Buzz Lightyear and Freud’s Defense Mechanisms: Denial

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Buzz Lightyear is a character from the 1995 film Toy Story by Pixar Animation Studios. Upon first viewing, his character seems nothing more than an amusing space ranger that threatens Woody’s status as Andy’s favorite toy. But with further investigation, it becomes apparent that the funny little space ranger is more than he seems.

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Sigmund Freud would describe Buzz as someone using a defense mechanism to the extreme, leading to a maladjusted personality. Yes, we’re about to get psychological here. All for fun, of course.

Defense mechanisms help people cope. They don’t change our reality, rather they distort our perception of it (Carducci, 2009). Sigmund Freud pioneered the idea of defense mechanisms in his psychodynamic theory of personality (Carducci, 2009). No matter how many times Buzz is told he’s a toy and not a space ranger and even given concrete evidence of this (ie, his laser not working), he hangs onto this belief that he is, in fact, a space ranger and needs to get home to defeat the Evil Emperor Zerg.

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Freud would say that Buzz is in denial. And Buzz’s denial is prevalent throughout most of the story. It is his mind’s way of reducing anxiety to keep him in balance.

When he arrives in Andy’s bedroom, his first lines are, “Buzz Lightyear to Star Command, come in Star Command. Star Command, come in, do you read me? Why don’t they answer?” With a single line, the magnitude of Buzz’s denial is obvious. Then he notices his “space ship” has been wrecked (which is what happens when kids rip open the box that holds their new toy captive). Buzz is in physical distress and records a mission log saying he was run off route on his way to sector twelve. Sector twelve is now Andy’s bedroom and Buzz claims that the impact awoke him from hyper sleep. He looks at his gamma gauge, which is actually a sticker, searching for information about the air quality. He goes through all the motions of what an actual space ranger has been trained to do.

Upon meeting Woody, Buzz jumps into defense mode.

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He uses his laser, which is actually a red light that does nothing (but would probably amuse children). The laser is useless and Buzz seems indifferent to this, denying it. Instead, he turns to focus on repairing his ship’s turbo boosters. He wants to know if we, “still use fossil fuels or have [we] discovered crystallic fusion?”

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Woody, flummoxed, has no chance to respond as the rest of the toys appear and Buzz again shifts into Scary Space Ranger Mode. He relies on his laser for the hundredth time, but upon confirmation from Woody that the new arrivals are safe, allows them to come closer. He allows them, as if he’s the one in charge. The brave, commanding space ranger immediately takes control of the situation and is already ordering people around. The denial feeds his image of being a powerful space ranger, giving him confidence.

When asked where he’s from, there’s a joke about all toys being produced overseas, but Buzz doesn’t understand. He says that he’s stationed up in the gamma quadrant of sector four. The other toys embrace being a toy, but not Buzz. The denial allows him to be bigger than them.

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The toys then proceed to fawn over Buzz’s gadgets and Buzz cautions them about the power of his oh, so dangerous laser. When Woody calls him a toy, Buzz responds with the most telling line: “I think the word you’re searching for is space ranger.”

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Buzz’s denial knows no bounds. He’s surrounded by a toy dinosaur, a Mr. Potato Head, and a cowboy doll in a child’s bedroom, but he holds onto his belief of being a great space ranger. Buzz refutes being made of plastic and is insulted at the insinuation he can’t fly, because he’s a toy.

With Buzz’s arrival the dynamic in the room changes. Woody, who was once Andy’s favorite toy, is now second best to Buzz Lightyear, the brave space ranger.

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Buzz spends his free time repairing his ship and exercising, as space rangers have diligent fitness routines. When Woody flips out on Buzz and tells him to stop putting up the space ranger act, Buzz responds with, “Are you saying you want to lodge a complaint with Star Command?” When defense mechanisms are used to the extreme, a person does not even realizing what they’re doing (Carducci, 2009) and Buzz seems to have no clue. The magnitude of his denial is obvious when Woody opens Buzz’s space helmet. Instead of taking a breath, he panics, falls to the floor like he’s suffocating. In actuality, he’s just being overdramatic about the whole thing. He even dry heaves before murmuring, “The air isn’t… toxic?” Then: “How dare you open a space ranger’s helmet on an uncharted planet.” An uncharted planet! The denial is so strong! “My eye balls could have been sucked from their sockets.” Then he closes his helmet. This is in an effort to maintain his denial and emphasize the divide between them; he’s not like them and the helmet helps protect him. The helmet is a physical reminder that they are toys and he is a space ranger.

Interestingly enough, it’s never mentioned how Buzz views Andy playing with him. The only time he acknowledges Andy around the toys is when Andy writes his name on the bottom of Buzz’s space boots. Even then he describes Andy as, “Your chief,” not “Our chief.” Does Andy waving Buzz around the room, imagining games for him where he saves the day, have no affect on him? While his flying demonstration miraculously worked out:

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The amount of times Buzz has attempted to attack someone with his laser only to have nothing happen, doesn’t deter him. It’s almost as if he can’t even see the laser not having its desired affect. “Melt him with your scary laser,” Woody mocks, pushing the button. “Be careful with that! It’s extremely dangerous.” No, it isn’t. But Buzz refuses to see it. Just like he doesn’t appear to even register Andy treating him as a toy.

When Woody and Buzz end up stranded at a gas station, Andy having driven off with his mother, Woody is paranoid about being a lost toy. He needs to find a way to get home, but Buzz has other priorities. In his intense denial, Buzz believes that his arch nemesis Zerg has a weapon posed to destroy the entire universe and blames Woody for “delaying his rendezvous with Star Command,” so he can deliver the information. This being the same Star Command that hasn’t answered him since his crash landing. In his hysteria, Woody launches into a tirade about Buzz being a toy.

Nothing fazes Buzz: “You are a sad, strange little man. And you have my pity.” The denial, the fantasy he’s conjured up protects him from having to accept the truth. And maybe the concept of being a lost toy is too much to handle; Buzz has to believe in Zerg’s plan to destroy the world so he can focus on that instead. This is the first time Buzz has mentioned Zerg and a weapon, so this intense denial must have been brought on by the extremity of their situation.

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(Yes, I’m fully aware this is a different Pixar film.)

He’s no longer in Andy’s bedroom, fretting about getting his space ship repaired. Now he’s in real danger of being lost in a world he’s tried to push aside for so long, so there needs to be a more pressing matter like the universe being destroyed. On their journey to find Andy, he refers to things like the front seat of a car as the cockpit and automatic doors as an air lock, keeping everything in space man terms.

Eventually, Buzz stumbles upon a commercial of the Buzz Lightyear action figure toy that he is. He tries to deny it once more, attempting to fly out of a window, but as he is a toy, he is unsuccessful and loses an arm in the process.

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He can no longer deny the reality that he is a toy. Buzz had derived all his self worth and confidence from being a space ranger and when that fantasy and denial is broken, he needs to adjust to his new understanding of life.

However, that’s easier said than done. Before Buzz can make peace with this, he now denies being Buzz Lightyear fully and is:

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The denial is strong with this one.

With the line, “Years of academy training wasted,” it is clear Buzz still has some ways to go. But, this is the turning point for him and Buzz is finally able to come to terms with who he is, finding peace with being Andy’s toy and Woody’s best buddy to infinity and beyond.

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Bibliography
Carducci, B.J. (2009). The psychology of personality: Viewpoints, research, and applications (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.
Bonnie, E., Catmull, E., Guggenheim, G., & Jobs, S. (Producers), & Lasseter, J. (Director). (1995). Toy Story [Motion picture]. United States of America: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures


Talk to us below! Do you think Buzz is in denial? Who is your favorite Toy Story character?

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Cheers!
-M&M

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