With the release of the Buzz Lightyear spin-off, Light yearIt’s the perfect time to remember what made toy story a beloved classic. With most animated films using computer-generated imagery, it’s easy to forget that Pixar toy story was the first to do so. CGI wasn’t exactly a new idea in 1995, but toy story was the first feature film to be made entirely using computer animation. Part of its success is due to its story concept. It was much easier for audiences to engage with CGI when it was used to animate something weird, like talking toys. And because every great story needs a great villain, what greater antagonist could there be for a toy gang than Sid Phillips (Erik von Detten), a child who plays too roughly with his toys? Here’s the thing about Sid, though: he’s never done anything so mean.
From a toy perspective, of course, the punk next door strapping fireworks to toys is nothing short of a nightmare: the ultimate terror. When Woody (tom hank) and Buzz (Tim Allen) attempt to survive the threat of being destroyed, melted, beheaded, or otherwise mutilated and dismembered, Sid comes into its own as a maniacal psychopath in their eyes. But is it just for we see Sid like that? How was Sid supposed to know the toys were alive? I did the same when I was a kid. My brother and I attached firecrackers to Stormtrooper figures to make our own “battle damaged” toys. It’s really no different than Sid in his first scene, blowing up a Combat Carl. And who among us can say they’ve never removed an arm or a head from a doll or action figure, just to see if it would come off? Sure, Sid shows a high degree of premeditation with his supposed crimes, but is he sadistic or just bored? A closer look at what he actually does with the toys he tortures reveals a creative mind with too few outlets.
Let’s clear something up first. Sid is by no means a well-behaved child. He’s awful with his sister, Hannah (Sarah Freeman), and he probably broke the Whack-a-Alien machine at Pizza Planet. But he’s still a kid. He dreams of riding ponies, and he gets really upset when it gets too loud to play outside. Also, his level of excitement when his mom tells him his Pop Tarts are ready? Come on, that’s a little precious. Children who get older bully and annoy their siblings, they misbehave in public places and, yes, they break toys for fun. To have fun! That’s what it’s all about for Sid.
When Sid steals Hannah’s doll, Janie, he doesn’t just tear it up in front of her to spite her. He makes it a simulation game. He plays the doctor in the scene where he swaps the head of the doll with a pterodactyl head. He is actively involved in an imaginary world, reciting dialogues and playing different characters. The next morning, when he interrogates Woody and burns his forehead with a magnifying glass, he plays the role of an Imperial officer trying to get answers from a rebel. These games are creative outlets for his imagination. Sid creates plots to play, and toys are his props.
When his long-awaited fireworks rocket shows up in the mail, he puts on a show beyond the occasion. He can’t just attach any toy to The Big One, he has to be the right toy – the right toy for the story. Naturally, Sid chooses Buzz Lightyear, the space ranger, to take a trip to the stars. He builds a launch pad in his backyard and goes through the whole process of a rocket countdown because sending an astronaut into the sky on a real rocket is objectively cool for a kid. Sure, Sid might be an arsonist, but he’s not lazy. When Woody shows up unexpectedly in the garden, he plans to “barbecue” him later and throws him on a grill. Sid adapts his games to the aesthetics of the toys at his disposal. That’s dedication!
Speaking of the toys at his disposal, there’s something to be said for the toys that populate Sid’s bedroom. They’re all Frankenstein’s monsters, horribly mismatched displays of plastic body horror. While it’s understandable that Woody immediately fears mutant toys, Sid isn’t so much sick and twisted as he is practical and resourceful. Sid takes toys that he wouldn’t otherwise be interested in and uses them to make new toys. He builds crab legs for a doll’s head. He uses Barbie’s legs to transform a fishing rod into a strange walking creature. He sticks the torso of an action figure on an old skateboard he no longer uses. Sid doesn’t think he tortures by living, feeling things, he thinks he’s creating something new out of the old.
It was always the intention of the team behind toy story using Sid to force an unexpected perspective on the audience. In a featurette from The Making of Toy Storydirector John Lasseter talk about one of toy storyhis ancestors, tin toy“Also with Tin Toy, I first started developing this notion of juxtaposition with the audience. That’s where you can show them something that’s so familiar to them, and then all of a sudden you make you look at it from a different point of view. It’s like looking at a cute little baby from the point of view of a toy. For a toy, it’s a monster! And we were inspired by Tin Toy with the ideas that we had developed in there about living toys.
Co-writer, Andrew Stanon, goes on to say, “A lot of us have really played rough with our toys, but even though in our eyes in the movie Sid is a bad guy and he does bad things to the toys, it’s a bit more faithful. what we were.” Lasseter adds, “We all agreed that Sid was the kind of kid who would grow up to be an animator.” Sid is a natural storyteller, and the storytellers who created him know it. It’s true that Sid’s destruction pleasure could be seen as a bit of a concern in its seriousness. He laughs when his dog Skud chews on the little green man, and the severed heads in his lava lamp are probably a red flag. None of this can get around the fact that for Sid these things are just things – inanimate objects. Without thinking, without feeling. They are his canvas with which to experiment and make art. His affinity for the macabre is nothing more than an artist’s stylistic choice, a niche aesthetic.
If Sid knew better, he wouldn’t use toys as a medium. So when Woody’s plan to save Buzz results in Sid discovering that all of his toys can move and talk, he’s understandably scared. He immediately regrets. Sid may never be able to look at another toy again after Woody threatens him like he does. Chances are the child will go to therapy if they ever try to talk to their parents about what they’ve been through. However, the important part of Woody’s warning is his directive: “From now on, you must take good care of your toys. Once the initial shock wears off and Sid comes to terms with his experience as real or a psychotic breakdown, the long-term outcome will be Sid buying into the warning.
Does Sid take this warning seriously? In Toy Story 3, Sid makes a brief appearance as a garbage man, rocking as he dumps trash into his truck. A popular fan theory floating around the internet describes this former Sid as a savior of forgotten toys. The belief is that Sid follows Woody’s instructions by using his position as a garbage collector to keep the toys from being thrown in the trash. There’s absolutely no on-screen evidence to indicate how Sid treats toys in any way now, but it’s a good idea that Sid may be recovering trashed toys because he now knows that they need his help.
Either way, Sid is a great antagonist in a toy story just trying to get home. But is he really a villain according to an ethical code or moral rules? No, he’s just an exuberant child with an active imagination. He is a creative spirit who uses the tools at his disposal to express himself artistically and build imaginary stories. He is a mechanically inclined visual thinker and problem solver. Is it fun to be stuck in a room with him? Probably not. And are the toys right to be afraid of him? Yes. Absolutely. But at the end of the day, Sid is just doing what all kids do, the best way he knows how: playing with toys.