“Reduce, reuse and recycle” seems to be at the heart of Toy Story 3‘s “environmental” theme. This is the first of 3 posts that considers how this theme is worked out in the third instalment of the Toy Story saga.
The first Toy Story film was released when I was a tween. In 1995 I was more eager to be seen putting lipstick on myself than on a Barbie. Chaperoning an annoying younger sibling was the only socially redeemable excuse for going to watch that “doll film”, and being the youngest in my family meant that I had no excuse. Suffice to say, the Toy Story craze blissfully passed me by. That was, however, until the call of a warm summer breeze and the company of good friends at the outdoor cinema trumped my prior reservations about the Toy Story franchise. So began my first and as yet only taste of the adventures of Woody and Buzz in Toy Story 3.
What struck me, almost as forcefully as my hand smacking blood-thirsty mosquitoes from my legs, was the film’s preoccupation with some of the effects of mass production; particularly, the loss of authenticity, and problems resulting from waste (incineration versus recycling). The first of these, loss of authenticity, seems to be more a problem of identity than the environment, but what I’m going to try and demonstrate is how I see the film tying together the themes of loss of authenticity and the production of waste via the character of Lotso (who is a toy bear), and his psychological reaction to being replaced. The irony, I think, is that his reaction sees him reproduce the social hierarchies that feed into the social structures that made him replaceable in the first place.
First, Lotso’s backstory.
In this scene, Lotso is shown to have been initially unaware of his replaceability. The love affair is between him, the particular Lots-o-huggin bear called Lotso, and the little girl. Lotso sees his value as located in himself, not in his function as a huggable toy. Yet, this is the exact opposite of the little girl’s perspective who is more interested in a toy to hug than the particular toy called Lotso. Lotso’s lot, so to speak, enters over this difference. That is, the difference between being an object with a unique and authentic identity, and being that object’s indistinguishable copy.
It is because of the cycle of mass production which drives (conspicuous) consumption which drives mass production, and so on, that “Lotso changed that day”. His locus of identity and value, namely, being the girl’s favourite toy, was destroyed by mechanical reproduction which underpins modern capitalism. Mechanical reproduction rendered the uniqueness of his identity secondary and unimportant compared to his function.
However, Lotso’s response is not to “fight” the system that has so devalued his unique identity. Instead he seeks to lick his wounds by reproducing the logic of capitalism where lots-o’ stuff (and stuffing in Lotso’s case) equals lots-o’ power and value. He acquires this power by becoming kingpin at Sunnyside Day Care Center, which allows him to reassert his value by being more powerful than the other toys. Being able to dominate and control other toys through the deployment of his authority, knowledge, size and minions, is integral to his sense of worth.
In other words, the desire to amass and be in control of more things, which underpins the mass production that robbed him of his unique identity and value in the first place, is the very system he uses to re-establish his sense of value. Lotso thus seems to stand as a metaphor for the accumulation of power through the accumulation of goods (a capitalist socio-economic model) with no concern for social justice—he “jails” toys who do not acquiesce to the logic and order of the system.
In the next Toy Story 3 post I’ll consider how the characterisation of the heroes, Woody and Buzz, contrasts with that of Lotso. Then, in a final Toy Story 3 post, I’ll discuss how these characterisations, in combination with the plot dovetail, in the rubbish-dump/incinerator scene to promote an “environmental” message.