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Rationalization, Social Attribution, and Emotions in the Toy Story Film


Toy Story is one of the greatest movies of all time. The story itself is timeless, humorous, powerful, and surprisingly creative. All the essential elements of successful storytelling and filmmaking come together in an inspirational endeavor that opened the doors and set the benchmark for Pixar. When people leave the room, toys come to life, live small adventures and interact with each other like real people. People never forget what kind of toys they had as children, and how important they were to them, and it is this strong attachment that gives the cartoon a massive boost from the start.

Rationalization in Toy Story

Each child’s room is their world. This world, at first glance, is wrong and illogical, but one has only to look at it through the eyes of a child, and it becomes holistic, interesting, and unique. This is a place in which each toy takes on individuality and personality, whether it be simple binoculars with legs, a dinosaur, or a dog whose body is a spring. There are relationships and events in this world. Most fantasies simply consist of villains, heroes, and their intermediaries – the victims of the event. However, what is most surprising is that the memory of one game is transferred to another, and so are all relationships. Every child has their favorites – toys, which are given key roles in the games.

However, at a certain time, new characters appear in the child’s world – the newest, perfect toys, which correspond to the technologies of the time. And naturally, old heroes fade into the background and fall into the shadow of new, young, and talented ones. They pass from the category of key ones to the category of episodic ones. This concept is the base rationale of the movie: the parallels between the growing up of a person and the obsolescence of things. As the relationship between Woody and Buzz progresses, Woody’s jealousy concedes to the feeling of companionship; of friendship based on the fact that they both love Andy and see the purpose of their lives as being his toys. Summers (2017) suggests that “rationalization is a profound challenge to our moral assessments of actions and agents and our self-understanding and self-improvement” (p. 21). Toy Story gives this rationalization an emotional edge: one day, Andy will grow up, and during this time, some toys will become less loved than others – and this is okay because such is the way of life.

Social Attribution in Toy Story

In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear can be considered an exemplary representation of one of the social attribution biases – precisely, the self-serving attributional bias. Gilovich et al. (2018) state that “the self-serving attributional bias is a motivational bias – motivated by the desire to maintain self-esteem” (p. 151). He is so frivolous and selfish that he doesn’t even realize he is a toy. This is a wonderful satirical concept, and Buzz, while still being essentially wrong about his nature, is a touching character. Mainly, it is because he displays the confidence of a child in his every action – for example, in the scene when he claims that he can fly around the room with his eyes closed. He fails, but he does not see it as a failure, and his confidence in himself makes other toys believe him so much that they share his belief that he did fly.

Buzz’s self-serving bias expands onto others, and that only supports his delusions further. To progress and grow, Buzz must finally realize that he is just a toy. However, the end of his self-serving bias does not mean that he should stop dreaming. The beauty of the movie lies in the way it captures the essence of child’s play – to wake up from a fantasy world but remain a dreamer.

Emotions in Toy Story

The first part of the movie concentrates on jealousy – the kind one could feel when they get forgotten in favor of other people. Every year, new toys are presented for Andy’s birthday, so the old ones have to worry about this day: after all, with the advent of a new toy, they can be forgotten and rejected. If that happens, they will either have to be sold at a garage sale or simply thrown into a dump – either of these prospects terrifies the toys.

Since kindergarten, the boy’s favorite toy was a cowboy doll Woody, and Woody believes that the meaning of life for a toy is to be played with: after all, this expresses the love of a child. Therefore, it is only logical that Andy’s birthday becomes a true nightmare for Woody: a new toy – Buzz Lightyear – presented to the child takes his place. Woody’s jealousy overwhelms him, so he tries and gets rid of Buzz, driven by the inability to accept him as an equal to Andy’s attention. Pollet and Saxton (2020) conclude that “dominance of potential rivals is certainly a characteristic that can be weighted in judging a rival’s threat” (p. 1441). This jealousy causes some kind of anxiety in the viewer, as they wait for the inevitable conflict between the two parties.

Central Relationship in Toy Story

What makes Woody and Buzz a successful couple of heroes? The images of the cowboy and the astronaut only seem to be related – both seem to symbolize constant expansion, as life on the frontier is the basic plot of the American myth. But in the toy universe, Woody and Buzz’s relationship represent a clash of old and new, of home comfort and craving for discovery, of a calm life and an eternal struggle. The development of their attitudes towards each other and the world is the central part of the movie. Harris and Orth (2020) highlight “the key role of positive social relationships, social support, and social acceptance in shaping the development of self-esteem in all phases of the human life span” (p. 1469). The influence of positive relationships between Buzz and Woody is seen clearly, as it helps them interact with each other efficiently on their quest to return to Andy. Their success is tied tightly to their ability to maintain an understanding of each other.

Buzz, initially reluctant to accept his playfulness, brings the film to a conversation about identity awareness. His image is reminiscent of the American Adam from Lewis’ book of the same name. In Western mythology, Adam is the only person not burdened with his past. In the middle of the film, Buzz sees himself in a TV commercial and learns that he is just a toy, and the inscription flickering on the screen puts the verdict: “Does not fly”. Buzz decides to prove one last time – to himself – that he is real. He tries to fly out the open window, but crashes and loses his arm. This event drives the ranger into depression, symbolizing the loss of innocence. Buzz is initially a conservative and rather unpleasant type, and only this awakening – depicted as falling – surrounded by kind toys, as well as Andy’s human participation, make him more intelligent and softer.

Against this background, Woody, with his optimism and humor, ridiculous movements, and a thin figure, does not represent the heroes of Clint Eastwood at all, but the “new sensual man”. This image came into American politics in the 1990s along with President Clinton and before him, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Despite his redneck suit, Woody is a liberal, relying on the trust of voters – other toys – as a leader, rather than strength and intimidation. Behind him is a democratic America with its cult of optimism. In other words, unlike the conqueror Buzz, who is always looking for adventure, Woody advocates arranging life on its land and not going where one should not.


How many cartoons are there that have completely redrawn the entire world of animation? Little. They can be counted on one hand. And one of the fingers will have to be bent in honor of Toy Story, which came out in 1995. It was an experimental project from the first to the last frame, and even its soundtrack was unusual for the corporation that released it. However, after its premiere, the animation was no longer the same. It was a simple story – the boy is presented with a new super-fashionable toy, which immediately won the attention of the friendly team of the nursery who did not like the former “king” very much. However, it united in itself the eternal themes of rivalry, envy, and friendship, told through the relationship of toys. Children could easily grasp the subtext, remembering, for example, the times when a new child appeared in the family, and parental attention was completely switched. The adults also understood Woody’s feelings, recalling more than once something similar that happened in their lives. In my opinion, Toy Story is an absolute wonder, with its vibrant colors and complex, well-developed psychological meaning in it.


Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., Chen, S., & Nisbett, R. E. (2018). Social Psychology: Fifth Edition. W. W. Norton & Company.

Harris, M. A., & Orth, U. (2020). The link between self-esteem and social relationships: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(6), 1459–1477. Web.

Pollet, T. V., & Saxton, T. K. (2020). Jealousy as a Function of Rival Characteristics: Two Large Replication Studies and Meta-Analyses Support Gender Differences in Reactions to Rival Attractiveness But Not Dominance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(10), 1428–1443. Web.

Summers, J. S. (2017). Post hoc ergo propter hoc: some benefits of rationalization. Philosophical Explorations, 20(sup1), 21–36. Web.

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"Rationalization, Social Attribution, and Emotions in the Toy Story Film." StudyKraken, 18 Feb. 2023,

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StudyKraken. "Rationalization, Social Attribution, and Emotions in the Toy Story Film." February 18, 2023.


StudyKraken. 2023. "Rationalization, Social Attribution, and Emotions in the Toy Story Film." February 18, 2023.


StudyKraken. (2023) 'Rationalization, Social Attribution, and Emotions in the Toy Story Film'. 18 February.

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