Toy Story 3: Make-Believe

My 8-year-old daughter has a huge collection of little toy animals which she plays with daily.  She has given each a name, a unique personality and its own voice.  She can sit for hours and play with them all alone, very content.  My son used to play with her occasionally but he never got into make-believe as deeply.

We all went and saw Toy Story 3.  To me, it was just like the other Toy Stories and I found the redundancy a bit boring.  The kids liked it.  During the movie, my indomitable philosophical mind thought about childhood imaginary friends with their different personalities and how we outgrow them (a theme in Toy Story 3).  What is happening there?  My view of multiple selves came to mind — I saw toy play as being an outward dialogue with our own multiple selves or possible selves. Play, then, is a psychological growth activity.  We outgrow them when this dialogue become more internal and more automatic — but the play continues.

Ethologist say that when young animals and children wrestle, tussle and play, they are (unknowingly) practicing for battle and learning about dominance.  Perhaps talking to our toys is preparation to more sophisticated relationships to our multiple selves and others.

Question for readers:  Why do you think kids are shy to do such play in front of adults?


Filed under Cognitive Science

13 responses to “Toy Story 3: Make-Believe

  1. Kids aren’t shy if you come into their world and play make-believe with them; I do it all the time. Lots of times, they’ll communicate things to you through make-believe that they wouldn’t communicate otherwise. Just like I have to put on my materialistic naturalist Spider-man costume to talk to atheists. 🙂

  2. @ JS Allen

    LOVED the Spider-man costume thing !

    Actually, I play with my daughter sometimes. But the best way to make this work is to act like a little kid with her. It is as if my child would be embarrassed to talk to her imaginary friends if she saw me in pure adult mode. And you are right, I can learn a lot from her by listening during those times.

    Is this why Christians are hesitant to pray in front of non-believers and only feel comfortable talking to imaginary beings in the comfort of others do the make-believe game?
    Smile 🙂 Just getting back at ya.

  3. Hehe, you’re totally right. 🙂 In fact, C.S. Lewis claimed that an appreciation of fairy tales is helpful for believing in Christianity, and Chesterton claimed that the Pagans were most predisposed to Christianity because of their propensity to see gods in the trees and rivers. It’s a shame that modern society forces us to be so “realistic”.

  4. I like this idea. It matches something I have wrestled to express in the notion of “Yuan“. I will have to try to write something that captures the truth behind what you are saying without capturing gnomes and fairies!

  5. Why do you think kids are shy to do such play in front of adults?

    no. i think adults have forgotten how to play. we’re much too linear, too goal oriented. i play with my nieces and nephews all the time.. they LOVE starwars. but anytime we play, it’s mainly set-up. like you can have this, and these are your powers, and you have this lightsaber and such. we never really get around to the adventure. the adventure for them is in the setup.

  6. Shawn Wamsley


    I’ll validate your question, when I “catch” my kids pretending they get a little embarrassed (though, I will also validate what the others have said – my kids love to play pretend with their daddy). However, I should mention that my daughter is only 13 months old, so it is only the boys that I have caught pretending. I think they are embarrassed because they are often engaged in genuine fantasy (I’ve never seen them “pretend clean or cook, etc” and get embarrassed about it). My boys fantasize about flying or having super powers, et al – and when they see Dad it’s like the suspension of disbelief is broken. However, if I agree to participate in that suspension of disbelief, then there is no embarrassment – because I am “in” on it and they know that I know we are enjoying play together.

  7. @ Shawn

    Thanks for stopping in again & thanx for the validation. Mind you, perhaps the kids would pause (be shy) if another kid walked by who hadn’t yet entered the fantasy. It seems the practice of fantasy feels safest among fellow believers. Whereas if you are building something or discussing a book, you never pause when strangers come by.

    This goes to my reply to a fellow-Christian of yours above, JSAllen, where I said,

    Is this why Christians are hesitant to pray in front of non-believers and only feel comfortable talking to imaginary beings in the comfort of others do the make-believe game?

    Check out his reply and see if you agree, or if you are two different sorts of Christians in that regard.
    Again, thanks for stopping in.

  8. Shawn Wamsley


    I guess it depends on what you’re building or which book you’re discussing, eh? 🙂

    I have always appreciated Lewis, especially for his willingness to engage the modern insistence for material reductionism. They (C.S. Lewis and JSAllen) are both correct, of course. If you have already decided something is impossible, how will you believe it?

    As far as why I have ever hesitated to pray, however, I must say that I have never been shy because someone wasn’t “in on the fantasy” or “a believer.” I have been hesitant to pray. I have been hesitant, because relationships are important to me, and there are a lot of obnoxious Christians out there that use such opportunities to be, well…obnoxious. I don’t want to force myself on others – my personality is already kind of forceful and I have to mind my manners.

  9. An admirable trait adjustment ! 🙂

  10. Check this one out:

    And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
    — Matt 6:5-6 (NIV)


  11. Temaskian

    Love the comments.

    Though I think JS Allen is not so much putting on a Spiderman suit as taking off his Christian robes.

  12. Tim Smith

    Sometimes the off beat things I read have surprising contemporary applications! Friedrich von Schiller in ‘Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man’ maintained that play is a basic human drive, one that mediates between what he calls the sensuous- drive and the formal- drive. The senses keep us in this world and aware of time. His so called formal-drive is seen when we think in abstract and unchanging terms. We move in and out of these domains while in play where we ” combine the greatest fullness of existence with the highest autonomy and freedom.” This sounds esoteric on the surface but at the same time seems rather credible. Also since Schiller is immortalized in bronze beside Goethe we should at least give him a hearing.

  13. Temaskian


    Makes sense to me.

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