Okay, yesterday I got Toy Story 3 from Netflix, finally, and I liked it, though I felt the way the toys ended up in day care relied on a very contrived string of circumstances. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Just now, I caught some of the original Toy Story on TV, and I was struck by how much the rendering technology has improved since then; the designs were still the same, but they look so much more real and less computer-animated now, even though the original looked very real by the standards of 1995. But that’s not what I want to talk about.
What bugs me about the plot of the first film (and there be spoilers here, if anyone hasn’t seen the film yet) is this: if Buzz Lightyear doesn’t know he’s a toy, why does he freeze and go limp when a human appears? Since Woody and other toys are able to move in front of a human in the climax, the freezing must be a voluntary act — or else it’s an involuntary act that can be overcome through conscious effort (like fighting off sleep, say). Woody refers to moving in front of a human as “break[ing] a few rules,” suggesting that it’s not even a reflex, but a matter of, I dunno, toy law or something. So either Buzz, unaware that he’s a toy, wouldn’t freeze in the first place, or he’d be puzzled by his involuntary paralysis and fight it off because he’s got an urgent mission to perform.
Conversely, we see that not only Buzz but numerous other toys in Sid’s possession fail or decline to resist the paralysis even at the cost of their own lives. If it’s just a socially dictated rule within the toy community, why would every toy be so legalistic as to obey it even unto destruction? And if it’s an irresistible compulsion, well, the obvious question is, how do Woody and the others resist it?
Hmm… come to think of it, maybe the toys who remain inanimate even at the cost of their lives are sacrificing themselves to keep the other toys’ secret. It’s an “I’ll never betray my people” sort of thing. That would make sense. If humans found out their toys were alive and autonomous, there’d be the panic, the labs, the dissections, the wholesale discrimination and/or extermination of a whole crepundial civilization, the works. (Crepundial, adjective, of or pertaining to toys. From Latin crepundia, a toy or plaything. Yes, it’s a brand new word, at least as far as Google can determine. Feel free to appropriate it for your own use, but if the OED comes a-calling, say you heard it here first.) But then, it could be argued that Woody was taking an enormous, irresponsible risk, endangering his whole society to save one action figure. And it still doesn’t explain Buzz’s observation of the paralysis rule when he didn’t know he was a toy. Maybe after he’d spent time with the other toys, he might have chosen to stay immobile on the assumption that the giant Andy mistakenly believed he was a toy and he didn’t want to jeopardize the other natives of this strange planet by calling attention to himself. But then, why did he stay immobile from the start, between the time he was unwrapped and the time he “woke up” on the bed?
Okay, now that I’m writing this out, I’m actually thinking of solutions. Maybe toy consciousness is something that takes a while to kick in. Maybe it isn’t activated until the first time a toy is alone after being removed from its packaging. So maybe Buzz simply wasn’t conscious until that moment. Although I think that hypothesis clashes with the toy store sequence in the second film. But maybe this Buzz was ordered by mail or online and shipped straight from the factory, and thus wasn’t on the shelf long enough to achieve consciousness.
So I started this post just to complain about a plot hole, and by the end of the post I’ve actually made substantial progress toward resolving it by overanalyzing the hell out of a cartoon. And I coined a neologism in the process. Truly this is a crowning moment of geekery for me.