There’s something about Toy Story that is a little disturbing. And if you think about it, here’s the truth: Woody, the charming cowboy doll central to the machinations of the Toy Story epic is an irredeemable jerk. And not just because he knocked Buzz out the window that one time. He is the heartless villain at the center of this saga. Here’s why.
Let me ask you this – why is Woody Leader for Life of Andy’s toys? He’s voiced by Tom Hanks, so we assume he knows what he’s doing, but does he? Given the trauma the toys have gone through over the course of three movies you could argue he’s actually kind of terrible at his job. How many life-threatening “adventures” can Woody drag the group into before they give Mrs. Potato Head or the Slinky Dog a shot at running the show? Ah, but Andy’s room is not a democracy.
No, Woody is the leader because Andy, a basically omnipotent character in the Toy Story universe, has chosen him as the favorite. Woody is basically a cult leader, who spends his every spare breath talking about what Andy wants, what Andy needs, and why Andy wouldn’t like what you’re doing. At the beginning of Toy Story 3, Woody’s flock has long since been abandoned to the toybox, and yet he continues to insist on faith in the Almighty Andy. Woody is a preachy bastard, and like most cult leaders, he’s just making it up as he goes along. Aside from maybe getting a bit more play time than the rest, Woody has no special insight into what Andy does.
Of course, Woody zealously protects his position as playroom prophet. Woody’s beef with Buzz Lightyear in the first movie wasn’t just about jealousy. It was about power. Woody only relents and welcomes Buzz into the group once he submits and accepts a second-in-command position. This despite Buzz being, objectively, a much cooler toy. No one has seriously challenged Woody since. But maybe I’m being unkind casting Woody as a tiny fluff-filled Jim Jones. His heart might be in the right place!
Unfortunately, Woody hasn’t shown much empathy for those who aren’t his loyal followers. The Toy Story formula demands Woody come into contact with a new group of toys in every movie, and it always unfolds in the same way. He initially regards them with fear and suspicion, finds out they’re not so bad, then ditches them like a used Kleenex the moment it suits him. Sid’s mutant creations, the toys from Sunnyside Daycare, were all left by the wayside. Jessie and Bullseye get adopted because they’re part of Woody’s Roundup playset, but he even tries to ghost them at first. The new groups Woody and company run across are always depicted as victims of some form of trauma or neglect, and decent deep down, but they’re not followers of Andyism, so to hell with ‘em.
Woody doesn’t seem to particularly care for non-Andy humans either, regarding them with suspicion, bordering on outright contempt. In the first movie, Woody breaks the ultimate toy rule, revealing he’s alive in order to traumatize Sid, even though the kid wasn’t intentionally hurting anyone. Sure, he was “torturing” toys, but he had no idea they were alive. Wayne Knight’s character from Toy Story 2 is bad because he collects toys. The toddlers from Toy Story 3 are bad because they play like toddlers. I’m sure whoever owns the antique store seen in the Toy Story 4 trailer will be an irredeemable piece of fleshy trash in Woody’s eyes, too.
Worst of all, Woody has shown his compassion for his carefully maintained cult but only goes so far. In Toy Story 3, Andy’s remaining toys are going to be stuffed in a trash bag and consigned to a miserable purgatory in the attic. Woody just shrugs this off as he’s the one toy Andy has chosen to take with him to college. When push comes to shove, Woody only looks out for one guy…Woody. Granted, at the last moment, Woody breaks the toy code again, writing Andy a note that convinces him to donate his toys to the adorable Bonnie in one of the teariest Pixar moments of all time. You could read this as Woody having a change of heart and deciding his fellow toys were more important than his connection with Andy. Or you could see it as Woody finding a clever way to continue his grift. He wouldn’t have had anybody to boss around in some college dorm room, so he trades in Andyism for Bonnie-ism.
Clearly, Pixar intends him to be a likable, sympathetic character. That said if you’ve ever had an inkling something wasn’t quite right about the old sheriff, just know you have a friend in me, and countless savvy parents everywhere.
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