Disney Plus Dream Job: Toy Story

Viewing Toy Story through a psychiatrist's lens

Posted Nov 24, 2019

Introduction

Faculty, residents, and students at my university are participating in the Disney Plus Dream Job challenge to watch 30 Disney films in 30 days. Course directors successfully incorporated the 30 films (and shows) into our preexisting curriculum that teaches psychiatry to future physicians through film and other aspects of popular culture. Views Through the Psychiatrist’s Lens will publish daily blogs throughout Disney Plus Dream Job challenge. Our first blog is on the 1995 film, Toy Story.   

Synopsis

Toy Story is a computer-generated film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures that focuses on the relationship between a pull-string cowboy doll named Woody and Buzz Lightyear, an action figure “who thinks he’s an astronaut.” The toys evolve from rivals competing for the affections of their owner, Andy, to friends who work together to be reunited with him after being separated (1).

What it has to do with psychiatry

It’s well-established that the film captures the anxiety of the group adapting to its new member. The focus of this blog will be to examine one potential maladaptive way of coping with the illustrated changes in the group dynamic.

While the film is primarily seen through Woody’s perspective, we choose to adopt a framework where Buzz is the focus of clinical attention. At 00:19:20, Buzz flies (falls with style) to prove to Woody that he is a space ranger. The very next scene is a montage to Randy Newman’s Strange Things. While many believe the song captures Woody’s evolving fear of Buzz becoming the object of Andy’s affection, might the lyrics actually capture Buzz’s depersonalization? This theory is supported at 00:47:12 when Buzz sees a commercial at Sid’s house that advertises him as a toy. We then see a dissociated Buzz who hears a (Woody’s) voice telling him, “you are a toy…you can’t fly!” One minute and 15 seconds later, Buzz throws himself down a flight of stairs and breaks his left arm to Randy Newman’s melancholic “I Will Go Sailing No More.” Still in an altered state, Buzz then tells Woody, “I’m a little depressed.”

What can cause Buzz Lightyear’s dysphoria, altered state of consciousness, and self-inflicted harm? I believe the answer lies in two peripheral characters in Toy Story. Sid is Andy’s neighbor who demonstrates signs of misconduct and impulsivity. While it’s beyond the scope of this blog to discuss his differential diagnosis, one mental disorder a clinician would consider is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which affects approximately 6.1 million (9.4%) children in the US (2). The treatment of choice of ADHD in children is stimulant medication. One example of a psychostimulant is amphetamine such as Adderall, which is often shortened to “Addy.” I think it’s interesting that Andy’s name is misspelled in the film (see my teaser image!) perhaps providing another clue that Toy Story is a case study of Anddy abuse (the reason for the letter reversal on Woody's shoe reflects the age at which Andy writes his name of course). However, this theory gains some support by Andy’s sister’s character whose namesake (molly) is a street name for 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) which is a substituted amphetamine.

In summary, several clues are provided that Toy Story is a case study of amphetamine abuse to cope with the anxiety of an abrupt change in the group dynamic.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy_Story

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, national parent survey, 2016.