Toy Story
Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, Pete Docter, Joe Ranft, and John Lasseter, 1995

Toy Story 2
Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin, Chris Webb, Pete Docter, Ash Brannon, Lee Unkrich, and John Lasseter, 1999
#4, 1999 Skandies

I remember that the original Toy Story was a huge deal: it was the first CGI feature and established Pixar as the gold standard in this new medium. Reviews were outstanding. Mike D'Angelo, for instance, made Toy Story his #3 of 1995 and Toy Story 2 his #1 of 1999. But I didn't watch them. Why not? Because I'm not a child. Yes, the reviews made it clear that these films were designed to entertain both kids and their parents, but you could say the same thing about Sesame Street. In fact, Sesame Street is quite successful at it, so much so that I have even linked to old '70s Sesame Street clips in my minutiae from time to time. But I don't, like, actually watch the show or anything. The same sort of thing seems to be true where these movies are concerned. I don't regret the loss of the time I spent watching them, and if I had a kid who insisted on watching a video, hearing one of these in the background would probably not drive me into a suicidal spiral except when the Randy Newman songs are playing. But that's obviously not the world's highest hurdle to clear.

It seems that the pro-Toy Story faction found these movies to be "inspired, rollicking mayhem" on the surface, "staggeringly rich with implications" underneath. I thought some of the dialogue was witty (though undermined by the fact that the voices of Frasier Crane, Newman, and Mrs. Costanza totally overrode the images onscreen) but found the chase scenes as tedious as their live-action counterparts. As for the implications, well, I dunno. It seems to me that, as far as food for thought goes, Woody's dilemma in Toy Story 2 (is it better to be a beloved plaything for a few years of a child's life or gain relative immortality as a museum piece) pales in comparison to the fact that both movies are paeans to the notion that children need storebought plastic props in order to play.

I got to thinking about toys, and it occurred to me that I and my two brothers all had very different ways of playing when we were growing up. When I was really little, I played with generic wooden blocks, and then got a Lego set (which, for the under-30s out there, was just a big bag of all-purpose bricks, not a kit designed to make a specific spaceship or anything). In elementary school I collected stuffed animals and spent most of my waking hours playing Intellivision games. I also had a lot of board games (mostly played solo), a few jigsaw puzzles... plus lots and lots of books, and generally a stack of library books besides. But no little plastic dudes. My youngest brother was also not really one for toys: he was an outdoorsy type and was all about bikes and skateboards and things. As far as toys went he was mostly into Hot Wheels. My middle brother was a different story, though. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe — he had 'em all.

"You're a cool toy!" Woody reassures Buzz in the first movie, pointing out that he has a blinking light, pop-out (but useless) wings, and buttons that play a recorded message. Uh, no! That is a completely lame toy! That's, what, fifteen seconds of entertainment? Ah, you say, but look at how Andy plays with his toys. It's not about the features they have, it's about the life he invests in them! Believe me, I know. Because of all Raihan's toys, his favorite — the one who starred in all his toy stories, the one he carried around for a good couple of years, the one whose voice he talked in more often than his own — was this:

That's right — it's Polly, the inch-long piece of green plastic that came as an accessory packed in with a "real" toy, Shipwreck from G.I. Joe. (And here you thought that Mr. Awky was an homage to Alex.) I doubt I've ever been attached to anyone or anything the way that my brother was attached to this tiny fake bird. Now, in a sense this proves the point of the Toy Story films, that toys are very important to kids — but it also undermines it. For if my brother could love what was essentially a small green rock — an inaction figure with zero points of articulation — then why can't Andy be just as invested in, say, a piece of cardboard with a picture of Buzz Lightyear glued to it? Why spend... holy crap, $54.99! Or take Mr. Potato Head, featured in these films. Mr. Potato Head was invented by a guy who used to decorate potatoes to make toys for his little sisters. It occurred to him that one could manufacture and sell pronged facial features that people could stick into potatoes. Then later the company he sold the idea to figured that it could make even more money by selling a piece of plastic to take the place of the potatoes. The result is that millions of people have shelled out ten bucks for the privilege of being able to decorate a potato. Which you can already do for the price of a potato. And then you can eat the potato.

I grew up in Anaheim, home of Disneyland. For years I loathed Disney, muttering that its entire business was founded on propagating the notion that the wonder of childhood was synonymous with its products. But Disney is hardly the only culprit — it was just the closest. All the corporations with toy lines like Barbie, My Little Pony, Thundercats, you name it, are basically selling Pet Rocks. You've got an inert hunk of plastic and then you monetize it with your huge marketing budget. Look, kids! You might think you're having fun, but without this polystyrene prop and its associated proto-narrative, your playtime isn't worth shit! This is the sort of message we should be fighting with all our might — and the Toy Story movies frickin' celebrate it. No wonder the world of Pixar eventually winds up buried in garbage.

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