If you asked a majority of Americans who was the true villain of “Toy Story,” most of us would say Sid. He is set up as the film’s primary antagonist, and with good reason. I mean the first time we see him he is literally blowing up Combat Carl (R.I.P.), a toy that the audience knows as a sentient being. We have the benefit of context though. Sid didn’t know Combat Carl could feel, or love, or be scared. He just liked to blow up toys for fun. Weird? Yes, but at least he wasn’t catching cats on fire or whatever else serial killers generally do as kids. And once he did realize that toys were sentient – in one of the most terrifying ways possible this side of “Small Soldiers” – he decided that mercilessly torturing toys might not be all that fun anymore. Sid seemingly was a sadistic sociopath who somehow ended up being a somewhat constructive member of society, serving the city as a trash man in later films. No, the REAL villain of Toy Story is none other than the maniacal Mr. Potato Head.
Yes, you read that right. I think Mr. Potato Head is worse than Sid. “But why?” you may ask yourself. Sid murdered toys while Mr. Potato Head’s only crime was being a plastic, mustachioed, tuberous crop with a cynical outlook on life!
I used to feel the same way. That all changed when I sat down to watch “Toy Story” with my kids, and I began to notice how manipulative this starchy son of a spud really is in the movie. One of the very first images in the movie foreshadows the fact that he is intended to be the Voldemort to the Harry/Ron team of Woody and Buzz. In the cardboard town we see at the beginning of the film hangs this wanted poster:
Before Buzz (BB) Mr. Head seems fine playing second fiddle to Woody’s heroic adventures, although he does seem to have a problem with toddlers and drool. This attitude quickly vanishes as the town-hall meeting comes to order. First he calls Ham an “uncultured swine” for not understanding his Picasso reference, then he immediately (and angrily) tells Woody that of course HE isn’t scared about the birthday party because HE is Andy’s favorite! An obsession with expensive artwork, cynical insults, and an intense level of jealousy? That’s not the trademark of comedic relief, that’s the trademark of a James Bond villain.
After Buzz’s arrival (AB?) Mr. Potato Head snarkily and repeatedly makes jokes about Woody being “replaced” which, as far as I can tell, is one of the worst possible fates for a toy. That’s comparable to telling someone that it’d be hilarious if they had some horrible, incurable disease. He then begins undermining any authority Woody still held by manipulating the rest of the toys with one-liners about Woody’s “laser envy,” how Woody’s voice box sounds like it was run over by a car, saying Woody’s new place at Andy’s will be the attic, and talking about how outdated Woody is compared to Buzz. This still could be seen as him just trying to fit in with the Troll toy line.
When Woody’s plan to knock Buzz behind the desk goes awry and he ends up accidentally knocking him out the window (which is admittedly a pretty terrible move by Woody) Mr. Potato Head immediately manipulates the rest of the toys into a riotous furor. This not only leads to Etch-a-Sketch sending a death-threat to Woody, but the rest of the toys trying to hang him by his drawstring. That’s not a normal reaction, that’s internet outrage level fury. Mr. Potato Head also saw the whole thing! He should know that Woody wasn’t a Rube Goldberg level mastermind who intended for the R.C. car to hit the bulletin-board which tipped over and hit the globe, which rolled and hit the light, which spun around to knock Buzz out the window… that’s too convoluted of an evil plan for Woody to devise.
As soon as Woody makes one mistake, Mr. Potato Head hangs him out to dry. He throws around words like “murderer” and “guilty” with ease. Woody was his friend for He-Man’s sake!
The next time we see Mr. Potato Head he is holding the rope that will save Woody and Buzz from Sid’s clutches, but takes the lifeline from Slinky Dog and tosses it out the window with callous ease. He obviously sees himself as judge, jury, and executioner. That kind a megalomaniac thinking is the staple of a stereotypical villain.
And finally, after Woody heroically rescues Buzz from Sid (by horribly traumatizing him) they race to catch the moving truck. Buzz reaches the truck first but falls off the truck trying to save Woody from Sid’s dog. Woody then requisitions R.C. to save Buzz, but as he is trying to explain his plan Mr. Potato Head, who apparently sees himself as the head of a Sicilian crime family, orders the other toys to throw Woody out of the moving vehicle. My math may be a bit rusty, but I count a total of THREE times that Mr. Potato Head has attempted to straight up murder Woody. First he tried to lynch him, then he threw away the rope out of Sid’s room, and finally he convinces the others to THROW HIM OUT OF A MOVING VEHICLE. Sid didn’t even manage to try to take Woody’s life that many times.
I am no expert in criminology, but I don’t see how Mr. Potato Head can be considered anything other than the villain in “Toy Story”. He incites riots, manipulates events, and attempts numerous murders. All Sid really did was be that kid you never wanted to be around in middle school, and he was probably temporarily institutionalized for it.