Saturday, 25 March 2017

In praise of Pixar...

It's hard to know where to begin on this one, but probably the best place is a small picture house in a sleepy Surrey town in England where, I'd imagine, Pixar's John Lasseter would feel at home. It's one of those places where dreams are brought to life and where the past and the present somehow co-exist.
My father used to visit places like this little picture house when he was a kid, during the Second World War. He probably saw The Wizard of Oz in just such a cinema and felt as inspired as I did when I emerged, with my 11-year-old daughter, into the bright summer light of evening having watched and enjoyed Pixar's latest outing of the Toy Story franchise.
I say 'franchise', but to be truthful, the word doesn't really fit the bill. Toy Story One, Two and Three are better than that word, they're not a 'franchise' at all, they're three excellent movies that haven't in any way been ruined by anything. Nobody can say that One is better than Two or that Three was better than One; they're all good and there are many reasons: the characters, the storyline, the general vibe and, above all, the fact that all three movies follow a time line.
People – adults – went through their child-rearing years with these movies (my son Max was five when Toy Story 1 was released) and through the stresses and strains of raising kids, parents and kids alike had the pleasure of Buzz and Woody, Ham, Rex, Mr and Mrs Potato Head and Slinky Dog to make them laugh as they tried to make sense of the world around them.
And while this article is all about the three Toy Story movies, let's not forget Pixar's other excellent stuff: Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, Bolt, Wall.E, A Bug's Life and Ratatouille – all great movies worth watching again and again.
And let's face it, Pixar is not just making good movies, but defining the future of the children's picture – making the old two-dimensional Disney cartoons a thing of the past, not in a negative sense (they're all still great in their own right) but things have moved on – and got a million times better.
I love Toy Story. Infact, a friend of mine recently told me that I was very sad because I'd not only watched the movies, but analyzed them too. I was, he said, not only a dab hand with some of the movies' great quotes (like in Toy Story 2 when Ham says to Rex, "You can be the toy that comes with the meal"); I've noticed things that others have allowed to pass un-noticed.
For instance, the same friend asked me why it was that Woody still had the word 'Andy' written on the sole of his shoe when, in Toy Story 2, it had been painted over. Well, it's like this: everything is rectified in the Toy Story movies. Everything is 'put right' at the end.
In Toy Story 2, Woody's boot is painted over and his arm is repaired, but everything has to revert back to reality before the conclusion of the movie; so, if you recall, Woody scratches the paint off of his boot at the very end of Toy Story 2, so the picture reverts back to the reality of the situation, ie that Andy had written his name on Woody's boot and – perhaps – it was never changed in the first place (the whole thing's make believe). Likewise, Woody's arm – at the end of Toy Story 2, despite it being fixed earlier in the movie, the Pixar people ensure it's unfixed by Stinky Pete in the scene on the baggage conveyor towards the end, so it's down to Andy to fix Woody, which he does. Everything is put right at the end.
I often wonder whether strange things happen to people when they have kids; they become more emotional, easily moved, perhaps, I don't know, but something definitely happened to me; or is it that you somehow realise something – I don't know what – but it sends you down a strange and volatile path.
I was driving into a multi-storey car park one morning, on my way to work listening to a band called Spirit and a track on their Spirit of 76 album entitled Guide Me. I don't know what it was, but there must have been something in the tune. When I reached the top level of the car park I kind of broke up.
From that moment on, things were different for me; certain tracks on certain albums by certain bands just caused an emotional reaction that I had never experienced before and had to fight: Wake Up, Boo! by the Boo Radleys; Suburbia by the Pet Shop Boys, even New Order's 1990 World Cup song – they all prompted an emotional reaction. I hasten to add that I'm 'cured' now, at least I thought I was, but then I saw Toy Story 3.
And then there was a poem by Milton Kessler – Thanks Forever – and Michel Houellebecq's novel, Atomised, not forgetting Bruce Robinson's Peculiar Memoirs of Thomas Penman.
Atomised hit me square in the face while in a bar in Warsaw. There was a sadness about it that, for some reason, concerned me and I started to imagine an alternate reality where my kids had suffered unhappiness and it made me realise that you only get one shot at life.
It had a lot to do with my son growing up and no longer being the little kid I bought radio-controlled cars for; and I thanked my lucky stars for having a young daughter with whom I could live it all again – for now.
And I think that is why the Toy Story movies are so poignant for me; they let it slip that nothing is forever and that kids grow up and become adults and lose their innocence. They also make you realise that having kids was the right decision, however emotional things get along the way.
Toy Story 3 finds Woody, Buzz, Ham, Rex, Slinky Dog and Mr & Mrs Potato Head accidentally donated to a Day Care Centre where, it turns out, they're really in some kind of prison. They plan to escape the evil regime and get back to Andy's house where, they figure, that spending the rest of their lives in the attic wouldn't be too bad. Except that – fortunately for them – it doesn't turn out that way.
The toys do escape – as we all knew they would – but then there's some pretty amazing stuff towards the end of the movie that, for me, rivals anything any mainstream picture can dish out. Forget It's A Wonderful Life, Toy Story 3 is the real tear-jerker. I'll admit to it now: I was having major problems keeping it together. My lip was quivering a lot and I thanked the Lord for the cover of darkness provided by that picture house.
My eleven-year-old daughter admitted that she too was trying hard not to cry at the end, but hey, she's eleven – I'm a 6'1" grown-up!
As we left the auditorium and hit the daylight, I was finding it difficult to talk coherently. I didn't want to let on to my daughter that I'd found the whole thing rather emotional at the end, and had to strike the right tone of voice when I eventually asked her what she thought of the movie. She loved it, of course, and we both drove home awestruck. I was in a kind of daze for the rest of the weekend.
I used to cite Kubrick and Tarantino, Peckinpah and Coppola as my movie makers of choice – back in the days when I felt it was necessary to impress other people and pretend that I was a complex individual, but, as Buzz Lightyear would say, "Not today!"
Give me a decent Pixar movie any day. I don't think I've ever looked forward to a movie as much as I looked forward to seeing Toy Story 3. In fact, I don't think I've ever really looked forward to a movie before.
So the big question is: will there be a Toy Story 4? I hope so, but somehow I doubt it. A fourth movie might ruin the magic, not that I think the guys at Pixar will disappoint, but everything has been resolved.
The toys have a new home, Andy's off to college and why would the toys want to escape from their new home? Still, we'll see. Never say never.
My son goes to college this year, just like Andy, and I'd imagine there will be some emotional scenes between him and his mother. I'll try and hold things together as that's what dads are supposed to do, but somewhere along the line I'll probably have my moment too – although, as my mum used to say about me, "he's big enough and ugly enough to look after himself."
I've still got a wonderful little daughter at home, so my life has, in many ways, mirrored what has been going on in the Toy Story movies – right up to the present time.
They say life imitates art, or vice versa, so, I'll leave it there. If you haven't seen it yet, go see Toy Story 3 this weekend, it's the best.

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