Over the past few weekends, I’ve rewatched the first three Toy Story movies and watched the fourth, which I didn’t see in the theater, for some odd reason. These films are so clever and imaginative, and it’s fun to track the progress of the Pixar technology from the first through the last one. But watching these has made me wonder if maybe I was a bad toy owner as a kid.
I don’t recall having a “best friend” toy like Andy had Woody. I might have when I was really little, before I have clear memories, but I certainly didn’t have one who stuck with me to the point I was planning to take it to college with me. I guess I did have my R2-D2 action figure, but that was more about showing my fondness for Star Wars, and R2 is kind of a personal mascot. I didn’t have any particular feelings for that figure.
My toys were generally my cast to play out stories I made up, so whatever feelings I had for them were for the roles they were playing at that particular moment. The object itself wasn’t that important to me. I didn’t sleep with toys. My parents didn’t do the “you can bring one toy with you” thing when we went to restaurants. If I ever did bring something with me, it was most likely a book. A toy on its own wouldn’t have been any fun unless I could have it acting out stories, and I couldn’t do that properly in public.
I was also pretty fickle. I might be really into a new toy soon after getting it, but then I’d move on. I suffered a lot from 70s TV commercial oversell (as the fourth movie so hilariously depicted), so the toy that looked like so much fun on TV, that I desperately wanted and begged to get for Christmas or my birthday, ended up not doing anything like what was shown on TV. I remember in particular the Baby Alive, a baby doll that would actually eat and drink and then you’d have to change its diaper (it came with this powder stuff that you made into a glop with water to feed it). I’m not sure why that sounded like fun, but I had a baby brother at the time, and I guess I wanted my own baby to feed. One time dealing with the grossness, and I didn’t use that feature of the doll again. As I recall, if you “fed” the doll, you then had to pour a lot of water through it to rinse it out, and it was more trouble than it was worth. Then there was the bride doll I desperately wanted, got, and then wondered, “Now what?”
When I was little, I mostly played with the Fisher Price “little people.” I had the house and the school, though the school also got turned into things like churches and auditoriums. My brother inherited those, and he also got the farm and the airport. One house where we lived had a full basement with a room we got to use as a playroom, and we set up a whole town for the people, with other buildings built out of blocks.
My Barbie dolls were mostly used to act out plays and musicals (I’d make up stories to connect the songs on my record albums, so I guess I invented the “jukebox musical” decades before that trend hit Broadway). They also served as models for clothes I designed and made. In that same house where we had a full room as a playroom, I set up a kind of town for my dolls. I had the Barbie Dream House, and I built all kinds of additions to it, including a fireplace and balcony. I was around 10 during my most intense Barbie phase, and I think I used that as a way to imagine what my ideal adult life would be like. I had a Malibu Barbie, but my primary doll was actually a Francie, who I think was Barbie’s cousin. She was brunette, a bit less voluptuous and had slightly flatter feet instead of being designed for high heels. Mine was the “quick curl” model, with wiry hair that you could curl with a “curling iron” plastic rod. But basically, her hair ended up all clumpy and frizzy, which meant she was just like me. At one point, I tried to fix this with scissors, and that never goes well. During that more intense Barbie phase, when that doll was pretty worn out, I got a PJ (a brunette Barbie), sent my Francie to a spa for a makeover, and she came home as that PJ, so I saw her as essentially the same doll. Then about six months later we moved, and I pretty much stopped playing with Barbies. We didn’t have a good place to put up the Dream House, and since I was going into junior high, I didn’t want it in my room.
I have that last doll in a box in my closet, and I guess it’s weird that the one I kept is one I didn’t play with all that much. According to the Toy Story films, that’s been a horrible fate for that doll, to be boxed up in a closet and never played with. I don’t have a daughter to give her to, and given that she’s more than 40 years old (yikes!), I’m not entirely sure how safe she’d be. There’s no telling what they were putting in toys then.
Now that those movies have made me feel bad, maybe I should find her and let her look outside, or something.
I did have a bit of a Toy Story 3 experience with my books. My parents cleared out their attic with boxes and boxes of childhood books. I knew I would probably never have kids, but my church works with a summer program that provides summer enrichment for kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods. As part of it, they have a reading program, and they like for the kids to be able to take home a few books of their own to keep. I donated all my old books to that program, and I felt like the end of Toy Story 3, in which a grown Andy gives up his childhood toys to a child, when I handed over all those boxes. I did feel attached to some of those books, and now I like to imagine children who didn’t have books of their own bringing those books home with them, and maybe getting even more attached to them than I was because these might be the first books they got to own for themselves.