The Story Behind Toy Story 3, Part II: Barbie’s Badinege

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three part series about Toy Story 3. Read on to enjoy a few fun speculations about the conventions of the movie!

Towards the end of Toy Story 3, Barbie creates an awkward silence and surprise moment by transitioning from her usual ditzy self to something politically charged. In the midst of confrontation, Barbie exclaims, “Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from threat of force!”

Much like the origin of my last article, I’m writing today in response to a comment a friend of mine made upon watching the movie: “Why would Pixar ruin the best movie they’ve put out in years by getting preachy to the kids?” This essay hopes to provide some logical reasons for why this line exists.

The instinctual reason, to me at least, is the humor in juxtaposition. Barbie is shown as her peppy, stereotypical self in every other scene, and this one scene mirrors the end of Good Burger where Ed reveals he’s actually a genius (or at the very least, not as dumb as everyone thinks). Humor and irony thrive on the unexpected. The shock and surprise from the other characters give this outcry enough of a rise to make the rest of us laugh.

On a more practical note, this could be either in direct relation or parody of Mattel’s struggle to keep good PR – and, in turn, good business. Astute toy historians will note at least a halfway decent track record on Mattel’s part to keep their customers happy; in 1997, for example, they increased the waist size on their toys because previous models produced ridiculously unrealistic sizes for their dolls (the 1965 “Slumber Party” Barbie came with a scale that read 110 pounds, which is 35 pounds underweight for the doll being considered to be 5’9″).

But one of the even bigger uproars from the community in response to Barbie dolls came in 1992, when “Teen Talk Barbie” came with four of 270 possible phrases (such that no two were the same, ideally). Approximately 1.5% of those dolls were programmed with the phrasing “Math class is tough!” which received a good amount of attention from the American Association of University Women. The toys were taken off the shelves and recalled in October of that same year, three months after they were introduced in July.

In other words, Mattel wants to keep their record clean to keep their toys afloat. And if Barbie’s are still given the stigma of portraying less than fully competent and confident women, there will be problems. Women don’t want to buy those kinds of toys, and damn sure won’t buy them for their impressionable kids. With this being a pretty common piece of information in the toy world, it would be completely conceivable that Toy Story 3 wanted to parallel Mattel’s frustrations. And with all of the parodies of Barbie already in existence, it’s tough to say whether this quote reflects helping Mattel carry their cross or just laughing at them for having such a cross to bear in the first place.

But even more likely than the first two possibilities is that this is the writers simply trying to plant such democratic words into young, impressionable minds for the sake of the message itself. The same way early Calvin and Hobbes was influenced by the Raegan administration, Toy Story 3 is ultimately shaped by the world around the writers. It’s written by writers living in the 21st century – and it’s unavoidable that these writers will have their own opinions of what the 21st century is like and should be like. Think of all we’ve seen that makes us trust our government less and less as a democratic system (I won’t need to go into too many details, as my political views and suspicions are neither necessary or relevant to this blog). Is it that inconceivable that one of these viewpoints may have graced the thought process of the writers? And if so, why not share opinions with impressionable future voters and leaders of the country?

You can learn a lot about the plot and point of any piece of work by taking a look at the author’s past – George Orwell isn’t the best example, but he’s the first that comes to mind. The authors of Toy Story 3, much like all authors, write what they know. Undoubtedly someone feels strongly about the issue, otherwise the line wouldn’t have made the final cut (Barbie could have made an equally humorously unexpected yet intelligent comment about anything else – she could have figured out a hard math problem or something).

With this in mind, I think my friend’s comment has some complications. It’s hard to call any work preachy when so many movies or books have the same sort of messages to the audience, intentionally or not. The only real differentiating factor lies in subtly or bluntness. But, I guess my friend would be hard pressed to find someone to deny the bluntness of Barbie’s line.

As I wrap up, I think all three possible explanations I proposed for Barbie’s pontification do the opposite of “ruin” the movie. The way I see it, this line makes one thing certain: that Toy Story 3, like much of the media, is made for a culture by the people affected by it. With this, we love it and learn from it.

And that’s one of the best things we can hope for from our culture’s gratuitous craving for entertainment. Why not take something from all our time spent staring at screens?

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