City Lights: Some toys have a real story

Oh, those traumatic memories of "Toy Story 3."

For some reason, I've kept encountering playthings during my last couple of weeks covering Huntington Beach. First, there was the Course of the Force, a "Star Wars"-themed charity relay in which participants carried a plastic lightsaber — a toy I coveted myself decades back — for a quarter-mile each.

Then last week, I interviewed a family who found the front piece of a Japanese electric train set on the rocks at Huntington Dog Beach. Apparently, the engine from the Plarail collection had washed across the Pacific Ocean after last year's earthquake and tsunami, which displaced the family as well.

When the son, 11-year-old Ryan Kaneko, sent me a handwritten letter about the train, he voiced a hope that he could return it to its original owner. That looks like it won't be possible, being that the train doesn't have a nametag or other ID.

Still, I sympathized with his mission — probably as most everyone could who sat through "Toy Story 3" a couple years back.

I'm not entirely proud to say that, in the summer of 2010, I became part of a highly unexpected social phenomenon — namely, the legions of grown men who failed to fight back tears at the end of history's highest-grossing animated film. And I know there were legions, because I have documents to back me up.

Within weeks of the Pixar movie's release, the Internet was awash with headlines like "What is it about 'Toy Story 3' that makes grown men cry?" and "Message to men: Yes, it's OK to cry at 'Toy Story 3'."

Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman, whose tastes typically run along the lines of Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone, confessed to weeping so loudly at the film's conclusion that people could hear him in the screening room.

I haven't joined a "Toy Story 3" survivors group yet, but I would guess that most of those tear ducts came unhinged starting with the words "This is Jessie ... "

That's the line that kicks off the final scene, in which Andy, the now-teenage owner of Buzz, Woody, et al, begins gingerly passing his toys on to a young girl in the neighborhood — and giving her their names and stories as well, to preserve the fruits of his childhood imagination.

I think it was that aspect, more than anything, that caused so many people to have an emotional reaction to the film.

Pixar heroes notwithstanding, toys are inanimate bits of plastic and metal. Our budding minds give them roles and personalities, then outgrow them. And once they do, we move on to the challenges and joys of adulthood: cars, jobs, romance and whatever lies beyond.

To watch that final scene of "Toy Story 3" is to remember the time when plastic cowboys or slinky dogs seemed far more meaningful than they were, simply because our world view hadn't expanded enough to put them in perspective. When we cross the adult threshold, we get more jaded.

That's the thing about maturing: Once done, it can't be reversed.

So back to the train. The boy (or girl) who once owned it in Japan may have graduated from childhood sooner than expected. If the train had a name or a personality, as Andy assigned to his toys, it may seem insignificant in the wake of a natural disaster.

Still, when Ryan's father returns to Japan later this month, he plans to bring the train with him at the urging of Takara Tomy, the company that manufactures the Plarail line. Already, the train may have survived a rocky trip across the ocean.

If it winds up in the hands of another young Andy, whose imagination renders it a priceless object, consider its salvation complete.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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