Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Toy Story 2

(1999)

A few blocks away from where we used to live on Belmont Street in Portland, Oregon, there is one of the oddest museums I’ve ever seen. It’s Kidd’s Toy Museum, and it is housed more or less in an auto parts and repair shop. You would never find it if you didn’t know what you were looking for. Part of it is on one side of the street, and part is in another building, sort of stashed in different rooms. The shelves are absolutely jammed with mint-condition toys from the 1860s to the 1930s, with a few newer than that. There are all sorts of toys, but the real glory is the mechanical banks. Kidd may have the best collection of mechanical banks in the world. (Some of them are appalling, such as a dozen “Jolly Nigger” banks, a very popular item around the turn of the century.) What the entire collection is worth is hard to say, but judging from the prices we’ve seen on “Antiques Roadshow” for similar items, it is sure to be many millions.
This is the direction the wonderful sequel to Toy Story takes. It turns out that Woody was a very popular television string puppet in the early ‘50s. He wasn’t aware of this until he lands in the hands of an unscrupulous collector who has every Woody item ever produced except a mint condition Woody himself. Woody is delighted to see this amazing collection: “I’m on a yo-yo!” He watches one of his old shows, fascinated and amazed. This is so wonderfully done, funny and touching. It took me back to the days when we watched Howdy Doody and his sister Heidi, friends Clarabell, Dilly Dally, Flub-a-Dub, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and mean Mr. Bluster. (“Say kids, what time is it?” And the Peanut Gallery would shout back, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!”) He’s going to be shipped off to a museum in Japan where he will spend the rest of his life behind glass, never being played with. He eventually agrees with this idea, because he’ll be with his partners Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector (who’s never been removed from his box), and his faithful horse, Bullseye … but mostly because Jessie tells him the heartbreaking story of how she was abandoned by Emily, her owner, who grew up and put aside childish things. As we all do … except collectors.
This story resonated with me in many ways, at least partly because for about 15 years I collected toy robots. I never had any of the ultra-valuable Japanese ones from the ‘60s (though I’m pretty sure Granddaddy sold a bunch of them; oh, my, whatever happened to them?), but I had over 1000 before I sold them all off on eBay. I had everything from tiny rubber robots with parachutes to stuffed plush toy robots to giant plastic behemoths that shot three different kinds of projectiles, not unlike the Evil Emperor Zurg in this movie. What? So that makes me a bad guy? Well, I never kept any robot in its box, even though I knew that de-crating it lowered its value. And I did play with them, okay? Ask anyone who attended my monthly parties in Eugene. We played with them all the time. I can’t tell you how it tickles me to think of this legion of robots coming to life and acting out action scenarios when I was out of the house.
There are too many wonderful scenes to recount, but three stand out. First, when Buzz enters the toy store and discovers the Buzz Lightyear aisle, with a thousand copies of himself. Whoa! Imagine yourself in that situation. Then there is the wonderful recreation of a ‘50s TV adventure, way beyond low-budget, just like they were in those days. And you know what? I’ll bet children of my era were just as entertained by those primitive shows as today’s kids are by the high-tech, very expensive stuff they get these days. But most of all it is the sequence that shows Emily growing up and abandoning Jessie under the bed among the dust bunnies, and finally leaving her in a box by the charity bin … I was genuinely moved, which seldom happens in a cartoon. It was an early sign of the real emotion Pixar films could generate with things like the opening ten minutes of Up. Nobody but Disney in his heyday has done that to me. Bravo!