Since it’s early uprising, Disney/Pixar has provided no shortage of producing propaganda, displaying dominant trends of ideology, and contributed to cultivating an immense aesthetic that can be seen through every doorway of consumer society — the signature style of the smooth and curvy, ergonomic, sparse, accommodable, timeless kitsch (and nor has it provided shortage of opportunity for critique, such as this). Yet since Disney is slowly consuming the rest of Hollywood like a parasitic Host feeding off of inadequate debris, it becomes apparent that such inevitable battles of Ideologies revolve around, and are spawned from, distinct organisms.
Toy Story 4 is Disney/Pixar’s latest installment and for me, it is a film I couldn’t not watch. I am forever indebted to watching whatever Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles film Hollywood throws at me and they know it too. There are more than plenty of other films I can all too happily ignore. But, like putting stakes in the big entertainment business, I have invested too much time, energy, memory, experience, emotion watching them; and to suddenly not feels like one of personal failure. I am trapped in my own homespun personal guilt for which if I do not act upon, my past, my memories, my childhood, my history will be destroyed. This is the machinic entanglement of guilt, emotional dependence, well-being managerialism Hollywood is so perfect at capturing. It provides itself as a sick Oedipal situation to which it can only be myself, Father to my own Childhood Fantasy, that stands in the way between me and my ultimate desire for satisfaction and nourishment, the nostalgic Hollywood engine. I am committed in these instances to a temporal continuity.
TS4 shows us what its predecessors couldn’t: that death – literally and metaphorically – is not the final solution. When confronted with abandonment, witness to being outgrown for the need or want of interaction and play, stricken with feelings of Loss, and for which no other carer is adequate, what else is there to do for the Toys if not to either let oneself be killed, fight for one’s own right as worthwhile and necessary, or commit suicide. It is obviously the attempt to infiltrate ones way back into the home and heart of Andy that preoccupies the third and fourth film. And it is Woody in particular — that hysterical, short-sighted, obsessive, naive optimist — who continuously prompts and pushes the direction of the collective forward into the clean grip of Andy’s hand; because it is Woody, ultimately, who is Andys Toy, and he will do anything he can, even if to drag and string along his comrades, to get himself back to providing the fulfillment of Andy. There’s no doubt Woody is the leader for which all actions subsequently revolve around his own wellbeing, even if Woody puts himself out of way for the greater good of keeping the O’ Mighty One happy. Andy is God.
TS4 is unambiguously a film about the fear of loss and freedom and the consequences thereof of taking it. The Toys were never free to begin with, we know that, except that they embody the neoliberal subjectivity whereby freedom comes not from being set loose from the constraints of some organized Body, but of being able to work itself. To be Free, ultimately, is to be free to Work — they are puppets, after all, and life as a puppet without being played is no life at all. Because it is Work which both defines who we are whilst allowing us to express who we think we are (only if done through the confines of working life). Yet TS4 flips this on its head. As the final conclusion of the film shows, to be Free is to be a Lost Toy, cut loose from the manipulating fingertips of children pulling their strings and playing them like puppets. Yet it is only a particular freedom that becomes available only after the Toys have adequately fulfilled their duty. The Duty of sustaining unconditional happiness to their Master, even if not through the interaction of their own. And it is for Woody, sided with Bo, who is no longer looked for, no longer needed, not only by his Master-Child but his fellow comrades as well.
In tandem with Woody’s self-effacing libidinal waning over Bo Peep and his failure to leave work, his duty, and run off with her, is Buzz who re-finds himself as the agent he’s always destined to be: a leader. There comes a point of belated self-reflectivity Buzz who begins to ponder the ‘inner voice’ of his engineered body. Curious about his voicebox, his inner voice, Buzz follows blindingly the pre-determined catchphrase-directions in hopes of discovering how or what it is he has to do. In some sense, this is true freedom no other Toy has yet been granted. After disastrous attempts in following his own word, the self-imposed word of the Master-Other for which he must obey and dutifully provide for, he thinks for himself. More importantly, he thinks alongside his pre-determined voice. This is a self-consciousness no other minor toy has yet to possess, for they are still condemned to follow blindly either their voicebox or the doxa of dutiful obedience. And this is the true quality of a leader for which cannot be reduced either to being Lost or held hostage under the authoritative commands of the Other, but Free to act, to think, to revolutionize within the system.
The final scene and dialogue of TS4 show Woody and Bo Peep left alone, lost, in a carnival as the rest of the toys are in the back-window driving away. ‘Now Woody is a lost toy’. Replied with faux-profundity, ‘oh, he’s not lost’. This, we are meant to believe, is that in place of the loss of Andy and Bonnie, physically and emotionally, he has re-found love in Bo Peep. But what does this say about freedom? Woody is no longer obligated to make Andy, Bonnie, or Whoever happy but Bo. Yet Freedom for Lost Toys comes at the cost of enduring a life of escape, fight and flight survivalism against the dirty mitts of children who will come to eventually tear them apart.
Love is the only thing that can set you free. Perhaps Freedom is only the struggle itself to be free — an antagonism between your desire and theirs.