he critical moment in Toy Story
is Buzz Lightyear’s epiphany, the scene in which he discovers
that he is not really a space ranger charged with the awesome
responsibility of protecting the universe. He is, instead, a mere
toy, "a child’s plaything." This moment of awakening provides
a retort to Friedrich Nietzsche’s primordial believer: it
is enough that we love and care for those with whom we live; we
must not look to heaven for our raison d’Ítre.
The plot turns on the rivalry of two toys. Woody, an old fashioned
cowboy, is introduced to us as the incumbent. He has "been Andy’s
favorite since kindergarten." At the beginning of the movie, Andy
receives for his birthday a state of the art space-action figure
complete with retractable wings and laser cannons. Woody finds
his privileged position usurped by Buzz, who all but replaces
him as the object of Andy’s affection.
Woody, whose viewpoint we are meant to adopt, is a realist: he
sees the world as it truly is, without gloss. Even as he mouths
calming platitudes to his companions, Woody understands the true
nature of a toy’s life. Woody knows that toys may be discarded
or worse, that favor may be lost, that there is something to win
and something to lose. Buzz Lightyear appears on the scene claiming
to be "a member of the elite Universe Protection Unit of the SPACE
RANGER corps." Because this strikes Woody as preposterous, we,
the viewers, know that it is preposterous. Throughout the movie,
Woody may be observed alternately groaning and jeering at those
toys who believe "the palpably not true."
Buzz’s concern for the safety of the galaxy is taken as
a kind of misguided altruism; such high and lofty concerns divert
Buzz from seeing the immediate needs of those around him. What’s
more, the Galactic Alliance serves as a mere pretext, elevating
Buzz to a position of exaggerated importance: "Emperor Zurg has
been secretly building a weapon with the destructive capacity
to annihilate an entire planet. I alone have information that
reveals this weapon’s only weakness." Woody shares and is
vulnerable to this desperate, psychological need for identity
and purpose. Unable, however, to believe them, Woody cannot take
refuge in idle fantasies. He would find his purpose in the "real"
world of toys.
One of the most disturbing scenes involves the little three-eyed
aliens found at the arcade of Pizza Planet. Buzz enters the game
mistaking it for an actual rocket ship. Inside, he discovers a
large group of little toy aliens. When Buzz asks, "Who’s
in charge here?" the little toy prizes point upward to their god
and cry out, "The claw is our master." "The claw chooses who will
go and who will stay." Presently, one of the aliens is selected
by the claw. "I have been chosen!" the poor creature exclaims
as he rises heavenward, "Farewell my friends. I go on to a better
place." The camera immediately shifts to the diabolical features
of Cid Phillips, the sadistic child next door and villain of our
tale. This scene is awful because it is obvious to Buzz, Woody,
and the audience that this innocent rubber soul is tragically
deluded. He believes he is held in the benevolent "claw" of Providence.
In reality, he has become the property of a devil. "Nirvana is
coming," the alien whispers gleefully to his new companions. "The
mystic portal awaits." In the next scene, Woody and Buzz look
on in horror as Cid gives the space rocket prize to his dog for
a chew toy.
Eventually, Buzz’s moment of truth arrives. He sees a television
commercial advertising the Buzz Lightyear action figure, and it
is not a flying toy. Struggling to dismiss a flood of doubts,
he attempts to fly out of the window of the house in which he
and Woody find themselves trapped. The space ranger and his faith
crash to the floor below. The entirety of Buzz Lightyear’s
self-esteem had rested upon the proposition that he was engaged
upon a mission of unimaginable importance. The fate of the whole
universe lay upon his actions. At the terrible realization of
his true identity he is struck down with grief. The film reaches
its turning point as Woody explains to Buzz that his value does
not derive from his status as a spaceman. It is redundant to attempt
to find one’s purpose outside of the community of toys.
Our value lies in our ability to affect for good the lives of
those around us. As he and Woody make their escape from Cid’s
house, Buzz comes to terms with his loss of faith.
The implications of this toy parable are dark indeed. Like Buzz,
the believer gazes beyond the horizon to discover his ultimate
purpose. If he would but lower his eyes to his immediate surroundings,
so the argument goes, he would find he has no need for a gory
cross or a great commission. He would discover reason enough to
live "in here."
But Woody’s solution is a trick, a means of coping with
intolerable "truths." Far from setting us free, these awful truths
threaten to negate us; they threaten to reduce us to our constituent
molecules. Though we cannot say, "I will reason so far and no
farther," we are left with no choice but to try. Woody and Buzz
will not, by this means, avoid becoming hollow men, "leaning together,
Headpiece filled with straw."
Ultimately, it is Buzz Lightyear’s stumbling from the staircase
that offers the film’s deepest insight, as he shouts to
us the uber-Nietzschean motto of our post-secular condition:
"This isn’t flying! It’s falling with style!"
"To love man for God’s sake—that
has been the noblest and most remote feeling attained among
men. That the love of man is just one more stupidity and brutishness
if there is no ulterior intent to sanctify it; that the inclination
to such love of man must receive its measure, its grain of salt
and dash of ambergris from some higher inclination—whoever
the human being may have been who first felt and ‘experienced’
this, however much his tongue may have stumbled as it tried
to express such delicatesse, let him remain holy and venerable
for us for all time as the human being who has flown highest
yet and gone astray most beautifully!"
Beyond Good and Evil, Section 60