"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 November 1995. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Incorporating the Mouse



In his speech to the

tuxedo-draped Pixar and Disney

employees at Toy Story's premier

in San Francisco last weekend,

Steve Jobs compared classic

Disney animated features to the

works of Homer, which called to

mind a story we once heard about

a beat poet who sent some of his

compositions to William Carlos

Williams. Williams waxed

enthusiastic, and told his

earnest correspondent that he

might become the new Homer. Of

course, the poet repeated this

to one of his contemporaries,

who answered, unexpectedly (and

in what one imagines to have

been a tone of disappointment),

"No kidding? He told me I was

the new Dante."


[Wooden Boy]

With the unconscious genius

typical of a great capitalist,

Steve Jobs was more right than

William Carlos Williams. Walt

Disney makes sense as a new

Homer: Disney ported our

collective myths across a media

border as significant as the

archaic border between epic song

and written literature. Walt Disney

Pictures was the impresario of the

mechanical, and after the flight

from Steamboat Willie to Snow

White the company has been in a

holding pattern, waiting for

landing instructions from the

control towers of the new world,

while fending off legendary

attacks from people who put a

slightly different spin on the

notion of social engineering.


[Toy Box]

With Toy Story, permission to

land has been granted. At first,

the terrain is disappointing.

Gone are the great haptic spaces

of Disney animated features, the

profound three-dimensionality,

the subtle expressions, the

sweeping pans, the brilliant

colors and the musical

intensity. Instead, Toy is

claustrophobic and dull. The

characters are put together out

of elementary geometry, their

movements and speech are sadly

ordinary; the very joy in

mechanization that Disney

unleashed seems to have been

toned down, cooled off, and




Most disturbingly, there's no

evil in the film. The only

appealing character is the young

villain Sid, who's merely

bratty. You sit in the theater

ready to give up control of your

emotions to the great cinematic

projection, and instead you get

restless and twitchy and even

angry - isn't there going to be

something deep and dark and

Disney to plunge into?



No. Because this isn't a movie.

That restlessness you feel is

the anticipatory restlessness of

a finger on a mouse. The

rendered animations are lifeless

because they are waiting for you

to bring them to life.


[The Death of Pluto]

Toy Story is not a movie. It is

the prototype for an amazing

interactive game, and when the

technology unleashed by Pixar

and its 300 Sun SPARCstations is

unleashed upon the online world,

movies are going to seem




"Oral transmission of epics         
 ceases with writing, and with      
 it, at the dawn of history,        
 fades the idea of memory as the    
 goddess of immortal recollection." 

- Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders,  
 The Alphabetization of the     
 Popular Mind                   

[Mickey's Shadow]

As always, it comes down to a

mouse. The victim, who is also

the stand-in for Walt Disney's

childhood (and thus, hope the

marketing staff, Inner Child to

us all), has been taken off the

screen and put into our hands.

Don't watch it, click it. We are

incorporating the mouse. Mickey,

c'est moi!



If Sid had a mouse, he would

light it on fire. Sid chops his

toys into pieces, then builds

new, mutant creatures out

of their severed body parts.

Twisted? Sure. But you know, in

the movie, it kind of looks like

fun. After all, Sid isn't merely

a passive consumer, who accepts

whatever gimmicky piece of trash

he happens to find laying next

to the birthday cake. Sid

interacts. Sid has fun. And

Sid's punishment, when his toys

all talk back, is just what we

(and Pixar, most of all) have

always wanted. Not just to play

with our toys, but to have our

toys play with us.


[Poor Sid]

The hostility with which Sid is

treated in Toy Story is a clever

disguise, like when the object

of desire in a dream appears in

the form of a punishment. Sid is

essentially an embryonic,

pre-adolescent Pixar employee

and his toys are the amazing

digital playmates those artists

and engineers have have been

struggling so mightily to bring

to life.


[Sid's Maw]

The hardest thing, as always, was

to render the mouths of the

human characters as they talked.

You just can't make it real. You

love these little guys, but as

you struggle to make them obey

you also grow to hate them. And

the climax of the love and hate

we have for our digital avatars

(and with ourselves) is

expressed near the end of Toy

Story when we look through a

magnifying glass into Sid's

grotesque maw. Inside the mouth

of the story's only significant

human being we see the harsh

lines of his mechanical braces.

It's disgusting, but it is also

a huge thrill. Just below the

surface, Sid looks an awful lot

like a machine.



Walt knew it all along.

Disneyland and Disneyworld are

down payments on the delivery of

a fully mechanized and

interactive universe. In this

universe, the gods and goddesses

are popular products and

brand names, which, like us,

appear to be machines that also

have souls. It isn't important

if they don't seem real. For

proof, look no further than

Time-Warner's Palace, which

jettisons haptic depth

altogether. Yes, you are a

character. So are your toys.

There is no distinction, no

projection. Worlds Chat keeps

3-D in the picture, but of an

especially impoverished sort.

That's okay. It's wrong to

assume that what we seek is a

"richness of experience." Nope,

nope, nope. We'll sacrifice

just about anything, even the

Goddess of Immortal

Recollection, in order to make a

leap into something new.



Toy Story is the new, and as a

movie, it sucks. But, so what? A

thousand years after Homer,

enterprising toy makers who

camped out on the steps of the

Acropolis and sold action

figures of the more popular gods

must have laughed out loud when

word reached them of a new

superhero whose chief

merchandising gimmick consisted

of two sticks nailed together at

right angles. "Disney features,"

said Jobs to the first audience

of Toy Story, "are my son's

myths. He's learning all about

good and evil through these

movies." Pixar, he concludes,

"has some myths we'd like to put

back into the culture." Then the

cameras rolled. In the first few

minutes of Toy Story, a box of

Tinker Toys appeared on the

screen, with its trademark

registration shining above the

heads of the audience like a

great, glowing deity of a

new world.

courtesy of Dr. McLoo