Toy Story (1997) Still 4

In Just 2 and a Half Minutes, Toy Story Perfectly Captures The Existential Crisis

And Scene takes a look at scenes small and large, how they work to evoke certain responses and how they have left lasting impressions within the audience

The other day I was visiting a friend who was tasked with watching the neighbor’s 6 year old while the mother ran off to handle an unexpected urgent matter. Unsure of how long this urgent matter would take and with little to no child entertaining skills between the two of us, movies as it has done so many times in the past swooped in and saved a potentially disastrous situation.

Rifling through a collection of Blu Rays to find a suitable movie proved to be another tough task, Requiem For A Dream? Definitely not for kids, Eyes Wide Shut?  no way, Princess Bride? “ I don’t like girl movies” the child proclaims until we stumble upon the holy grail – Pixar’s 1995 classic Toy Story. Safe, age appropriate and with two sequels to play in the event that for some reason this kid’s parents don’t return soon, time-consuming. Toy Story was the answer and thankfully the child seemed to agree.


Watching it again, it is important to state the obvious: Toy Story is brilliant. 20+ years after its initial release it still radiates with a heart that, judging by the young human being next to me, still resonates with the youth today just as it did when I saw it for the first time so many years ago. There are a couple of things to note here:

  1. Watching this kid’s face light up, laugh and be filled with general wonder makes me feel bad that I am robbing his parents of this moment, for a brief second, I consider if having a kid of my own would be okay for experiences like this one, then I remember that kids are not toys and you actually have to care for them for life meaning a cyborg like me would actually have to develop a heart. Illusion vanquished, I immediately switched gears and wondered if my friend brought this kid over on purpose to create this moment of wanting a child of my own (the answer is maybe one day but DEFINITELY not today).
  2. If this kid becomes the next Spielberg and credits his love for film to this moment, I better get a thank you in that Oscar speech
  3. How this movie is viewed as a 6-year-old is vastly different than how I am viewing it as an adult.

See, both the 6-year-old and the adult will appreciate the story and the music. Though the child may not recognize that to be the voice of Tom Hanks or Tim Allen, there is an acknowledgment that these voices contribute to the character. The six-year-old even mentioned to me that he thought “Woody was mean” which in more adult terms means that Woody is kind of a dick throughout much of this movie ’s runtime (a statement I wholeheartedly agree with).  But what’s really interesting is where the two of us differ (and I’m not just talking about the sly adult humor that flew over the child’s head) especially with one scene in particular.

About midway through Toy Story, we find our heroes Woody and Buzz away from the safe confines of Andy’s room and in the clutches of the psychotic boy next door Sid. While Woody is aware of the imminent danger that Sid poses, Buzz is still lost in the belief that he is a real space ranger and not a toy. Hearing a call from “star command” in an adjacent room, Buzz excitedly responds to the call only to see this:

While the six-year-old seemed to just brush this off and laugh at the subsequent Mrs. Nesbitt scene that follows, as an adult this scene is absolutely soul-crushing. See, the kid represents unlimited potential, at six years old, he can still conceivably become anything he wants to be, almost every door remains open for him, he is unbound. Much like Buzz, however, somewhere upon exiting the post-college bubble, there is a realization that sometimes we can’t be what we want to be.  Some of these realizations come naturally like when you realize that you probably won’t play in the NBA because you are only 5”9 and have a 8 inch vertical, others, like the fact the things you want at 18 might be completely different than the things you want at 25 come more gradually.

It’s a genuinely dark moment that is subtly hidden in the film’s overall narrative, The realization that we can set our sights to fly out that open window but sometimes that doesn’t happen and we are left battered, broken (possibly with a lost arm). Pixar executes this scene with tremendous attention to minor details, the way the camera cuts to the toy commercial and Buzz’s increasingly shocked face, how we pull out into a bird’s eyeshot of the broken Buzz making him seem insignificant, the look of resigned defeat strewn across his face and of course the Randy Newman song to tie it all together.

Pixar has since shown an adept ability to portray such complex emotions as it does with depression and Sadness in Inside Out, grief in Big Hero Six or identity in The Incredibles but I am impressed by how well Toy Story manages to capture an existential crisis in just two and a half minutes.

Of course, this is a Pixar / Disney movie so there is more to the lesson than just accepting our failures. As the movie would go on to tell us, we may not always end up flying or being a space ranger but that’s okay. There is as much to be gained from being “just a toy” and falling with style, it just depends on how we evaluate a situation. I will admit to constantly feeling a sense of disillusionment with where I am today, watching as my peers seemingly move far ahead in marriage, in their careers, etc. There is a deep-seeded fear locked within that feeling, of not being able to accomplish anything worthy in this life, of wasting potential but in that I also recognize that there are many people in that same boat, that even if I decided on a career there are plenty of people who will experience the same crisis at 50 years old that leads them to go full  Lester Burnham in American Beauty or buy an overly expensive red Ferrari just to feel alive again. The truth is, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. All I know is that I love movies and I love talking about movies so as long as I have that if I fall at least I’m falling with style.

As the credits rolled, I asked the kid “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, he responded, “I want to be Iron Man, blow up bad guys and kiss girls”. I chuckled and asked him if I could be Captain America to his Iron Man to which he responded: “Nope, You’re not cool enough, you can be Vision, the boring robot”. So hey, if this whole writing fails, at least I can be a secondary Avenger…that’s something…right?