How Toy Story Messed Up My Mind Forever

Bogey, my orangutan plush doll from the Shirt Tales TV series sits on my arm chair, staring at me. He is my buddy and a comfort when I need to hide from the world, yes even as a grown-ass adult. His stare is discomforting. Does he remember that I just accidentally let him fall behind the headboard where he remained upside down and squished for nearly two weeks? Is he judging me? Was he in pain? Is he emotionally upset?

Or is he just a soft lump of cotton and polyester filling bundled in cloth fabrics with synthetic hair poking out at wild angles? His eyes are plastic knobs. His faded tag still protrudes from his backside.

I watch and he doesn’t move. Not even the faintest change of expression on his sweet face. Maybe that’s because he can’t move. Whatever terrible, great, awful spell is cast upon him, and every other toy in the universe, has his expression locked like stone. And then that notion is horrifying. Could it be that he is paralyzed with waking thoughts every time I’m in the room? That would make a mind insane. What kind of horrible curse or panoply of gods could allow a sentient being to be locked in such a way?

He must hate me. Of course he must. My own fuzzy little Weeping Angel.

And now my rage returns to me that films like Toy Story ever put such questions in my head. And worst of all, that the stories made the “toys come to life when humans aren’t looking” scenario seem delightful and fun when it’s a horrifying nightmare that has bothered me since childhood, warping my brain with every garage sale. Every charity donation. Every lost toy. Every broken toy. Every toy my parents threw away and I never got to say, “I’m sorry”.

Toy Story didn’t start this, of course. Sometime in the late 80s or so there was a TV movie that depicted this exact concept. I was a little too old to be the target audience for such a movie, but it was a dull December afternoon and we only had five channels. This was the best option and I barely chose it over silence. I was still a child, nonetheless, and I was instantly scarred by the possibility of such a hidden reality. Back then, I looked over to my Council of Elder stuffed animals. (Because, yes, I had a High Council and placed them in seats of honor accordingly.) No. They couldn’t come to life. But that would mean…they really did have power. I had created a hierarchy and granted invisible powers to some toys over others. And what was I to them?

From that day on, I had tremendous guilt issues over my plush animals and other various toys. And maybe just a little fear. Then Toy Story came to theatres, forever solidifying the mythos in my brain. There would never be an escape from viewing my toys (limited in number as they were by that point) as living beings with dreams and hopes and sadness. So much sadness. And maybe anger?

That’s one of the many problems with the Toy Story curse. It creates more questions than it provides answers. We are saddled with wretched guilt, quietly humming the song “When She Loved Me” into our pillows and thinking about the ones that got away. And yet we have no comfort or recourse. No answers.

Consider the Toy Story characters. It is implied that they don’t “come to life” until they are removed from their factory packaging. Millions of Buzz Lightyears all frozen and asleep. So when exactly do they get souls–or whatever force grants them sentience? Can they return to that stasis when put into a long-term storage box? (Asking for a friend.)

Here’s a big question that has always boggled me–which toys are sentient and which aren’t? We saw that a remote-controlled car can come alive, as can a lamp figure. Okay, they had eyes which gave them vision, I suppose. But that doesn’t explain the Speak & Spell. If Mr. Spell came alive, shouldn’t books also? By the way, I am now more afraid of my computer and phone than ever. And don’t get me started on the implications of Forky. How many pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks I have accidentally animated and tossed in the trash. I am a monster!

In theory, according to the Toy Story world, physical pain doesn’t seem to be a major issue. Legs and Roller Bob seem okay. Thank goodness. My daughter spent some crib-jailed months crying over her teeth-pierced gums and ripping the hair off of her teddy bear’s head with her mouth. He’s now bald on top.

Then again, they could be lying to us. Maybe there is grave pain. It could be good ol’ Disney propaganda. That one green army dude did seem to feel some pain once he was crunched by a foot. Sure, Woody could allegedly run around panicked with his damn arm detached, but Lotso walked with a limp and a crutch for years after a fall. An Lotso doesn’t even have any bones! How on earth is a boneless stuffed leg injury more consequential than an entire arm falling off and being sewn back on?

We haven’t even broached the notion of death. Perhaps it’s a blessing that such a life isn’t eternal. But how can it end? It is implied via Sid antics and a traumatizing incinerator scene that explosives or flames can kill a toy. But dismemberment doesn’t seem to be a deal breaker. I’m so confused. Maybe decapitation might kill them–sort of a vampire–type situation where there are “rules” on how to dispatch these creatures. Oh no, what if I’ve been living with a toy corpse? We might never be able to tell if our toy has perished and we are hugging a fuzzy cadaver. Or using batteries to power a corpse-on-wheels.

Worst of all, though, the damned movies acknowledge–and even emphasize–that emotional distress is real for toys. Crap. Three members of my original High Council are in a steamer trunk in my bedroom, packed away with books and blankets. Have I driven them mad? Yeah, according to fucking Toy Story, I have. Poor Hunny Bunny.

Maybe they don’t remember for too long. Woody doesn’t seem to recall a life pre-Andy, and he was clearly made in the 1950s. I doubt a little kid would get an antique doll in its original factory packaging, so Woody had previous “owners”. And now look, I’m having trouble calling us “owners” because it seems so derogatory toward the toys. Are you happy, Pixar? Back to the point, perhaps the toys can only remember a decade or two worth of memories. OR, maybe there is a stasis reset that happens when they’re put into long-term storage.

That’s about the best we can hope for at this point. That’s a sad statement. Sleep, my sweet little things. Sleep and do not remember the pain. Damn us all; we are overlords/demons/tormentors who create, torture, and destroy objects of comfort and fun.

Or maybe they are the demons. Angry, plotting, waiting. Chucky dolls all locked in time and space. One day we shall kneel before them in even rows as they blind each one of us so no toy will ever be stone-locked again. Then we will become the toys and dance for them all.

I cannot begin to understand what is real anymore. Tonight I will hug Bogey extra tight and hope that he forgives me and the powers on high for his damned life. Or maybe I’ll just hug a wad of polyfil-covered puppet fur and spiral into guilt and shame that never needed to exist, my brain tormenting itself over a ridiculous and manipulative children’s tale. I hate you, Toy Story.


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