Film Scouts Reviews

"Toy Story"

by Karen Jaehne

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December 22, 1995

The anxious manoeuvering of the territorial toys in this movie reminds you of what elections must do to congressmen. (Maybe that's how Gingrich became the Grinch.) Anyhow, twice a year, all the toys in a little boy's room go into a panic. Will Christmas put them all into the next garage sale? Will he get a new favorite toy for his birthday?

Disney offers us a flattened animation here that looks more like the hand that drew Joe Palooka than the many dimensions of "Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast." Since Toy Story is about a little boy and his toys and is seems to be aimed at little boys, it could be that gender differences justify alternatives in animation. Unfortunately, the story is as flat as the animation.

It's hard to say what's on Disney's mind, but it's safe to say it's not dirty. How do we know? One of the toys is a Mr. Potato Head who keeps readjusting his facial features. "Look at me, I'm Picasso," he says after moving his eyes and nose around like some painting in the Museum of Modern Art. A story is going around that, in one scene that got left on the editing room floor, Mr. Potatoe Head took off his eyes and threw them under Little Bo Peep's skirt. "That's not nice," said Michael Eisner or one of his elves.

If anything can be identified as "wrong" with this cute little movie, that story sums it up. Its restraint is stultifying. The little boy is not at the center of the movie, so his character is not developed. I feel like a bad mom complaining about him being such a good little boy. But no little boy is THAT good. It's easier to believe in the toys than the people. Which may be the point.

But the real point of Toy Story is to teach a cowboy doll and a space ranger doll how to coexist and to work together to visit vengeance on a mean little boy next door. The mean little boy does very clever things: he takes apart all his toys and puts them back together in surrealistic ways. The toys are then painfully ugly. Not Picasso. So does this mean we should all adhere to the esthetics of the toy corporations who dream up insipid junk like talking wooden cowboy dolls, Mr. Potato Head, Little Bo Peep, and wiener-dog slinkies?

Yes, says the nice Mr. Eisner. As the toys tell the baaaad boy, when they have him trapped, "Play nice." It makes you want to go out and take apart the movie and reconstruct it as a product by Ed Wood rather than Disney.

Actually, I'm sure everybody else liked this movie. My three-and-a-half year old niece sat on my lap and watched obediently without wanting to potty or get popcorn. She applauded when it was over. I've got to do something about that kid. How will she ever learn to deal with great animation like TRON?

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