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REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

8 Theories About the Toy Story Franchise

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REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

You may have noticed that Andy's evil neighbor Sid returns briefly as the garbageman in Toy Story 3. A theory related to this career choice just popped up on Reddit:

"[Sid is] a guy who just learned that inanimate objects are alive. He's trying to save the toys. He picked the one kind of job where you can rescue those things. And Sid is uniquely equipped to fix those toys that he finds that are broken."

Maybe? Maybe not. If you're not convinced, perhaps one of these interpretations (with varying degrees of plausibility) will change the way you see the Toy Story movies:

1. Andy’s mom previously owned Jessie.

The most recent Toy Story theory to go viral is courtesy of Jon Negroni, known for the “Pixar Theory” that every Pixar film takes place in the same universe. Negroni has recently written an article claiming that Andy’s mom is the Emily that Jessie sings about in “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2. Andy’s mom is never given a name in the films, so she could easily be Emily. Negroni also notes that Andy owns a cowboy hat, but its much more similar to Jessie’s hat than Woody’s. It is also extremely similar to a hat that can be seen on Emily’s bed in a flashback, so it plausibly could have been passed down through the family and ended up as Andy’s hat. Plus, Emily’s face is never shown, but she does have hair that is a similar length and color to the hair of Andy’s mom.

2. Andy’s parents are going through a divorce.

This theory has long persisted, but it seems to date back to a blog post by Jess Nevins. Andy’s father never is mentioned or seen in any of the Toy Story films. Not only is he not around, but he seems to have disappeared without a trace. In Andy’s house, there are family photographs, but only of Molly, Andy, and their mom. Their mom also never wears a wedding ring. Interestingly, in Toy Story, Molly is also only one, so whatever happened between Andy’s parents must have happened shortly before the film begins. The same film shows the family moving into a smaller house, which often happens after a divorce.

3. Or Andy’s father is dead.

There's a popular Reddit thread that explores the possibility that Andy’s father is dead rather than estranged. One user believes, “Andy’s dad was a cop who was killed in the line of duty. Not only is he attached to two male toys, but both represent some form of law enforcement.” Although this theory doesn’t have an answer to why Andy’s mom would have taken down the photographs of her deceased husband, it does better explain the absence of Andy’s father at his son’s birthday party and later departure to college.

Pixar story supervisor Matthew Luhn has responded to the question of Andy’s father. He claims, “If there was a dad in Toy Story, the boy would not have had such a need for a doll who represents a kind of authority figure, like Buzz.” This apparently was so obviously necessary to the story that the actual circumstances were never discussed further by the creators of the film.

4. Toy Story 3 is an analogy for the Holocaust.

Film theorist Jordan Hoffman has noted many parallels between the journey of the toys in the film with the victims of the Holocaust. For example, Buzz Lightyear recommends they hide in the attic, as Anne Frank and her family did. Sunnyside Daycare could represent a work camp. Also, the toys view being thrown away as a constant threat, which would result in them being burned alive. This one has been previously investigated here at mental_floss. We learned that Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich once stated, “The Holocaust was never anything that was discussed in the making of [Toy Story 3].”

5. Toy Story 3 has Marxist undertones.

This theory also comes from Jordan Hoffman. In this interpretation, Andy stands in for the bourgeoisie: He comes from a rich family, he’s moving on to higher education, and he’s obsessed with his belongings. Therefore, his toys are the proletariat. The most compelling argument here is probably that Andy puts literal labels on his toys, which is a symbol of exploitation. Hoffman also claims that Barbie represents Marxist philosopher Rosa Luxemburg. Presumably, he believes this to be the case because of Barbie’s line, “Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from threat of force."

See Also: 10 Rejected Titles for Toy Story

6. Toy Story is an analogy for the director’s experience with Disney.

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Before creating Toy Story, director John Lasseter was once fired from Disney for pushing a computer-animated method at a time when the company wanted to stick to hand-drawn films. Along with a few colleagues, Lasseter started to work on a computer-animated version of The Brave Little Toaster, so he lost his job. According to this theory, Toy Story is Lasseter’s way of reconciling those differences in beliefs. Woody represents the traditional animation route and Buzz represents a newer, most technologically-advanced method. At the end of the film, the two put aside their differences to make a child happy, just as Disney and Pixar eventually would do for their audiences.

7. Toy Story 3 contains Illuminati messages.

The Internet and Illuminati conspiracy theories go together like Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (or else there probably wouldn’t be extensive blogs dedicated to the Illuminati’s connection to Boy Meets World). Conspiracy theorists who write about the Illuminati usually focus on the secret society’s power to influence the United States. In the film, Lotso supposedly represents the Illuminati and their manipulation. For example, he brainwashes Buzz Lightyear into becoming a spy. One line about Lotso in particular stands out to these theorists: “He’s made us into a pyramid and he put himself on top.” This is interpreted as a reference to the pyramid and eye symbol that represents the Illuminati.

See Also: 8 Creative Interpretations of Groundhog Day

8. The Walking Dead is based on the Toy Story trilogy.

The YouTube video “Zombie Story” properly lays out the similarities between the plot of the hit television show and Toy Story. For example, both star a sheriff who’s “the leader of a motley group thrown together by fate, living in a world full of beings that want to chew them up or tear them apart.” Both have cowgirls, barns, jailbreaks ... the list goes on and on. The video also contains some very convincing side-by-side comparisons of frames from Toy Story and frames from The Walking Dead

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.