24 Years of Toy Story

Toy StoryMy husband and I recently saw Toy Story 4 (released June 2019).  I think we were the only seniors in a sparsely crowded theater.  For me, it was a trip down memory lane.  I first saw Toy Story in December 1995.  I took my son, Scott, who was 22 months old at the time to a theater in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I have to admit this was an act of pure selfishness on my part.  I was a stay-at-home mom.  Cheyenne was hosting a freezing cold winter, making me frequently housebound.  I had seen the previews on TV and wanted to see the movie.  Why wouldn’t a baby at least sit in my lap I reasoned?

I got to the theater and settled Scott into a seat, removing his snow suit.  Then I turned around to pull off my winter gear.  When I turned back, the seat had folded up on my son.  He looked like a collapsed pop-up card. The only thing that showed were his huge eyes,smashed between velvet.  I was sure I had broken every bone in his body.  Apparently, babies are quite flexible because as soon as I yanked the seat down he seemed fine.  I saw another mother arrive carrying a plastic baby booster seat.  I raced back to the entrance with Scott in my arms and got him a booster and we settled in for the movie.  He does not remember this incident but I remember being absolutely terrified.

Toy Story was the first computerized animated movie and it made the Pixar name famous. Now, the jumping desk lamp and Pixar are synonymous to theater goers. A huge success at the box office, Toy Story groused $373 million worldwide, the highest opening weekend for an animated picture at that time. The movie made household names of Woody, a stuffed cowboy doll with a pull string voice (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Ligthyear, a plastic astronaut action figure, with a push button voice (Tim Allen).

I was totally spellbound from the moment the movie started.  The animation was brilliant, the plot warmhearted, and the characters engaging.  Unfortunately, Scott was not as taken with the movie as I was.  Because of his fussing, we needed to leave early.  But not to worry, Toy Story was soon converted into a home video, expensive toys, video games and three sequels.  I was treated to seeing Toy Story 1 and 2 over and over again at home.

Toy Story 2 was released in 1999 which is the year we adopted our daughter Kayla from China.  The sequel is generally considered better than Toy Story 1 and generated almost $500 million at the box office.  More importantly, Scott was in kindergarten and old enough to understand the movie and be captivated by it. That Christmas, Woody and Buzz moved into our house and I would find them lying all around the main living areas when I picked up night.   Just like Andy, the boy in the movies, my son loved both characters.  When little boys in the neighborhood played in our house, I would hear, Woody’s voice, “There’s a snake in my boot.” Or Buzz shouting, “To infinity and beyond.”

By the time Toy Story 3 (2010) was released, my son, a sage 14, had outgrown Buzz and Woody, just like Andy.  My daughter, Kayla, age 8,  however, was still into animated pictures and more importantly willing to be seen with her mother in public.  She and I saw Buzz and Woody packed up by Andy who was going to college.  After a complicated adventure, Andy donates his beloved toys to a younger child, Bonnie.  Back at our home, Buzz and Woody had been relegated to Scott’s closet long ago.  When we moved to a new house that winter, we donated both toys to the Youth Ranch. I hope some needy family had a fabulous Christmas finding a well-loved Woody and Buzz under the tree.

My son graduated from college in December, 2017. My daughter left for college last fall.  Just when I thought I am left with only childhood memories, I pulled a small stuffed Woody without a head out of bureau in the guest room.  I think MacDonald’s gave little miniatures away with Happy Meals.  I didn’t have the heart to give a headless Woody away so I stuck him back in the drawer.

I decided I wanted to see Toy Story 4 which is probably the last time  I will hear Woody’s voice on the big screen. Absent any children to go with, my husband accompanied me.  I think it’s the first time he’s seen a Toy Story in a theater.  I thought the plot was a little dark though in the end the characters end up in a good place.  But if you haven’t followed 24 years of Woody and Buzz, I’m not sure Toy Story 4 would give you the great pleasure created by movies 1,2, and 3.

My son, now 25, was home this weekend.  He works at Starbucks Corporate Headquarters in Seattle. The corporate Halloween theme is Disney Characters.  While he was in Boise, he used his phone to order a cowhide vest and went out to thrift stores looking for brown cowboy boots.  He’s going as his beloved Woody.  No matter how old you are, you never really outgrow the things that made you happy when you were young.

Shame on Us: Tommy Orange captures White destruction of Indigenous Peoples

51RuAbKH+tL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Tommy Orange opens his award winning book “There, There” (Knopf, 2018) with a discussion of the Indian head which used to appear on TV channels as a test pattern, circa 1939 to 1970. I’m old enough to remember this profile of an Indian Chief with circles around it, random bull’s-eyes and buzzing in the background.  The head meant no TV to me, hard to imagine today with our 24 hour news cycle.  But Orange uses the head as an indication of white culture devaluing Indigenous People.312px-RCA_Indian_Head_Test_Pattern.svg

The question of misuse of Native American symbolism bubbled up in Idaho where the four Tribal nations who live in the state have asked that school mascots reflecting Native Americans be shelved.  This request has been met with mixed results. In Boise’s liberal North End with the highest academically ranked high school in the state, the Boise Braves have been transformed to the Boise Brave. The ubiquitous Native American mascot has been removed and a contest is underway to identify a new symbol reflecting the  “Brave” value.  This change in mascot was not done without some public disapproval, but not as much as one might think because of the long liberal roots of the North End. Boise High is now “Home of the Brave”, a personal value shared by students. I read in the paper that some testimony at public hearing said, “a value can’t be a mascot.”  Having sat in a full gym and heard the entire student body shout in unison, “BRAVE” with fists raised high, I think an athletic opponent will be able to understand strength in community as a symbol of school spirit.

seminolesI was reading the Tommy Orange’s book when the Boise State Broncos played the Florida State Seminoles this fall.  I was surprised watching the game on national TV how offended I was when the Seminole mascot, clearly not a Native American,  rode out in full regalia  on an Appaloosa horse.  A Native American profile is the FSU symbol. Having just read how poorly Whites have treated Indigenous People, watching whites role  playing native people on national TV during a ballgame seemed a travesty. It gave me some sense of how offensive all these Native American mascots must be to Indigenous People.

Having a Seminole as the Florida State Mascot is extremely ironic. President Andrew Jackson launched two wars against the Seminoles between 1842 and 1855.  By the time he was done, 4000 Seminoles were forcibly transported to Oklahoma and the 350 remaining tribal members fled to the Florida swamps, not exactly a proud moment for white America. Yet Florida State still clings to this inappropriate mascot.  This is not to say that Idaho has a better record with Native Americans.  After all we are part of the Trail of Tears.  This is  name given to the retreat of the powerful Nez Perce in 1877 led by Chief Joseph in his unsuccessful effort to lead his people to Canada.  He and his people were captured in Montana.

White mistreatment of Indigenous People continues to this day not only on reservations but as Tommy Orange immortalizes in beautiful vignettes in our cities as well.  Mr. Orange’s fictional piece on the Big Oakland Powwow captures the strange limbo land in which Native Americans living off the reservation find themselves.  They are neither wholly Indian or fully integrated into urban settings. Whites have much more to regret than native mascots in our treatment of Indigenous People.  If you have any interest in emotionally understanding our despicable legacy, reading Tommy Orange’s “There, There” is a good place to start.

Will Streaming Replace Movies?

The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselWhen I was a kid growing up in Wyoming, my older sister and I would go to the movies once a week in the summer. These week day showings were sponsored by Dairy Gold and an empty milk bottle got us in free. Mom always gave us a quarter for popcorn, no candy or pop. I remember sitting down front in luxurious maroon velvet seats in a dimly lit theater with a bunch of noisy kids, crunching loudly on kernels like rabid chipmunks, waiting in anticipation for the show to begin.  I can’t remember a single show from these adventures. I do remember going to the movies was a special treat, an experience to be savored.

This week in a New York Times interview (Buchanan, Sept. 4, 2019), Brad Pitt was not particularly bullish on the future of movies in the era of streaming.  Pitt told Buchanan, “I’m curious to see if movies last, if movies stick around in the period of streaming.”

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Friday of this week (Morgenstern, WSJ, 9/6/19) described the recent Telluride Film Festival as showcasing largely movies for streaming. A move Morgenstern described as “tectonic” or a major shift similar of the earth’s crust, movements that cause earth quakes.

This last month I have had foot surgery giving me lots of time to stream movies and series. My experience is that some streaming productions, especially movie length features are unbelievably terrible.  For example, well known stars Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler’s “Murder Mystery” (released on Netflix, June, 2019) is a ridiculous farce, that transforms into a who-done-it, overlaid on a romantic comedy. My teenage daughter and I could hardly sit through the entire feature.  Both of us spent more time playing with our phones than watching the show. I was left wondering why any reasonable woman would marry the bumbling Sandler character.

Just out is another example of the travesty of full-length streaming, “Otherhood” short for motherhood (Nextflix, August, 2019). Featuring 3 middle aged women devoted to their grown sons  who said, “hasta la vista” many years ago and moved to New York, found apartments and jobs. The sons seem to be fully functioning adults.  Their moms, on the other hand, literally have no lives and no real connections to their sons. As the mother of a 25 year old son, who has moved successfully from Idaho to Seattle, I found the premise offensive.  Women can have children, careers, fun, hobbies and a life separate from their children and husbands.  But in “Otherhood” these three lost souls journey into New York, dropping in unexpectantly on their non-communicative sons to manage their lives. The sons, by the way, are young,  good looking and not the brunt of the writer’s humor.  The writers seem to think three older women who obsess about their looks, drink too much, interfere with their adult children’s lives and haven’t been dancing in years are not only hilarious but representative of the older female. This movie should never have made it onto the production schedule.Netflix

The one streaming movie featuring a strong woman I have seen this week is “Late Night” (Amazon) staring Emma Thompson.  I admit to my personal bias here.  I’ve never seen a movie with Emma Thompson that I didn’t like. “Late Night” features witty repartee about women, ageism, diversity and the white male culture of TV.  The basic plot is the difficulties of  successful aging focused on the challenges of pursuing both excellence and change in later life.  Would this show have drawn me to a major theater at a minimum $20 price point (ticket, parking, popcorn)? I’m not sure.  But the show is the best of my recent viewing of women leads in feature-length online movies.

The streaming plots seem more nuanced when they are structured as episodes.  “The Handmaiden Tale” on Hulu (Season 1) is gripping.  It’s back for a fourth season but I haven’t watched  seasons 2 or 3  because someone from Costa Rica stole my Hulu account.  “ The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime is a great period piece, showcasing strong women in non-traditional roles with writing that leaves the viewer laughing at the pathos of the characters as they struggle with various neurosis. Both seasons 1 and 2 were outstanding.  I am eagerly waiting  season 3. “The Good Fight”  (3 seasons streaming on CBS All Access), stars attorney Diane Lockhart (Christin Baranski) as a tough, high powered,  older woman lawyer working in an almost all black law firm. She is the only white partner. For liberals, the plot focus on current events, dark humor, and undercurrents of an unknowable national conspiracy make the show binge worthy in my book.good fight

Even when I enjoy streaming a show, I don’t get the same excitement as I do waiting in a big dark theater with my over-priced popcorn for the show to begin. Short, high quality streaming episodes with a solid plot line can keep viewers watching night after night or binging away an entire day. But to get us out of our cozy homes and entice us to spend at least $50 for a family, movie producers and writers need to continue creating that special spell-binding magic that transforms our ordinary lives for a couple hours.  Without the magic, movies may go the way of my land line telephone which never rings or my dusty VHS collection, a relic of a past that was transformative at the time but unable to adapt to new technology.   But for right now, I still love a great movie on a big screen in a dark theater .

Find Me

Find MeFind Me is an award winning, Indie film, streaming now on Amazon Prime. Tom Huang, writer-director and star realized he wanted to make a movie about our western national parks when he was wading through Narrows Canyon in Zion National Park.

The unlikely hero in this movie is Joe, a Chinese-American middle-aged divorced accountant living a dreary existence of work, home, work. Amelia (staring Sara Amini), his bubbly younger Hispanic coworker and friend, challenges Joe to get out and see the world and shares her many adventures with him. That is, until she disappears.  But she doesn’t disappear until she steals some company funds and makes Joe promise to do anything to “Find her”.  That promise is the premise of the film as Amelia sends hints to Joe of her whereabouts.

Joe searching for Amelia discovers the beauty of the American west.

Joe’s journey takes him and the viewer through some of the most gorgeous vistas in America’s west including Zion National Park, Death Valley, and Yosemite National Park. An underlying theme in “Find Me” is diversity.  Joe is a Chinese American, a change up from the traditional sexy macho western hero.  His bumbling efforts to understand the bread crumbs Amelia leaves along the way provide moments of quiet humor. Other change ups from traditional white shows, Joe camps with a black woman from Detroit and of course, Amelia is a young Hispanic woman.  Amelia carries a secret with her as she crisscrosses the west.  The ultimate theme of “Find Me” is that we are in charge of our own destinies.  Fate may be an unequal broker but in the end, each of us has the opportunity to live life as we choose.

The scenery alone is worth cuddling on the coach with a loved one and a bowl of popcorn.  I have had the opportunity to travel the places showcased in the film but I am always awed by the beauty around us.

The underlying pathos of “Find Me” is also worth some personal reflection.  Are we living our best lives now?  Does the routine of life dehumanize your spirit and keep you from exploring new vistas.