Beyond acknowledging Toy Story as a landmark film, that has changed the face of animation possibly forever, for a second successive week I’m not sure what I can say about this film. It was the first, full-length CGI animation film, as well as being a funny, energetic story with deeper resonances that the surface tail of the rivalry between its two leads, and it set the standard for Pixar in creating a film that spoke to both childand adult, often simultaneously. And it stands up well technically, in the face of the near twenty-five years of development since.
I first watched the film at my sister’s, in Warrington. I’d gone over there for a visit one Sunday afternoon, and to see my nephew, who was then only a few years old. I had already discovered Teletubbies there, when his mother put on a tape of that, and now she did the same with Toy Story. I watched it with as much fascination as he did.
That far back, I had an awkward habit when it came to certain films and experiences. I couldn’t sink fully into them as you should, because a part of me was detached, observing how the thing was made, how they handled the construction of the film, oh yeah, they’ve done that this way, I see. My attention was split and the analytical part withdrew from engagement. I was like that when Toy Story started, but I didn’t go more than five minutes in before I had stopped looking at the CGI and was watching the story. And having tremendous fun.
It made a difference. Without that experience, which enabled me to bridge those two aspects of myself, I couldn’t have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings films half as much as I did, because I would have had too much of my mind engaged in exactly how the book had been adapted, what had been left out, what included, that I couldn’t have simply relaxed into the film on the same level as I did the books. Np, I didn’t wholly forget that, but it didn’t intrude into my perceptions. Thanks to Toy Story.
Of course, Toy Story is a film built upon powerful emotions that affect all of us, adult and child. Underneath the colourful surface, and the astonishment and glee of seeing inanimate objects move and talk in so realistic a fashion, the film is about loss, and the fear of loss. Andy’s toys fear displacement by new toys. Woody fears the loss of his status as both Andy’s favourite toy, and the toys’ leader. Buzz Lightyear loses his specialness in his own eyes, when he discovers that, as Woody has been saying all along, he is a toy and not a super-powered Space Ranger. Andy fears the loss of his two favourite toys, and they fear the loss of their entire raison d’etre: a toy deeply wants to be played with. A toy is their for boy or girl, to comfort and excite and share with them. It’s a symbiotic relationship with which both are happy.
And, of course, because this is a children’s film in all its surfaces, it must contain reassurance, it must have the eucatastrophe that Tolkien identifies in The Lord of the Rings, the snatching of glory from the point of destruction. By sinking their differences in the face of disaster, by working together, by saving each other, Woody and Buzz build their losses into a stronger whole, forging a friendship and a joint leadership by willingly giving their selfishness up for the greater good. Not a bad lesson to give a child.
There’s even a reason to hope for the future of the one figure in the film that has suffered the biggest loss of all, before it all started. That’s the pre-teen psychopath, Sid, a bundle of misdirected energy, driven by hatred and self-loathing that manifests itself into displacement torture against the only things he can control, because they’re the only things that are weaker than him.
Sid’s a menace, and he’s the creator of mutated toys, Frankensteinian combinations that are meant to creep the life out of us and which do. We don’t know why Sid is like this, and to the kids it won’t matter. Everybody knows a mad kid, a bully and a nightmare. We get a sliver of possibility, a figure asleep in a chair, in a room out of which Woody backs furriedly, from which we can infer the father of our disgust, the tree from which the apple has fallen not so far.
But Sid is confronted by the reality of what he’s been doing, is hit with the animist principle, that everything is alive, in short, he’s scared shitless that the weak and helpless that he torments to feel alive mightrise up and get him. Maybe his fear will lead him back to where he should be. Psychologically, there are better, surer ways, but they do not involve the punishment, which is what the kids need to see. Fairy-tales tell children something vitally important, that the monsters don’t win.
So they all live happily ever after, the threat of a puppy notwithstanding. And ironically, twenty-five years later the wheel has turned full circle and here I am analysing Toy Story as I found myself unable to do when it was my nephew’s favourite film, bless him. It’s a rainy Sunday morning, but clouds can be dispersed, and when the threat of loss is averted, sometimes afternoons can be quite lazy.