his friends. He also enlightens them of Andy’s intentions, just as a Prophet works to keep followers on their righteous path and remain faithful in their God. Furthermore, Woody is the only toy chosen to be taken to college, which is symbolic of Jesus being the Son of God to always remain by his side. However, with every role model there is a foil, and in Toy Story 3 it is Lotso.

Lotso’s deceitful, evil nature manifests a connection with Satan. Lotso’s sorrowful past personifies Lucifer’s falling. According to Chuckles, a toy who shared the same owner, Lotso was the favorite toy and that “Daisy loved us all, but Lotso…Lotso was special” illustrating how important he was. Sadly, Daisy forgot them in a field, and replaced Lotso, which left him devastated and changed. Chuckles states, “Lotso wasn’t my friend anymore…”. Additionally, he resembles a devilish figure, because he initially appears as sweet-smelling strawberry bear who is genuine and kind, but is truly manipulative and selfish. He tricks the toys into residing at Sunnyside forever and tortures these new family members accordingly to the corrupt system he has created. His deceitful nature and chicanery is reminiscent of the Devil, and Sunnyside daycare is where Lotos rules, just as Hell is where the Devil rules.

  1. Setting    

The toys’ overarching goal to return home in the face of tribulations illustrates how remaining with Andy embodies heavenly characteristics. Heaven is where God resides in the after-life, along with other righteous followers. It is not a sanctuary in which anyone can enter; only those who are truly loyal and righteous can enter this kingdom. Andy as the Supreme Being to the toys decides who remains in his attic, with him, or to be donated. The toys are extremely worried about their life after Andy leaves, and Mr. Potato Head exclaims, “Don’t you get it?! We’re done! Finished! Over the hill!” In response to the toys’ anxiety, Woody steps up and proclaims they not only knew this day was coming, but that “Andy held on to us. He must care about us or we wouldn’t be here. You wait – Andy’s gonna tuck us in the attic. It’ll be safe and warm,” then Buzz states, “And we’ll all be together.” The toys to do not find themselves in the attic, but in Bonnie’s hands, the young girl who rescued Woody for a short period of time. Her home is a manifestation of a Heaven because she is reminiscent of young Andy (a kid who truly appreciates and loves her toys), and all the toys remain together under one roof. Andy sees the potential of a lovely life for his beloved toys and hands them over in order to ensure their fate is completely secure. Because it was Andy’s final decision concerning the toys’ livelihood, it resembles the end of one life but the beginning of an afterlife, where there is eternal love and happiness. Before reaching this Heaven, the toys had to live through and escape hell-like prison, Sunnyside Day Care Center.

Lotso, symbolic of the Devil, is the sole controller of the day care center suggesting Sunnyside is Hell. The toys are warmly welcomed by Lotso and he empathizes with their troubles and tells them “Well, you’re safe now. We’re all casts-offs here,” meaning the day care center is place for the unwanted. Just as Hell is where sinners, casts-off, and those deemed unworthy are sent to be punished for their wrongdoings, Sunnyside also serves this purpose. The daycare is split between two rooms, big kids and toddlers, and the new toys are forced to play with toddlers. The toddlers are extremely rough, and oblivious which physically and spiritually hurts the toys and Buzz complains “I don’t recall play time being quite that strenuous.” Unbeknownst to the toys, Lotso has planned for this separation between new and old toys, in order to buffer himself and his friends from the overbearing playtime with toddlers. When they venture to seek equality with Lotso, they are imprisoned and forced to remain hostages in this day care center.

  1. Combination of Characterization and Setting

The toys’ lack of faith in Woody and Andy hindered their happiness which paradoxically motivates their return to Andy.  The toys pressure Woody into staying at Sunnyside and Jesse exclaims that he “can make a new kid happy!”. Woody refuses to listen to them. The toys feel abandoned due to their limited understanding of what happened, and Rex vocalizes his sadness and asks, “Maybe Andy doesn’t care about us anymore?” Woody, as the prophetic voice and knowledgeable figure, responds, “Of course he does! He cares about all of you! He was putting you in the attic- I saw it! You can’t just turn your back on him now.” Woody’s unwavering commitment to Andy and ceaseless encouragement among the toys to be loyal to Andy attributes to why he reaches salvation (Bonnie’s home) first. Just as Jesus died and came back to life, Woody’s departure from the day care center and back is a symbolic rebirth of knowledge and understanding of Heaven. He goes back to save the toys from their fate in Hell to bring them back to Andy, just as Jesus died for Christians’ sins so they can reach Heaven. Because the toys realize their misguided ways, they completely convert their attention and appreciation to Andy, and believe Woody’s righteous path is the correct way. The toys’ struggle of faith and punishment at Sunnyside is representative of Christian’s hardships in faith. They must face temptations and overcome them in order to remain loyal to their God. The test is not only to remain loyal to God, but to the Prophet, who may seem wrong at times. He always has the toys and Andy’s best interest at heart, just as Jesus had the best intentions for his followers and God.

The struggles the toys were forced to encounter reignited their appreciation for Andy and Woody which were ultimately rewarded. Such a story symbolizes a religious follower’s ongoing quest to remain a faithful Christian determined to enter Heaven. This allegory is important to note in an incredibly popular movie that has reached a wide audience. It brings to light certain ideologies that Disney Pixar films attempt to illuminate to audiences. But the critical question remains: is it appropriate for such a thing to occur with such a successful series and film? With such a highly grossing film, it can be inferred that audiences do not see the underlying religious messages at first, but are still absorbing the information. This paper attempted to show how a film can have religious sub-meanings, through symbolization of key religious figures and settings, and how Christian ideologies can be apparent in extremely popular works. If such is the case, it is necessary to critically view any animated series, as childlike as it may seem, in order to understand if it is simply a feel good story appropriate for children, or if there are underlying morals steering the youth. The question is not, is this an acceptable film for children to watch, rather: can film, as naïve as it may seem, have an inherent ability to symbolize important adult themes concerning religion thus perpetuate Christian ideologies. Perhaps future work can shine light upon more Disney films, or any animated film, to illustrate the messages these companies are trying to convey to their large supportive audience and the result it may have upon youth morals.

Works Cited

“Animation”. Box Office Mojo. IMDB, n.d. Web. 1 April 2014.

“God.” Merriam-Webster, 2014. Web. 1 April 2014.

Nezami, Syed Raihan Ahmed. “The use of Figures of Speech As A Literary Device- A Specific   Mode of Expression in English Literature.” Language In India 12.2 (2012): 659-679.             Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 1 April 2014.

Toy Story 3. Dir. Lee Unkrich. Perf. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen. Disney Pixar, 2010. Film.

[1] Toy Story 3. Dir. Lee Unkirch. Disney Pixar, 2010. Film. Unless otherwise noted, all quoted citations refer to this.