26 May 2006 | dunmore_ego
Y'know, I always suspected that my toys were coming to life when I wasn't looking!
In Andy's Room, his toys lead lives of noisy desperation come every birthday and Christmas - no one wants to be one-upped by a new addition to the toy box. Nominally led by Cowboy Woody (there's a Brokeback joke in there just waiting to happen), Mr. Potato Head, Rex the Dinosaur, Ham the piggybank, Bo Peep, Slinky the dog and a smattering of other playthings go about their toy business of playing checkers, hanging with the hometoys and "plastic corrosion awareness meetings," until Andy's birthday party, when they gather expectantly around a transistor radio, listening to the reports of their toy soldier troops "in the field" (downstairs watching Andy's gift-opening), hoping that no gift will be exciting enough to cause Andy to neglect *them.* There is. His name is Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger.
Directed by Pixar mainstay John Lasseter, with the voice talents of Tom Hanks (as Woody), Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger (forever Cliff from *Cheers*), R. Lee Ermey, Annie Potts, Jim Varney and Tim Allen (as Buzz), *Toy Story* is that *rara avis* that succeeds on all levels in its animation, storyline, character development, its messages of friendship and self-realization and, most importantly, its entertainment value. The fact that this is a cartoon (or animated feature just what DO we call this new wave of computer-generated movies?) is incidental. Which makes the slightly dodgy animation (of the "real people") irrelevant - it gets the point across with or without the technological finesse.
The "Disney Movie" has become synonymous with maudlin messages, redneck fundamentalism, anachronistic family values, boneheaded parents, smart-mouthing youngsters, too-hip-to-be-smart teens and insufferable pets. Though Disney's tyrannical umbrella overarches this film's production studio, Pixar Animation, *Toy Story* somehow avoided all trace of Disney's craven hand, which is doubly surprising, considering this is Pixar's first feature length film, after years of experimentation. Right outa the gate and right outa the field.
Sure, there are "messages," but they are heartfelt, rather than maudlin (Woody tells Buzz during Buzz's greatest depression that it matters not what Buzz thinks of himself, what makes him important is what his owner, Andy, thinks of him); there are emotional segments, which are truly heartbreaking, rather than cheesy (when Buzz's escape attempt lands him with a broken arm, proving he is Not A Flying Toy, the lyric, "Clearly I will go sailing no more," launches a thousand hankies); and the portrayal of Andy's family was Pixar's triumphal achievement. Boldly contravening Disney's *idée fixe* of the 1950's nuclear family and Norman Rockwell fantasies, one of the many incarnations of a modern-day family is presented: a single mother with two kids, who are neither geniuses nor monsters, just normal children; happy to visit Pizza Planet and disappointed when favorite toys are lost.
Buzz who believes he is a real life space ranger on a mission to save the universe - become Andy's favorite toy over Woody. The funny thing is: though Buzz believes he is real, he still adheres to toy protocol of "playing inert" when humans are in the area. (Maybe it's instinct?) When he mentions saving a toy from Sid, the vicious boy next door, how does he propose to do it if he is to adhere to the inert protocol? Buzz's ingenuousness regarding his role as a toy infuriates Woody to the point of attempted toy-assassination. Through a concatenation of accidents, both he and Buzz become lost and must use teamwork, trust and ingenuity to beat their path back to Andy, which finds them ensconced in scorchingly funny vignettes (Buzz fastening himself in an over-sized seatbelt; both falling in with green, three-eyed aliens; Buzz hyperventilating as "Mrs. Nesbitt"). During a climactic rocket ride, the callback line, "This is not flying - this is falling with style," simply seals this movie's greatness.
At least I now have a plausible explanation as to why my toys always got lost: after going about their toy business, they would just go inert anywhere they happened to be, instead of paying attention to their master's infallible toy filing system