Pixar and its toys come full circle.


In the first Toy Story (1995), the big threat faced by the toys was an abusive boy next door who blew toys up and scrambled their identities with malicious glee.

In Toy Story 2 (1999), the big threat was… Well, there were two threats, actually. On the one hand, there was a collector who valued certain toys so much that he never really played with them; instead of allowing the toys to live and move and have their being in the hands of the children for whom they were made, he reduced the toys to commodities suspended in a state of perpetual perfection. On the other hand, there was also the looming likelihood that entropy would one day overtake these toys, and that those who didn’t benefit from the protection of a collector would end up falling apart and rotting away in some landfill.

Come to think of it, the dilemma posed by Toy Story 2 is somewhat reminiscent of the opening lines to Woody Allen’s famous ‘Speech to the Graduates‘: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” But I digress.

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Based on the trailers for Toy Story 3, which comes out in June, it seems the big threat this time — or one of them, at least — will be children who are neither overly hostile to the toys nor overly protective of them. The big threat, in other words, will not be little gods who are too loving or too cruel, but little gods who, being toddlers, are little more than blind forces of nature: happy, careless and utterly ignorant of the effect that they are having on these vintage playthings.

On one level, being putty in the hands of these preschoolers could fulfill the toys’ purpose in a way that sitting on a collector’s shelf never would; if nothing else, it would give the toys something to do. But then, how much “purpose” can a rampaging toddler really give his playthings in the first place? Is the unthinking chaos of the daycare centre really preferable to the more tranquil desolation of the landfill? It seems to me that neither of these things, ultimately, can bring rhyme or reason to the lives of Woody, Buzz and their friends.

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Anyway. If Toy Story 3 really does play up the children-as-happy-monsters angle, then it seems Pixar will have come full circle in its treatment of the toy world. And no, I do not mean that Pixar will have returned to the themes of the original Toy Story. Instead, I mean that Pixar will have gone, in spirit, all the way back to the short film Tin Toy (1988), which was heralded at the time as the first computer-animated film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short.

Tin Toy, as you can see in the clip above, concerns a toy one-man band (hmmm, shades of another Pixar short) who is fresh out of the box and chased all over the living room by a drooling infant or toddler — and the child in question is often shot from low angles to emphasize how he must appear to his toys, as a looming, threatening, Godzilla-like monster. Which is not unlike how the children at Sunnyside Daycare seem to be portrayed in the trailer for Toy Story 3.

As it happens, the link between Tin Toy and the Toy Story franchise runs a little deeper than the fact that they both concern toys. As Jim Hill has explained at some length, Tin Toy was originally going to be turned into a Christmas-themed TV special, but the concept was shelved because it would have cost too much to produce; a year or two later, however, an opportunity arose for Pixar to make its first feature film, so the concept was dusted off and gradually transformed into the Toy Story that we now all know and love.

So, whenever my kids and I watch the Toy Story movies, I like to start with Tin Toy — partly because I have very fond memories of seeing it on the big screen at animation festivals back in the late ’80s, but also partly because I have a theory that the baby in Tin Toy is identical to the boy named Andy that we see in the Toy Story movies.

True, we do not see any of the other Toy Story characters in Tin Toy, but given how incredibly young the baby is here, there would certainly be time for him to accumulate new playthings by the time Toy Story takes place. In fact, even though Toy Story 2 revealed that Woody is an heirloom or hand-me-down who has been around since the 1950s (which begs the question of when and how Woody’s memory got wiped, but that’s a subject for another post), the original Toy Story specifies that Woody has only been Andy’s favorite toy “since kindergarten”. So presumably Woody and many of the other toys wouldn’t have been a part of Andy’s life just yet.

In any case, Toy Story 3, as you can see from the trailer above, is partly about how Andy has grown up and is about to go to college; it is, in other words, about how Andy, the boy from the previous films, is now on the verge of manhood. So I like to think that Tin Toy takes us back to his earliest days and gives us an even better look at how the child — the infant — has become the man. The movies have played very strongly on the notion that Andy loves his toys, but it is worth remembering that even he, too, was no doubt a threat to them once. Things change. People change. And the love that people have for things changes as they grow.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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