Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 1: Those Good Old "Toy" Feelings

Who here remembers Christmas morning as a kid?  Wasn't that great?  The morning sunlight streaming through the window onto the huge Christmas tree in the center of the room and the plate that had once held cookies.  Oh, and who could forget that mound of presents under the tree.  What secrets did it hold?  What surprises would there be?  Did Santa bring me EXACTLY what I wanted?  Somehow Christmas just doesn't seem as fun now that I'm grown up and Santa doesn't visit anymore (damn my sense of disbelief)...there was a magic that just can't be recaptured.  And no, it wasn't all about Santa...most of it was that magic moment when you opened the box for that perfect toy.  It was the most important gift of the day and was exactly what you wanted; you knew you would love it forever...which is what Jim Henson and company were trying to capture in their 1986 TV film The Christmas Toy.

The film begins in the playroom of Jesse and Jamie, two children who are part of an average American family.  However, the children are not the stars of this tale...rather once they leave the room their toys all come to life and lead lives of their own.  The toys are all excited that Christmas Eve has come again and that they are about to welcome new toys into their midst.  However, last year's Christmas toy...Rugby the tiger...isn't as keen on this idea.  For him, life began the day that Jessie opened her gift box and promised to love him forever and he cannot bear to experience Christmas without being the star.  So he sets out on a quest for the downstairs living room so that he can put himself in one of the boxes and become Jessie's special toy once again.  However, Apple and Mu, Jessie's doll and the family cat's toy mouse, are soon after him to return him to the playroom...because if he gets caught by any member of the family anywhere other than where he was left, he will be frozen forever!  Also adding to the drama is Jessie's new toy Meteora, Queen of the Asteroids who doesn't realize she's a toy when she is released from her box by Rugby.  Will Christmas morning be saved?

This is a really great TV movie, running at only 50 minutes, and perfectly captures the magic of Christmas at childhood and the love we felt for our Christmas toys...but from the toy's point of view.  It asks the viewer to examine what a toy feels when it is opened on Christmas and the replaced a year later by the newer, better model.  In fact, if it wasn't so sweet and charming...it would probably make me feel really guilty.  However the cute factor is turned to full and there are some very sweet songs and moments for each character...particularly the catnip filled Mu mouse who is treated like a second class citizen because he's a cat toy.  The puppetry is top notch as well, thanks to Jim Henson and company's expertise.  Other things to notice about the story are its remarkable similarities to another 'toys are alive' film...Toy Story.  There's the favorite toy who is worried about losing his place and the arrival of a space toy with an identity crisis to shake things up.  One wonders if Pixar's creative minds were inspired by this one first.  If you haven't yet seen The Christmas Toy, you really should.  Its particularly good for kids.  Add it to your annual Christmas rotation and you won't be disappointed.

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