Bad News: Fan Theories are Destroying Movie Discussion

fan theories

Sorry, everyone. It turns out we have to ditch enjoying our entertainment a certain way because the managing editor of Movie Mezzanine thinks they are, and this is a direct quote, “truly toxic.”

Alright. Let’s do this.

In his latest editorial, titled “Why Fan Theories are Destroying Film Discourse,” film critic Josh Spiegel deconstructs the modern fan theory, directly calling me out on two theories I’ve written on this very site. For that reason, I think it would be rude not to respond, right?

He starts the essay with a few examples to set up his case.

Did you know that, in The Dark Knight, the hero was actually the Joker? It’s true—if you buy into this recent theory posited by a user on Reddit.

Interesting that he doesn’t link to the post itself, just an article on SlashFilm reporting on it. I mean, that’s not egregiously terrible or anything…but why not just link to the original post? Wouldn’t it be fairer for readers to evaluate the original version instead of a shortened one that leaves out his full explanation?

Also, I don’t get his logic with this sentence: “It’s true—if you buy into this.”

Well, no, something isn’t “true” just because you believe it. I suppose, then, it is true to you, but if Josh is subtly implying that truth is relative, then doesn’t that make this entire article pointless?

And did you know that Andy’s mom in Toy Story is also the grown version of the girl named Emily in Toy Story 2 who owned, and then discarded, Jessie the cowgirl?

YES! Wait, is this a trap?

No fooling, according to a post by the same guy who has a far broader theory that every Pixar movie—yes, even the Cars movies—are connected to each other.

Well, no, that’s not true. If he had read the actual post he’s linking to, he would have noticed that I didn’t, in fact, come up with the original theory for Andy’s mom being Emily. It was presented to me, and I made the case for it with my own research.

fan theories
So long, logic.

And in the most mind-blowing one of all, it’s even been suggested that the snarky kid at the beginning of Jurassic Park who Alan Grant threatens with a raptor claw grew up to be none other than Chris Pratt’s hero character in Jurassic World.

Again, Spiegel links to the article reporting what someone posted on Reddit, instead of just the original posting. Does Spiegel hate Reddit or something?

Also, I actually like this theory about Jurassic World. It’s interesting. It’s a fun connection. It makes enough sense, and it doesn’t contradict anything presented in the respective movies. So, what’s the problem?

There are an embarrassingly large number of fan theories floating around the Internet, and the emphasis here should be on the word “embarrassingly.”

It’s embarrassing to have a large number of discussions about movies? I thought fan theories were destroying film discourse, not strengthening it? Oh, Josh, let’s just cut to the chase, friend. 

What these ideas amount to are fan fiction, not fan theories.

Wait, but what are “these ideas” you refer to? I didn’t leave a sentence out. You’re saying that fan theories are fan fiction, but they’re not fan theories. What?

fan theories
And even *terrible* fan fiction gets to be a book!

Also, fan fiction isn’t as broad a term as you’re alluding. Unless someone is actually writing a fiction, it’s not fan fiction. And even if it is, some fan fiction can be pretty good (don’t see above), and a lot of people read and love it. In a way, the celebrated Star Wars novels are a form of fan fiction cleverly called “expanded universe.” Why is that acceptable, but an interpretation of a movie you just saw isn’t?

I have a feeling he’s not going to answer the question and instead bring something else up.

Few, if any, of these theories ever get a direct response;

They’re not supposed to get a direct response. That’s not the point. Fan theories, in a broad sense, are an experiment by moviegoers to let themselves interpret movies they love in new and different ways. They don’t have to be “true.” 

That’s like saying your interpretation of 2001A Space Odyssey isn’t worth your time because Kubrick hasn’t directly responded to it from the grave.

fan theories

..the closest in recent memory is Pixar director Lee Unkrich playfully retweeting a comment or two from followers of his who treat the so-called Pixar Theory as utter silliness.

Well first of all, it’s not “so-called.” It’s just called.

Also, why not just link to the Tweet itself?? Again, Spiegel links to the blog post about the Tweet. I’m feeling an Inception fan theory coming on here…is…is Josh Spiegel Dom Cobb? Makes sense.

Oh, and you’re linking to the wrong Pixar Theory. That’s the website inspired by it, not the original post. I’m guessing Spiegel doesn’t care.

[UPDATE: Movie Mezzanine graciously fixed this error and sent the link to the correct spot. Credit where credit is due.]

But fan theories are becoming as prevalent to modern film culture as stories about casting rumors or reviews, and they are becoming truly toxic.

Toxic, eh? That’s strong language. I mean it implies that fan theories themselves are harmful. Probably to film discourse! Let’s read why. 

It’s easy to imagine the counterargument from those in favor of fan theories: What’s the harm?

Right. That’s a big one. 

The Dark Knight doesn’t become better or worse because of a Reddit user’s theory about the Joker, as silly as that theory might sound.


The Toy Story films are still marvelous whether or not Andy’s mom is Jessie’s old owner.

True that. 

Jurassic World is still a resounding disappointment,

Wait, what? A resounding disappointment? That’s heavy hyperbole, especially considering the adjective is implying that we’re still feeling it as a disappointment months later. 

Never mind that Jurassic World is one of the top-grossing films of all time, or that it managed to score good reviews when most people were expecting another terrible Jurassic Park sequel. 

fan theories
Never forget.

I get why you may not have liked it, Spiegel, but that doesn’t make it an ongoing disappointment to everyone else.

The problem is that these theories, online, become as inextricable to a vast amount of readers as the actual movies themselves.

He just asserts this. No evidence. No examples. Not even a bloody anecdote. Spiegel, in all his wisdom, just declares that fan theories are confusing people because there’s a lot of them. Does he not think we’re smart enough to read fan theories? And then he says the movies should be confusing us. What? What’s confusing? 

This argument makes no sense to me because it implies that people care more about fan theories than the movie themselves, but liking the movie is the actual prerequisite to even wanting to read a fan theory.

So what’s the problem? People aren’t overthinking movies the right way? Is that where this is going?

Worse still, these fan theories are quickly replacing actual critical analysis,

Last I checked, people still critique movies. Like a lot of them. All the time. Do you have, maybe, any evidence that there are fewer articles that analyze movies the way you want them to be analyzed?

covered by a large amount of entertainment websites in part because the content beast must be fed,

Exactly! Like how celebrity gossip ruined film discourse because the magazine content beast had to be fed. Should we hate that, too?

and in part because it takes the work out of the hands of the sites’ writers and into the hands of random commenters who have too much time on their hands.

Look, I’m all for giving writers more work to do. Like sourcing the actual comments instead of just linking to the blog post about them. (But I guess he’s doing that to strengthen his point.) 

And we don’t totally disagree on this. Some fan theories are pretty bad, and it’s annoying when a website will feature them just to get clicks. So why are you attacking all fan theories? Some of them are fantastic, and yes, worth talking about.

fan theories
Like “the stormtroopers missed all the time because Vader ordered them not to kill his son. Oh, and he knew Luke was his son the whole time.”

They’re not from “random commenters” as you so condescendingly refer to them as. They’re human beings who love movies just as much as you and I do.

I don’t care what you think about them, Spiegel. Loving movies is the only qualifier you need to join the discussion, EVEN if you have free time (gasp).

So what’s the difference between a fan theory and a deep-dive exploration into one aspect of a film?

Hmmm…How many flattering adjectives you’re willing to assign to them? 

The former is the product of a person choosing to fantasize about what they would do if they had made the film they’re watching,

No, that’s not it at all. Last I checked, not everyone wants to be a director. Maybe I’ll check again. Checks. Nope. 

and the latter is the product of a person paying attention to the movie they’re watching and responding in kind.

Wow. Just…wow. Spiegel isn’t using words like “some” or “generally.” He’s definitively saying that people who write fan theories aren’t paying attention to the movie. 

Because it’s not like I write both fan theories and elaborate critiques about how The Incredibles demonstrates the subtle benefits of inequality, how Inception brilliantly built its story around filmmaking, or how the humans of WALL-E represent the best in society contrasted with their horrible surroundings you’re only perceiving as “bad” because of clever story tricks. 

I couldn’t have written any of those things because I wasn’t “paying attention.” I was too busy also writing fan theories, and those are bad.

Often, the fan theories that send the Internet—specifically its social-media avenues—into a tizzy rely heavily on the fact that they aren’t based directly on what’s present in the text.

True. Most of these theories end up being rubbish, or not completely thought through. 

Take, for example, the notion that Owen Grady in Jurassic World is the kid in the opening of Jurassic Park. That certainly sounds cool, and would be a nice, if random, tie-in to the 1993 film. But what’s the evidence backing this theory? Well, see, the kid in Jurassic Park is only credited as “Volunteer Boy.” So his name could be Owen! Also, Chris Pratt is only a year older than the actor who played Volunteer Boy, so the timeline could fit! Also…um…hey, look, something shiny!

Seriously, Josh? Why so mean-spirited in that last line? We get it. You think fan theories are childish. You don’t have to be a tool about it.

fan theories
Take a long, Lohan, look at yourself.

Also, the evidence for this Jurassic World theory comes from the fact that you can reasonably see the people who made the film creating a character who embodies this moment from the first film. It actually informs the story as a whole.

That said, and I can’t stress this enough, this theory doesn’t have to be true. But it is a fun thought experiment that you can speculate about because it does happen to fit with the source material so nicely.

The majority of the work to make this theory seem remotely logical is done behind the scenes, as someone imagines what could have happened to this kid after Alan Grant scratched at his stomach with a raptor claw.

Yeah, who needs imagination? Certainly not people who watch what is essentially an illusion on a big screen.

See, much of what we take from a movie has to come from thinking external of what’s being presented. This is because the audience makes an emotional connection with what’s happening, but not every director can spoon feed you the context. That would alienate the audience.

We have to fill in those blanks ourselves most of the time, which leads to…you guessed it…film discourse.

This same vagueness plagues the majority of fan theories. Yes, it’s not impossible that, in the Toy Story films, Andy’s mom could have a deeper connection to one of his toys than he or even she realizes. So many existing fan theories rely on the first four words of the previous sentence: “Yes, it’s not impossible.” The lack of impossibility, however, doesn’t automatically prove a theory correct; it merely suggests that it’s not impossible for something to be true.

Again, these theories don’t have to be true. That’s not why most people come up with them. It’s about interpreting small clues in new ways that get you to think about the film. When someone reads this theory for the first time, they’re often pushed into rewatching the movie, and (guess what!) paying attention to it. 

Fan theories are no substitute for critical analysis, yet they have quickly become inseparable for so many readers online.

This is Josh’s main argument, and I get why he’s so concerned. Because it’s true that fan theories are not a substitute. But that’s a complete misunderstanding of their role. They’re not meant to be a substitute, either. They never were. 

Instead, fan theories in their nature are meant to be a form of interpretation through imagination and passion for the subject material. They’re meant to answer questions that don’t have to be answered, but create conversations between the people who answer these questions in different ways.

fan theories
Sometimes, fan theories are answered by the voice actors themselves.

Analogy time!

Fan theories are like movies. There are good movies, and there are bad movies. That doesn’t mean we should get rid of all movies because some are bad. And bad movies certainly don’t replace other art forms that approach entertainment in a different way. I can read a fan theory and a deep analysis by A.A. Dowd. And I can enjoy both of them.

On the other, fan theories pose as critical analysis in spite of featuring neither criticism—often, these are posed by people who would proudly consider themselves fanboys or fangirls, never pausing to think about the built-in imperfections of even their favorite films—nor analysis.

Translation: Josh thinks you like movies too much. Go figure. 

Right, because in his world, people who overthink movies don’t criticize them. That is an actual opinion held by a film critic.

Popular films like Jurassic World or The Dark Knight or Toy Story beg to be debated for their themes.

And nothing else! Only themes! 

Hey, wouldn’t that mean that critical analysis of themes is destroying film discourse? What if someone wants to debate the characters in the movie, or how some of the movies share nods to each other?

Nope! To save film discourse, we must prevent it from happening the way we want it to. Shrug!

As ubiquitous as they may be, the discourse surrounding these films frequently sidesteps a conversation on nostalgia, on childhood heroes, on the possible emptiness of vast spectacle.

This sentence exists in a world where The Nostalgia Critic is one of the most widely viewed critics in new media. 

fan theories
OK, maybe some people talk about Nostalgia Critic more than nostalgia itself.

Fan theories now drive the discourse on these films, and to everyone’s detriment.

No, they just exist. That’s all they do. Yes, some are more popular than others, but how is that in any way proof that they’re replacing anything? 

I browse the Top and Trending URLs almost every single day. You know which articles about movies I see the most being shared? Not fan theories. Those make up a small percentage, because the reality is that a good fan theory is hard to discover, while pointing out what you think about a movie is pretty easy, and a lot of people are pretty interested in critical analysis.

You know what the top trending links were for the day I wrote this (September 2, 2015)? The top link was an image of Bryan Cranston as LBJ in the upcoming movie, All the Way.

fan theories
Yes, this is actually happening.

The second most shared link about movies (including via social media) was a longform piece by Italo Calvino about movies that influenced his youth, adapted from a published autobiography.

There was another piece about actors who’ve built successful careers after The Twilight Zone.

Even Gawker published something interesting about how Bruce Willis was unaware that China has a huge film market even though he’s in a movie made in China. OK, I thought it was interesting.

So that’s everything movie-related from the top 100 links. Yet I don’t see a single “fan theory” shoving its way past articles that are, in Spiegel’s eyes, more deserving.

fan theories

For some odd reason, Spiegel feels threatened because a good article he probably wrote isn’t as famous as a theory about the Joker from The Dark Knight. And I guess I sympathize. That sounds weird, and I’ve been there.

Does that mean fan theories are inherently bad, though? Absolutely not. You could only argue that they’re toxic if you actually have an argument that points out how they prevent people from deep analysis.

But instead of doing that, Spiegel has chosen to create a false dichotomy between analysis and analysis fueled by imagination. By doing this, he tries to makes you feel dumb for liking fan theories instead of something he likes.

That’s not an argument. That’s a childish guilt trip.

On their own, fan theories are, indeed, harmless; if they existed next to critical discussions, and did so in lesser standing, they would be a fun distraction.

“Fan theories wouldn’t be so bad if people liked my articles better.” 

But the more fan theories are treated as serious, thoughtful salvos in a debate, the more ridiculous they appear to become.

To you. 

Here’s a new fan theory to ponder: making these things die a quick death will improve the world of film immeasurably. What more proof do you need?

All of the proof you failed to deliver thousands of words ago. 

And I’m puzzled by the raising of the stakes toward the end. Now we have to make fan theories die a quick death? What’s going on, Josh? Did a fan theory steal your girlfriend or something?

Seriously, he went from talking about how fan theories are harmless to calling for their immediate death. This sounds a lot like a dictatorship to me, rather than letting people who love movies make up their minds on how they want to approach the entertainment they like.

In other words, not everyone thinks like a film critic. And that’s OK.

fan theories
You. Are going. To do great, today.

This entire article is a classic case of subjectivity rearing its opinionated head. The truth of it is that Josh Spiegel is an intelligent film critic. I actually like his work a lot and enjoyed his review of Inside Out, among others. We don’t always agree, of course, but he’s good at adding great points to any given discussion.

But this idea that fan theories are making everything worse is a true moment of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

The quick of it is that Josh doesn’t like fan theories. So he doesn’t like that you like fan theories. Then he accuses you of not liking the type of analysis that he likes (even though you probably do). Then he calls for the death of said thing that you love.

No thanks.

[UPDATE] The original author of the “Joker” theory (who goes by the username, generalzee) responded to Spiegel’s post via the comments, and I thought it would be good to share it here as well. Source.

As the person who wrote the Joker Fan Theory in question, I can’t believe how wrong and insecure this article sounds.

First of all, I never intended for my fan theory to be a critical analysis of The Dark Knight. Nowhere in my theory do I talk about the framing of shots (which I could have), or the acting (which could have been a major point in such a theory), or even the uber-dark mise-en-scene, which may have fully supported my theory, and highlighted how, thematically, all three main characters were living in the dark. Instead, I made an arguably compelling argument that the film could be interpreted another way.

What I find worse than that, though, is the fact that you claim that I ignored facts that are DIRECTLY MENTIONED in my theory. I explained both the boats and Dent’s scarring (Both physical and emotional) directly in the original piece. Of course, I wouldn’t expect a modern blogger to actually check his sources, and I’m sure you just read the Mashable version at some point, but it annoys me that you would make such an attack on fan theories WITHOUT EVEN READING THE ONE YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.

So please let me be clear that this response IS intended to be a critical discourse on your work. What I see is a self-proclaimed critic who is horrified by his perceived loss of power to a basically unrelated group of people investigating films in a way that he, himself, has arbitrarily deemed below himself. This is reflected in his weak, but clear call to action to end Fan Theories as if they are going to harm legitimate film criticism. The panic he feels reflects strongly in his hastily researched (Really, how long did it take you to read the titles of the top 5 Fan Theories on Reddit?), and poorly thought-out criticism of a culture that he would attempt to appropriate into his own, only to discard it immediately.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni


The Pixar Theory: How ‘Inside Out’ Fits In The Pixar Universe

inside out disappointing

Take her to the moon for me. Okay? 

The Pixar Theory, or “Grand Unifying Theory of Pixar movies” if you want to be more intense, is a fan theory I wrote in 2013 about how every single feature film made by Pixar Animation Studios is intentionally set in the same universe. Or unintentionally, if you believe in miracles.

pixar theory inside out
Dan O’Brien

I was inspired by an episode of the Web Series, “After Hours,” on In the episode written by Dan O’Brien, the After Hours crew discusses, at length, how a few of the Pixar movies may secretly be about the apocalypse. They address Toy StoryWALL-E, and Cars before giving up because they can’t find a way to connect the films any further.

So I took that as a challenge.

Over the following year, I developed my own theory on how all the movies connect, and the results have been surprisingly epic. People from all over the world have read the theory, and many of you have been having ongoing discussions in the comments that go way beyond anything I first imagined (trust me, I read all of them).

Now, two years later, it’s time to see where we’re at as we welcome a new Pixar movie to the world: Inside Out.

pixar theory part 2

First, it’s important to point out that the theory itself has changed dramatically over the years. A lot of people have called out flaws and underdeveloped points of the theory that make it fall apart for them. I’ve read the feedback and spent the last two years writing a book that fully fleshes out my original theory. It addresses pretty much every major complaint and issue that “debunkers” have thrown at it. And it does this in about ten chapters.

Every chapter follows a specific movie (some are lumped in together, like the Cars franchise). I talk about the context of the movie as it relates to this theory, where it fits in the grand timeline, and how each movie contributes to the idea that these movies exist in the same narrative. And yes, I go way beyond the easter eggs.

My book is available now on paperback and all e-book stores. Hope you guys like it!

pixar theory book

But let’s get back to the main task at hand. Let’s talk about how Inside Out masterfully fits within the idea that all of these Pixar films are connected. What you’re about to read is set up like how I wrote the chapters for my book, so if you like what you read, then that may be a sign that the book is for you. Consider this your sample chapter, if you will.

Obviously, many spoilers are ahead, so read at your own risk. I highly recommend that you watch the movie at least once before reading this, especially since it’s pretty fantastic. You’ve been warned.


pixar theory part 2

Inside Out is the story of a young girl struggling to grow up, seen through the eyes of her emotions as literal beings. Yes, Pixar made a movie where feelings have feelings.

The movie opens with the birth of Riley Andersen. The first thing you may notice is that she shares the same last name as Bonnie Anderson from Toy Story 3 and the subsequent shorts based on that movie. That may tempt you into believing that Riley and Bonnie are connected somehow, but that’s definitely not the case since their names aren’t spelled the same way.

For context, Pixar named Bonnie after two people: Bonnie Hunt (a frequent voice actor for the Pixar films) and Darla K. Anderson, the producer of Toy Story 3. Darla actually has easter eggs for her name dating all the way back to A Bug’s Life, where you can catch her first name on a box in “Bug City.”

Anyway, we learn early on that Riley grew up in Minnesota, but her family moves to San Francisco when she’s 11 years old. Now it’s true that Bonnie lives in Tri County, around the corner from Andy, and Tri-County does take place in the Bay Area of California. But that’s really just a coincidence. Riley’s family never mentions that they have relatives around, and they only moved to San Francisco for her dad’s job. For that reason, all signs point to this being a coincidence.


pixar theory part 2

Moving on, we get to know Riley through a montage of her early life. When we get to the point where she’s 11, it appears to be modern day. Much of the technology we see throughout the movie — like a Skype surrogate that closely resembles the one used by Trixie in Toy Story 3 and the presence of smartphones — point to this being a film set in 2015.

That means Riley was born in either 2003 or 2004, depending on her exact birthday. Interestingly, that would mean the movie opens during the same year as Finding Nemo. 

We also know that this has to be some time after 2007, which is when Ratatouille takes place. In fact, Inside Out actually confirms that Ratatouille takes place in 2007 instead of 2004, which is a conundrum I ran into while writing the book. It’s all based on the blurry date seen on Gusteau’s will and…eh, don’t worry, it’s not important.

pixar theory part 2

Anyway, the reason we know that this is some time after Ratatouille is because you can see Colette Tatou on the cover of a magazine in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it easter egg. Judging by the prestige of this magazine, Colette has done well for herself during her years learning from Remy and working at La Ratatouille, the bistro she started with him and Linguini.

After all, why would she be on the cover a magazine before her adventures in Ratatouille? Before she met Linguini, she was just a hardworking chef trying to build a career at a failing restaurant. I find it much more plausible that she’s created a name for herself under the tutelage of the best chef in France.


pixar theory part 2

So as we get to know Riley in the film’s early montage, we meet her emotions. The film immediately takes us inside her head, where we watch Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger team up to influence Riley’s actions. They work in “Headquarters” (get it?) and use a mysterious console to control Riley’s decisions.

When an emotion manages to elicit a meaningful experience in real life, a memory is generated and sent to Riley’s long term memory. If it’s a specifically powerful experience, then it will create a core memory that will stay in Headquarters.

It’s somewhat confusing, but Pixar does a great job of explaining this better than I can. They use subtle techniques and cleverness to make the inside of Riley’s head immediately unique, while also incredibly believable.

pixar theory part 2

For example, the memories are shaped like “marbles” because without them, Riley would lose her marbles.

This is a fun movie.

The plot of Inside Out focuses on Riley being uprooted to a new home in San Fransisco and how this negatively affects her emotions. She misses her friends, never sees her dad anymore because of his new job, and feels pressured to just “be happy” all the time. This causes her to repress her sadness, which eventually causes even more problems.


pixar theory part 2

There’s another fun cameo during this part of the movie. We see a rat that looks a lot like Remy, which is just a fun reminder that Pixar animation transcends the multiple stories they tell. And we also see memories that feature other Pixar characters. You can see Carl and Ellie’s wedding from Up for example.

A good reason for that could be that Riley saw a tape of this wedding at some point, though that would have to be a very old home movie. It could be a picture, since we see a camera in the first frame of that scene in Up. In that case, Riley could have seen that picture and imagined the wedding herself. This has led a lot of people to think that Riley could somehow be related to Carl and Ellie, which would be quite a stretch.

That’s because Carl and Ellie sadly never had kids, so Riley would have to be a distant relative. If she knows about the wedding, then she’s probably met some of this family, but we know in those early scenes of Inside Out that Riley is visiting California for the first time. She thought the Golden Gate bridge was actually golden, after all.

pixar theory part 2

You could argue that people from this family went to Minnesota to visit her, but I’m not really convinced. Personally, I don’t think we’re able to know just yet, though one theory I have is that she had a teacher or friend’s parent who is somehow connected to Carl and Ellie. A future Pixar movie may shed light on this.

Some people even want to believe that Riley is Boo from Monsters Inc.,or Andy’s mom. Seriously. Look, Riley is Riley. She’s not anyone else, and trying to force these connections is missing the point. For example, the primary reason people think Riley is Boo is because when she’s shown as a toddler, she’s wearing the same hair tie/scrunchy thing that Boo wears in Monsters Inc. 

riley boo

They both even have pig tails. If you’re fixated on them being one in the same, then you miss the cooler reveal, which is that Riley was growing up around the same time as Boo (Monsters Inc., takes place in the early 2000s), so of course that style and those hair ties were popular.

As for Riley being Andy’s mom…I mean that’s way too much of a stretch, even for a limo.

riley andy's mom
Besides the eyes, nose, time period, and basic facial structure, they’re exactly alike! Sigh.


A main theme of the Pixar Theory is the idea that humans emit this strange energy that we see all throughout the films. In Monsters Inc., we learn that the laughter of a child can be harvested as energy for a society of creatures that mysteriously know how to use it. In The Incredibles, this energy is seen tangibly through the exploits of super-powered humans who can do amazing things.

Part of my Pixar Theory (the updated version) is that humans power the toys in Toy Story because they’re built to collect energy by the machines from The Incredibles. The book goes more into detail, but the basic idea is that the machines know how to use human energy as a battery, which carries on as a strategy all the way to the future, when monsters have to go back in time through doors to access this energy because no humans are left thanks to WALL-E. 

But all this time, I’ve wondered why Pixar seems so infatuated with this idea of imagination being a raw power. And Inside Out addresses this pretty head on. The whole premise of the movie is that our emotions (as seen in Monsters Inc.,) are what truly power our actions. And the most powerful emotion for a child is Joy, as seen by Joy being the de facto leader of Riley’s emotions. Most of Riley’s memories are positive, and this is because Joy is inherently a strong emotion for many children.

pixar theory part 2

The monsters of Monsters Inc, use fear, which can be another strong emotion for some kids, to power their society, but they eventually learn that laughter from joy is far more effective. And why is that? Well, Inside Out explains that joy is one of the first emotions we experience. Joy, the character, is a literal light source. She’s fast, tough, and clever. And she’ll do anything to make Riley happy. The other emotions in comparison are much more passive.

A lingering question in Monsters Inc., is why adults are so difficult to scare. Inside Out sort of answers that by showing how the inside of adults’ minds work. They’re more emotionally balanced, for example, so you don’t see one emotion overpowering the others. When we see inside the heads of Riley’s parents, the emotions don’t bicker like they do in Riley’s head. Instead, they all work together to accomplish the same goal.

But that’s not all. No, no, no. There’s something even better hiding in the dark of this movie that serves as the biggest “Aha!” moment I’ve had since I carefully re-watched Brave and Monsters Inc., back to back.

And it has to do with this guy, Bing Bong.


pixar theory part 2

Bing Bong is Riley’s imaginary friend. Joy and Sadness meet him halfway through the movie, and he helps them navigate Riley’s mind as they try to return to Headquarters. When Riley was three, Bing Bong was her best friend. He’s part cat, part elephant, and part dolphin. He’s made of cotton candy and, naturally, cries candy. He even has a wagon that can fly when powered by songs…


So what’s the big deal? Why is he important?

Simple. Bing Bong is an imaginary friend, yes. But he’s based on a monster. Riley’s monster from when she was three.

At the end of Monsters Inc., Sulley and Mike decide to make kids laugh instead of scream because it generates more energy and is less messed up. We even see Mike go through a door and perform standup comedy for a child.

pixar theory part 2

But wouldn’t this leave a kid feeling traumatized? Imagine a monster coming through your door, making you laugh, and then disappearing forever. This would make no sense unless…children perceive these new monsters as their imaginary friends.

Bing Bong was a monster who went through Riley’s door and made her laugh when she was three. We know that monsters have animal characteristics, explaining his part-cat/part-elephant appearance. And of course Riley thinks he’s made of cotton candy. Why else would he be pink? I’d even argue that he makes dolphin noises to make Riley laugh, causing her to think he’s part dolphin, too.

pixar theory part 2

This all makes perfect sense if we’re to believe that well-adjusted kids in Pixar movies grew up meeting monsters in their rooms late at night. And it’s further helped by the fact that in Riley’s subconscious, she’s afraid of clowns, not monsters.

And think of it this way. Isn’t it pretty easy to picture Bing Bong living in Monstropolis?

I have plenty more to say about all of this, but those are the major points. If you want to keep digging, you can read another exploration I did of this movie that goes somewhat more into detail. The gist of it is that Bing Bong is life.

There are more easter eggs for the movie listed at the bottom, but that’s the basic rundown of how Inside Out fits into the Pixar Theory. If you think of something interesting to add or have a compelling question to ask, fire away! Just please…don’t ask if Big Hero 6, a Disney movie, should be in the Pixar Theory…

Ready for more?

The conspiring doesn’t end here. Check out my other Pixar Theory posts from infinity to beyond:

  • The Pixar Theory – the full book available on paperback and ebook via Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or just a PDF. This will cover the entire theory and every movie in the Pixar universe, updated from what you just read.


  • There’s a globe in Riley’s classroom that has been shown in every single Toy Story film.
  • Some of the cars in San Francisco have bumper stickers from the Pixar movie, Cars.
  • Bing Bong disturbs a cloud person in Imaginationland, and he looks a lot like the cloud from the Pixar short, “Partly Cloudy.”

  • Also in Imaginationland, you can see a board game with a picture of Nemo that says “Find Me.”
  • One of Riley’s classmates wears a camo shirt with Toy Story characters on it. Well, their silhouettes, at least. It even looks like Arlo from The Good Dinosaur is on there as well. There’s even a popular girl at the school with a skull t-shirt in the same fashion as Sid’s from Toy Story, just in a different color. The 90s are making a comeback!

  • A banner in Riley’s hockey rink showcases a team from Tri-County, which is the setting for Toy Story. I explain this easter egg further in a different article.
  • Blink and you’ll miss a “For the Birds” cameo during Riley’s road trip to San Francisco in the beginning of the movie. It’s just like their appearance in Cars.
  • As always, the animators included ample A113 references. I’ve heard there’s more than one, but the only one I saw personally was A113 as the number of Riley’s classroom.
  • If you look closely at Riley’s Chinese takeout box, you’ll notice it has the same design as the one from A Bug’s Life (pictured below). Those familiar with the theory know that this could be because the same restaurant exists in both movies, so naturally there’d still be remnants of these takeout boxes hundreds of years later during Flik and the gang’s adventures.

inside out pixar theory

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Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

The Truth About Andy’s Dad In ‘Toy Story’ Will Make You Depressed

Andy dad toy story

Fine, here’s what happened to Andy’s dad.

A few months ago, I argued the theory that Andy’s mother is actually Emily, the girl who originally owned Jesse in Toy Story 2. The post quickly went viral, as many people began debating whether or not this is true, intentional, etc.

Since then, literally hundreds (if not thousands) of people have been asking me about Andy’s dad, and I’ve never wanted to address the issue for a few key reasons:

  1. It’s depressing.
  2. It’s depressing.
  3. It’s depressing.

You see, I love talking about theories like Andy’s mom and how all of the Pixar movies are connected because that’s tons of fun to think about. Andy’s dad? That’s just…well, you get it.

andy's dad toy story

But I can see that a lot of you want to know anyway, and it’s really not that complicated. In fact, this is one of the few theories about Toy Story that I can confidently say is totally intentional.

The original theory was first posited by Jess Nevins, an incredibly talented writer who published his take on “Mr. Davis” back in 2010. I’ll elaborate on his theory and build upon it with my own insights.

Nevins claimed that Andy’s parents are going through a divorce during the events of the first Toy Story. Now, many of you probably saw that coming (it’s pretty obvious, after all), but it’s important to point out that this is not an amicable divorce. Andy’s dad left the family, and there’s plenty of evidence to confirm this.

Keep in mind that Andy’s dad is never mentioned or seen throughout the Toy Story movies. If it wasn’t for the rudiments of biology and procreation, then we could just assume that the guy doesn’t even exist. But he does, and all signs point to him walking out on his wife and kids.

The Obvious Clues

He may have left right before the first Toy Story started or months before, but one thing is certain: Andy’s dad did not die. If he had died, then why are there no pictures of him on the wall in the Davis house?

toy story andy's dad

As you can see from this shot of Toy Story, Andy’s dad is not depicted in these family photos. If he had died, you’d think they would at least keep a picture of him up for the sake of honoring his memory.

Of course, you can argue that he died a long time ago, and the family has forgotten about him already. But if that’s the case, then how do you explain the fact that Molly (Andy’s younger sister) is a baby? He would’ve had to have died recently in order for her existence to be possible.

It makes more sense to assume that his pictures were taken down, and it would take something despicable on his part for that to happen.

To strengthen that point, Andy’s mom is spotted without a wedding ring at Andy’s birthday party in the first film. If Mr. Davis had died recently, then she would probably still be wearing it.

toy story andy's dad

Now, I’ll admit that if you really want to, you can come up with a lot of diverting theories to explain all of this by saying Molly was conceived by some other man and that could be why the parents divorced. You could argue that the kids are adopted, or Andy’s mom just “gets around.”

But don’t you think the creators of Toy Story intended for this to be clear? In this case, the simple explanation is the more likely.

After all, the family is moving from a bigger house to a noticeably smaller one in Toy Story, which signals that Andy’s mom is having financial trouble. If she and Mr. Davis were getting a divorce, then he would at least be paying child support, but the family still has to make some sacrifices.

Oh, and the family gets a puppy. That’s pretty much the king of single mother clichés.

Childish Competition

The “deadbeat dad” theory also explains why Andy is so deeply connected with his toys, especially the masculine figureheads depicted by Woody and Buzz (who are both authoritative models as a “sheriff” and a “space ranger”).

What seems like a petty rivalry between two toys vying for Andy’s affection is really an allegory that Andy is playing out in his mind. In the end, their reconciliation and eventual friendship is symbolic of Andy coming to terms with only having his mother around.

toy story andy's dad

Woody is the “old” father figure that represents where Andy really comes from, while Buzz is the “new” future he has to get used to. It’s no wonder Andy is going through emotional whiplash as he has to face the absence of his father and having to move to a totally new house within such a limited amount of time.

Now, if you’re a fan of my theory of Pixar movies and the Pixar Detective novel, then a fun way to interpret this is by noting how Woody and Buzz are essentially “programmed” to make Andy happy.

They may notice that he is torn by his old life and the new one that is being forced upon him, prompting Woody to obsess over making sure Andy still has a connection to his old life, while Buzz is the “oblivious” future that just happens upon Andy without him knowing it.

A Common Theme

Ultimately, this explains why Andy is so deeply immersed with his toys, and it’s a theme that Disney is no stranger to. In many Disney and Pixar films, the main characters are brought up without one or both parents.

toy story andy's dad

Movies like this include Up (Russell’s father left him), Tangled (Rapunzel is raised by an evil fake-mother and Flynn is an orphan), Frozen (both parents pass away), A Bug’s Life (Dot and Atta only have their mother), The Princess and the Frog (her father dies early on), Aladdin (Jasmine’s mother is never mentioned and Aladdin’s father is estranged until the third film) and I could go on and on.

The simple explanation for this is that many people suffer from broken homes during their formative years, and it’s been reflected in both literature and moviemaking for as long as they’ve been around. It should be no surprise that a fun film like Toy Story has an undercurrent of sadness and (dare I say it) reality lingering in the background.

Also, it’s been a tradition for movies and even TV to stray from having both parents onscreen in order to prevent alienating single parents who take their kids to go see movies. Ouch, right in the heart.

What the Creators Have to Say About It

Now, if you ask the director of Toy Story, Lee Unkrich, directly, then he’ll give you a mysteriously vague answer. In her article, Toy Story 3 and the Triumph of a Single Mother,” writer Mary Pols spoke with Unkrich himself and gained his thoughts on the matter:

“It’s an oft asked question, but there is no concrete answer, We don’t mean to be mysterious about it; it’s just never been relevant to the story.”

It’s just always been that way. The decision was made really early on in ‘Toy Story’ to have Andy’s dad not be around. We’ve never addressed it directly, nor have we given any explanation for where he is or why he’s absent.”

As for Unkrich himself (pictured below), his parents divorced when he was 10 years old, and he reportedly grew up with just his mother for some time.

toy story andy's dad

On Quora, Craig Good (one of Toy Story‘s animators) claims that the decision to exclude Andy’s dad was made because rendering humans was very difficult and expensive at the time, and he wouldn’t be relevant to the story anyway.

But that definitely doesn’t mean they didn’t pepper in a few clues that hint at Andy’s father being a deadbeat. That most easily explains why he truly isn’t necessary for the Toy Story movies, especially to the characters who moved on without him.

Except for Buzz Lightyear, of course. Even he got a dad in Toy Story 2…

toy story andy's dad


So here it is in a nutshell. Andy’s father most likely walked out on the family, which led to Andy’s mother deciding to relocate to a smaller house to save money and (hopefully) move on from the painful memory. She has removed any pictures she has of him, along with her wedding ring, and the father is never mentioned or seen, even in Andy’s graduation photos.

It’s sad and kind of depressing, but inevitably pointless to the story, which is really about a boy and his toys that somehow come to life and compete for his love and imagination.

Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my Mailing List.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

The True Identity of Andy’s Mom In ‘Toy Story’ May Blow Your Mind

Andy's Mom

It all started with a hat.

Several months ago, one of my anonymous Pixar Theory Interns (that’s a thing on a resume) came to me with a crazy proposition: Andy’s mom is Emily, Jessie’s previous owner.

I laughed. I then agreed.

For some time, I compiled all of the evidence and found some incredible support for this theory. For one thing, take a close look at Andy’s cowboy hat he frequently wears in the movies:

Andy's Hat

Here’s another close look:

Andy's Hat

As you can see, Andy’s hat is noticeably different from Woody’s. Why is this? Why wouldn’t Andy want to wear a hat that closely resembles the one worn by his favorite toy?

It’s no secret that Andy has a close connection with Woody. In Toy Story 2, his mom (who we only know as Ms. Davis) mentions that Woody is an old family toy.

Remember that Woody doesn’t even recall that he is a collector’s item – a toy made in the 1950s. This is a deviation from other toys who know full well where they come from. It’s possible that Woody doesn’t know because he’s been in Andy’s family for a long time, possibly belonging to his father.

But we need more evidence. Take a close look at Jessie’s hat:

Andy's Hat

Ah, this hat looks familiar. It’s the same red hat with white lace that Andy wears. The only difference is that Jessie’s hat has a white lace around the center. But look at Andy’s hat again.

Andy's Hat

There’s a faded mark where the white lace should be. Why do you think that is? And what does Jessie have to do with this?

(Bob Saget’s voice) Kids, you remember the story of Jessie. Her owner Emily grew up with her, much the same way as Andy. She was incredibly loved, but Emily eventually gave her away when she grew older. Jessie ended up in storage for a long time, as confirmed by her in the movie when she has a literal panic attack over having to go back.

Now, take a close look at what’s on this bed in Emily’s room:

Andy's Hat

That is a hat that looks extremely similar to, you guessed it, Andy’s. The room is also pretty old-fashioned, leaving room for this to take place years before Andy was born.

In fact, you can clearly tell that this isn’t modern day with shots like these:

Andy's Hat

The only difference between the hat that Emily wears throughout this sequence and Andy’s hat is an extra white lace around the center, which is visibly missing from Andy’s hat. Otherwise, the hats are identical.

Also, in the donation box that Emily puts Jessie in, we don’t see the hat. We do see other remnants of her connection with Jessie, but the hat is noticeably absent. The box isn’t even big enough to hold it. So Emily held onto that hat…and maybe passed it on to her child, who would grow to also love a cowboy doll.

We never get a closeup of Emily’s face, but we do see that she has light, auburn hair as a teenager. Also, it is very short.

Compared to:


The middle picture is closest to the strawberry blonde color we see when Emily is young. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that her hair lightened as she aged, which is clearly the case in these photos (or she could have dyed it).

Here’s what we know for sure:

We don’t know the first name of Andy’s mom. We don’t know Emily’s last name. We know that Andy’s hat and Emily’s hat are the same. We know that Emily is old enough to be Andy’s mom. We definitely know that Pixar is perfectly capable of sneaking this in without being overt about it.

You may be wondering how the two characters could be the same if Emily was willing to give Jessie up so easily, while Andy was far more hesitant.

Actually, the scenarios are quite similar. Andy forgot about Woody as he grew up too, despite their strong connection. Andy even gave Woody away, albeit in a different manner than Emily.

In the end, it makes perfect sense that these two concurrent stories are so similar because they’re related by blood. It’s also a freak of destiny that Jessie would one day belong to her owner’s son, though we never get to see the mom’s reaction to seeing Jessie again.

She was probably indifferent and believed it to be a different version of the same toy. How would you respond if you saw your child with a toy that looked like one that you had as a kid? Your first assumption probably wouldn’t be that they’re the exact same toy.

What do you think? Do you believe that the two characters are the same and that Andy’s mom/Emily found redemption through the love her son had for the toy she left behind? Or, do you hate fun, love, and destiny? Let me know.

Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my Mailing List.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

All images courtesy of Disney/Pixar

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