Where the Toys Come From (1984) | (V)ideo (H)istory (S)elections

When most of you think of VHS tapes, you probably start to think of all of the old Disney movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, Toy Story, or maybe Space Jam. But when I think of those movies, I don’t think of VHS (or vice-verse), because I’ve enjoyed those films on DVD and Blu-ray, and they are so much more meaningful to me now than they ever were, as a matter of fact. My childhood was built on Nickelodeon and PBS more than it was Disney films is many ways; even though Bambi and Aladdin were probably my two favorite films back then. But when I think of VHS these days, I think of all the stuff I used to watch that I either don’t already own, or the stuff that you can’t exactly find anywhere else: like all of the many times I watched Home Alone 3 at my grandmother’s house during Christmas, or my two tapes of Bump in the Night; and there were quite a few films that I saw back then that I haven’t seen for over 10 years, and I have no idea if they ever made it to DVD or not. Some of them I can’t even find anymore because I can’t remember their titles, unless I just get lucky someday.

However, today, we’ll be talking about the very first thing that pops into my head when I think of all the times that I rented a VHS. That being the Walt Disney educational home video entitled, “Where the Toys Come From.” Which originally aired on the Disney Channel in 1984.

Now I probably rented this tape at least 4 times back when I was about 6 or 7 years old. Maybe even before that. And I can’t for the life of me explain what drew me to it. Perhaps it was the way that they choreographed all of these toys to look like they were moving around and talking with one another. Or maybe it was the search for knowledge that they two toys, Peepers and Zoom, embarked on to discover where they came from. Or maybe I’m just pulling at straws. I have no idea; because to tell you the truth, this production is a little embarrassing by today’s standards.

It was clearly created on a rather economic budget with very small means. There’s no 2D animation to speak of, not even TV quality 2D. It’s all live objects and toys just performing their regular clock-work movements; perhaps with some modifications and alternate toys with different gear systems inside so that they could move a little differently when needed. Occasionally there would be some stop-motion, or just stop-and-replace footage: like with the blocks with pictures on them that look like an old man’s face.

They also had quite a few exchangeable eyeballs for both Peepers and Zoom so that they could have a few varied expressions other than just their voices to express themselves. But that’s it. They would just wind these toys up, or hold them by their back ends and move them around the screen while photographing them, with plans to add all of the dialogue later. So visually, it’s nothing to write home about.

Performance-wise, you have Peepers and Zoom of course, the two star toys; but you also have Robin, the little girl who owns the toys; and Kenji, the toys’ designer from their Japanese factory, TOMY. Actually it turns out that this was an American/Japanese co-production, possibly between Disney’s two branches, since I believe Disney already had an established sister studio there by the early 1980s. Now voice actors John Harvey and Larry Wright (Peepers and Zoom respectively) do an okay job performing their roles. They’re nothing too special. They sound soft and calm and pandering like you would be in a children’s educational video, but a tad more subtle because they’re not talking to the audience, they’re only talking to themselves. Also, funny thing; John and Larry both sound very similar to each other. So I’m not sure what the thought process during casting was on that choice.

Sab Shimono, who plays Kenji the Designer here, he was perfectly fine in his role. He clearly knows English as a second language, so he’s was a better choice than I could have expected for the time that this film came out. And although it seems odd that Kenji isn’t surprised and actually knows that all of his toys will “naturally” learn to talk once they find an owner, he wasn’t as insincere about the whole thing as he could have seemed. It’s often awkward with similar projects like this; when actors, who are not used to talking to inanimate obejects, have to converse with them like another co-star, and then end up sounding less convincing than the voice actors who are entirely committed to their parts. But no, Sab Shimono pulls off the part better than most. The only poor actor of the bunch is Robin the little girl, played by Erin Young: which was apparently her only role. Now I’m not saying she couldn’t have improved in her acting skills later on if she had stuck with it, but clearly acting was not her strong suit at this point in her life; because even though she’s able to pretend as if she’s talking to her toys, she doesn’t quite do it in the way that one would when you’re alone and really day-dreaming that your toys are live. But, then again, I’ve seen kids in other films pretending, and it isn’t supposed to look magical or anything. I’ve even seen real kids pretend with their toys and it isn’t necessarily “Oscar worthy” either. So maybe her performance is more accurate, even if it isn’t able to suspend our disbelief as movie-goers or tv-watchers.

The music was varied and somewhat interesting. It was all produced by Akiko Yano, who also composed the soundtrack to Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbors the Yamadas (which I have yet to see, unfortunately). I found the music charming in some scenes, but none of the songs stood out to me as something I’d want on my I-Pod. I’ve heard many 80s instrumentals I would rather own. However, it was charming, especially the later tracks. And as is typical of the 80s, there is a saxophone solo in there.

Another nice thing to note about the production staff is that Director Theodore Thomas went on to direct the Disney-phile fan-favorite Frank & Ollie documentary from 1995, and the fascinating Walt & El Grupo, about Walt Disney’s tour of the South and Central American countries with a band of his top animators and creative staff.

To express my thoughts on the actual purpose of this D-T-V film (Direct-to-Video): Where toys come from; it’s okay, but I’ve seen episodes of Discovery’s How It’s Made that were more enjoyable, and actually taught me specific details of assembly lines that I remember to this day. Where the Toys Come From sort of just sank into my mind and became part of my general knowledge about factories, I suppose. But whenever I think about how toys are made, I don’t think about the scenes in this film, I think about How It’s Made or Modern Marvels; two shows that I would watch marathons of almost every week for years when I was in Middle School. The only things I remember from Where the Toys Come From are the designs of the two star toys, Peepers and Zoom; the scene where they are in the toy store, thinking backwards to where they were manufactured; and the scene where they walk into a hand-held video-game testing room where all of the beeping and bright lights scare them to the point that they scurry out of the room. Only now, after re-watching this film, have I come to realize that the whole thing was never really anything special. To me as a kid, it probably was. But to me as an adult, it’s just one of those things that doesn’t age well, either production-wise or demographic-wise.

On a final note, while I still labeled this film under the new review section entitled “Video History Selections,” in which I would talk about old forgotten D-T-V films that only exist on VHS; it turns out that this film actually got a DVD Release some time ago in the early 2000s. So it isn’t technically a VHS only movie. That being said, I thought about trying to come up with a separate section altogether, since this is also technically a live-action film, and so far, this is my first review to involve live actors. But that would just become unnecessary. I guess then we’ll just file this one under Review #0, or the pilot episode; and move on to an ”actual” VHS-only film next time around. And this will be a series that isn’t strictly “animation-only;” we’ll discuss anything and everything you can only find on a tape.

And, if you are so inclined to get yourself a copy of Where the Toys Come From and check it out, be my guest. It won’t be too much out of your pocket. But trust me when I say that there isn’t a whole lot of re-watch value other than for very young kids, as I was when I first saw it.

Join me next time, where we’ll once again travel into the retro and nostalgic.