Celebrate the release of “Toy Story 3” with another look at the original — Pixar’s first feature release was the first theatrical released animated entirely by computer. It is now available in a pristine Blu-Ray version that pops off the screen. Although the dazzling technology is especially well suited to a story in which the major characters are made out of plastic, it is the unpretentious imagination and energy of the people behind the story and the outstanding vocal performances that make the movie an enduring classic.
The story is about the toys belonging to a boy named Andy. His favorite is a sheriff from the old west named Woody (with the voice of Tom Hanks). He acts as the leader of the rest of Andy’s toys, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex (voice of Wallace Shawn) and Mr. Potatohead (voice of Don Rickles). All is going well until Andy receives for his birthday an astronaut named Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen of “Home Improvement”). Woody becomes jealous, and in an effort to keep Andy from taking Buzz with him on an excursion, Andy accidentally knocks Buzz out the window. Woody follows, and the rest of the movie consists of their efforts to return home before the family moves away.
Children may relate to the idea of the sibling rivalry between Woody and Buzz, and the movie may provide a good starting point for a discussion of jealous feelings. It may also be fun for parents to point out some favorites from their own childhoods, including Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead, Etch-a-Sketch, Slinky Dog and Barrel Of Monkeys.
NOTE: This movie may be too scary for very young children. The three- year-old with me insisted on leaving less than halfway through, and it got scarier after that. Andy’s next-door neighbor is a vicious and destructive boy named Sid, who mutilates and tortures toys. His room is filled with genuinely grotesque creations made from bits and pieces of toys — sort of Geppeto’s workshop as seen by Stephen King. Sid gets a relatively mild comeuppance as the toys “break the rules” to scare him into being kind to all toys in the future.
Children may also be troubled by the notion that the toys are “real” whenever the humans are out of the room. This is even more confusing because one of the cleverest aspects of the movie’s plot is that Buzz does not know he is a toy, and thinks he really is a space explorer on his way “to infinity and beyond.” Note also that Andy does not have a father, although it is presented so subtly that most kids will miss it.
The two toys have special appeal not only for Andy to use to imagine himself as the fantasy male archetypes of cowboy and astronaut, but also perhaps as father substitutes. Meanwhile, there are no strong female toys, only a simpering Bo Peep who flirts with Woody.