When I was a child my granddaddy managed the Duke & Ayres store in Corsicana, Texas. (Think Woolworth’s, but smaller.) Among the many things he sold were lots and lots of toys. As the spoiled grandson, I got to play with them behind the counters, evaluate (my word for “play with”) them for appeal, safety, and durability. A nasty job, but somebody had to do it. If a toy happened to get broken, either in shipping or during my rigorous product testing, Granddaddy could send it back or write it off. It didn’t take me long to realize that a slightly broken toy was just as much fun to play with as a mint-condition toy. Result? I had lots of toys. Plus, every Christmas we all got lots of toys that weren’t broken. We were not a wealthy family, but I was probably the richest kid in town in terms of toys, which at a certain age is the only thing that really counts, isn’t it?
(I often wonder what happened to all those toys. Thrift shop or dumpster, most likely. I can’t even remember most of them, but one stands out. It was a tin rabbit motorcycle cop with a sidecar that would be filled with Easter candy every year. As it happens, I do know what happened to that one. My cousin Betsey got it. I was never quite clear on how or why my toy went to Betsey. I used to resent it, but I’ve grown up. I’ve forgiven her. No sense in making a big deal of it … except it was my rabbit, dammit!)
All through my childhood, surrounded with all those toys, it never occurred to me to wonder what happened when the lights went off, or when I wasn’t in the room. But it did to John Lasseter, Pete Doctor, Joss Whedon, and others at Pixar, who up to this point had only made some delightful CGI animated short subjects. This was their first feature, and the first feature to be entirely computer animated, and they arrived on the scene in style with this wonderful movie. Seeing it now, 15 years later, it still dazzles, so try to remember how astonishing it all was in 1995 if you’re old enough to do that. The attention to detail is simply amazing. Look at the first shot from Buzz Lightyear’s POV, and see his distorted face reflected in his plastic helmet. The action is fun and nearly non-stop, without ever being disorienting. It’s a movie filled with witty little touches. (Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head delivers his trademark line “What are you looking at, you hockey puck?” to a hockey puck.) But as always with Pixar, it’s the story that makes it all work. The idea is fun all by itself, but the characterizations make it happen. Woody the pull-toy cowboy is a good guy, but he’s prone to jealousy when Buzz threatens the only relationship that gives his life meaning, with his owner. Buzz, who thinks he’s a genuine interstellar hero, is crushed to find that he’s just a toy. Well, wouldn’t you be?
My only problem with the movie is really a silly one. It’s the bad boy, Sid. He’s a bully, and deserves what he gets. But in his defense, he doesn’t know the toys he destroys and/or operates on like Dr. Frankenstein are actually sentient beings who can be hurt. (If he knew, I’m sure he’d keep on doing it, but still.) I say this as a man who, as a child, did his share of destructive testing on a few toys, including experiments involving fire, and fireworks. That’s sort of what little boys do, isn’t it? Isn’t Andy sort of rough with his toys, too? Okay, okay, listen, if I hurt any of you guys back then, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. And I will say that I did take pretty good care of most of those toys, so I could keep playing with them. Doesn’t that count for something?