“Toy Story 3”: PIXAR’s latest tribute to individualism, liberty and property rights

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pixar-charactersMost people around the world who know the name “PIXAR” know that it represents the very best of America, of digital artistry, and of storytelling.

Less well-known is the fact that just beneath the surface of many PIXAR films, lovers of individualism, liberty and property rights have found messages supportive of these virtues.  And subsumed within the eye-popping techno-wizardry of “Toy Story 3” is PIXAR’s most overt expression of these virtues to date.

Before we analyze TS3, though, let’s “set the stage” by assigning clear definitions to the terms we’re about to discuss, and PIXAR’s legacy of tributes to the concepts they represent.


Definitions

According to the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand:

“The truth or falsehood of all of man’s conclusions, inferences, thought and knowledge rests on the truth or falsehood of his definitions.”

Given the way that “individualism,” “liberty” and “property rights” have been bent, stretched and distorted, we need to define what these terms actually mean:

Individualism: The view that the self is the primary unit of value that one must be concerned with, and that all good flows outward from this focus; that one’s primary responsibility is to work to the best of one’s ability to provide for oneself and anyone else one is obligated to, or desires to support.  The inverse of this is collectivism, or the view that the dominant value is the group, the tribe, the state, or the nation, and that the individual has little or no value outside that collective; and that his highest duty and obligation is to sacrifice  his own interests in order to placate the collective.

Liberty: The right to choose for oneself how, where and with whom one shall live; to think and speak freely and to act on one’s convictions; to freely decide who to trade with and under what circumstances; to acquire, own and dispose of property as one sees fit; and to vote by secret ballot for one’s governmental representatives, under a system of law that is designed to protect these natural rights. (More in “Introduction,” here.)

Property Rights: The rights to acquire, own outright, protect and dispose of physical and intellectual property solely according to one’s own judgment, free of coercion or force.

Together, we’ll refer to these three virtues as “freedom,” because that is really what we’re talking about, and what distinguishes America from all other nations: the recognition of the individual’s right to be free – and of the subsidiary rights that freedom requires.


Historic examples of freedom-affirming messages in PIXAR’s films

Here are but a few examples from PIXAR’s rich history of celebrating individualism, liberty and property rights:

In the original “Toy Story” (1995; trailer here), one theme was the fact that Andy owned his toys, and was so unapologetic about it that he inscribed his name on them, in permanent ink. This act alone would earn him the derision of intellectuals in the many of the humanities departments of universities throughout the Western world. After all, is it not selfish to proclaim “ownership” over objects that are designed to bring joy to many?  Does Andy not have an obligation to show he cares, by sharing his toys with any and all, upon request?  And is not having his name emblazoned on them a deterrent, and an indication of imperialist exceptionalism, if not of greed itself, that would prevent share-ees from getting full enjoyment from the play experience?

“Toy Story 2” (1999; trailer here) further punctuated the theme of property ownership and liberty.  An evil toy retailer steals “Woody,” and has Andy’s name removed from his boot, in order to sell him and other action figures to a Japanese museum. Woody’s new friends convince him to willingly go to the museum – where he’ll be enclosed in a glass case, and can never be played with again. Then, Woody’s old friends arrive, and remind him that like them, he is owned by Andy, and that the highest aspiration of a toy is to be loved and played with by the child who owns him – not viewed from behind glass. The concept of ownership is visited again, when the gang can’t tell which of two “Buzz Lightyears” is the real deal – until he proves who he is.

In “A Bug’s Life” (1998; trailer here), a tyrannical, sadistic grasshopper, “Hopper,” and his minions terrorize an ant colony into gathering the food that the grasshoppers then eat, year after year.  As Hopper says, “The sun grows the food, the ants pick the food, the grasshoppers eat the food.” Everything works according to Hopper’s plans – until “Flik,” an endlessly-inventive ant, educates the colony that while they are individually no match for Hopper and his posse, together, they are far more powerful.  In a Reagan-esque moment of defiance and in-your-face truthiness, after being beaten beaten to a pulp by Hopper, Flik tells him that it he who’s weak – so much so that he needs the ants’ productivity to survive:

Hopper: “Let this be a lesson to all you ants! Ideas are very… dangerous things. You are mind-less soil shoving losers!! Put on this Earth to serve US!!”

Flik: “You’re wrong, Hopper! Ants are not meant to serve grasshoppers. I’ve seen these ants do great things, and year after year, they somehow manage to pick enough food for themselves and you. So-so who’s the weaker species? Ants don’t serve grasshoppers! It’s you who need us! We’re a lot stronger than you say we are. And you know it, don’t you?”

As a result of Flik’s courage, and then their own, the ants regain their property (the food they pick), their dignity, and control over their own lives.
In “The Incredibles” (2004; trailer here), PIXAR’s tribute to individualism and the pursuit of excellence takes a giant leap forward.  Some even say it is an homage to the Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand (more). “Bob Parr,” aka “Mr. Incredible,” has been forced into hiding, because the world has rejected his super-abilities to stop criminals – and many have sued him.  His son, “Dash,” has the ability to run at warp-speed.  To “fit in,” however, his parents instruct him to not use his special ability, and to pretend to be “normal.”  The conflict metastasizes into a poignant discussion with his mother that reveals a terrific crystallization of the clashing principles of individualism vs. collectivism, and ability vs. sacrifice:

Dash: “You always say ‘Do your best’, but you don’t really mean it. Why can’t I do the best that I can do?”

Mother: “Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.”

Dash: “But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.”

Mother: “Everyone’s special, Dash.”

Dash, muttering: “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Or, as Dash’s father says: “They’re constantly finding ways to celebrate mediocrity!”

Then, the film’s über-villain, “Syndrome,” who captures the family, outlines his Marxist-egalitarian mission: to empower everyone with super-abilities, so that “Everyone will be ‘special’- and then no one is.”

Finally, in order to effectively deal with unbridled crime, the Incredibles family is invited to come “out of hiding,” and use their full (super)abilities.


“Toy Story 3” as a super-progeny of this rich legacy

“Toy Story 3” (trailers here) carries forth PIXAR’s subtle messages of individualism, liberty and property rights, but with two distinguishing characteristics: an overt expression of Jeffersonian political principles, and technical sophistication that is absolutely breathtaking – especially in 3D.  (This was the first realistic 3D movie I’d ever seen; if you have any doubts as to how advanced this technology has become, see TS3 in 3D.)

The basic theme of TS3 is: what will happen to Andy’s toys now that he is an adult, and on the cusp of moving out?

The answer: they’re donated to a children’s day care center that, for toys, is the ultimate collectivized state.  No child owns any toys; all are community property – and are treated as such, with hilarious, gross-out details.  Ideally, this will serve as a pre-adolescent clue as to why private ownership of property almost invariably results in its being taken care of far better than anything that is “communally” owned (e.g. housing, bicycles, forests, etc.).

The day care center is dominated by a sadistic dictator, “Lotso,” who maintains iron-fisted control over everything, and has his own private army of spies and enforcers.  In a theme similar to “A Bug’s Life,” one courageous toy stands up to “Lotso” – and therein lies the neck-snapping surprise: “Barbie,” who invariably is depicted as (and lives up to) the “dumb blonde” stereotype, angrily declares to “Lotso”:

“Authority should derive from the consent of the governed – not from the threat of force!!!”

Seeing this put my jaw on the floor.

In an age when most Americans are clueless about our nation’s Founders and its history, government structure and distinctive virtues, the fact that a “ditz” like Barbie would have the knowledge and courage to use Jeffersonian rhetoric to stand up to a dictator, in an animated feature, ostensibly for an audience of children, is truly astonishing:


Conclusion

PIXAR has been making some of the best, most beloved movies the world has ever known, for fifteen years now.  The fact that its films are completely computer animated is merely an extra accolade, albeit a crucially important one.

Given that PIXAR has been a subsidiary of Disney since 2006, it would be understandable if its messages of individualism, liberty and property rights were tamed down a bit, if not abandoned altogether, to comply with its parent’s legacy of producing feel-good movies, bereft of philosophical or political messaging.  Further, given that PIXAR exists on the left coast (though some distance from Hollywood), it would be understandable if any messaging conveyed through its films would be supportive of the modern left’s fetish for statist controls over… everything.

PIXAR, however, seems to buck every trend, fad and cliche in its quest to create films of higher an higher theatrical, technical and moral value. And in a world that continues to blindly vote itself into more and more tyranny, the fact that a studio of PIXAR’s prestige and artistry is willing to depict the depraved reality of tyranny, wrapped up in stories of adventure, friendship and love, is quite heartening.  And it’s particularly gratifying to see that as it does so, it has earned spectacular returns on its films.

Here’s wishing PIXAR another 15 glorious years of well-deserved success, by exemplifying – and conveying – the inherent virtues of  individualism, liberty and property rights… to infinity, and beyond!
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Original content is Copyright © 2010 by Jon Sutz. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Freedom-oriented multimedia graphic designer, writer and creative consultant. Disruptor. Creator of the ILoveIsrael project (iloveisrael.me). Author of memoir "Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From A Miracle Dog". Writer-director of documentary"TWITTER EXPOSED: Enabling the Taliban - but stopping a campaign to rescue US allies FROM the Taliban".

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