Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Island of Unfit Toys

One evening earlier this week I was cleaning up after my children, putting toys away, and I had to stop chucking things at random into various receptacles in order to find a specific toy and fit a small piece back onto it. Again.

This is mostly my fault, of course. There really shouldn’t be any toys in the house which have small, loose parts. The little guy can handle them but his sister is deeply entrenched in the “grab everything and shove it mouthward” phase so we must be vigilant against choking hazards at all times. I accept that responsibility and would even go so far as to assess myself at being pretty good at its enforcement. The mitigating factors which might make it not entirely my fault lie somewhere in the gray area between children’s toys and grown-up collectibles which I am still (constantly) learning to navigate.

The toy in question is Red, who is the fire engine character from the Pixar movie Cars (depending on how often you read this blog, at least some portion of that previous sentence no doubt could have gone utterly without saying). Being a firetruck, Red (the character) is a little bigger than most of the other denizens of that world, and thus Red (the toy) is not standard sized, either. When the little guy said he wanted Red, we incorporated it into the reward system as a goal to work toward and I set about tracking Red down online. When I found him, the picture of the toy looked exactly like what I expected based on the dozens of Cars toys the little guy already owned, and I order it unhesitatingly.

Then the toy arrived, and instead of coming on a modest cardboard and plastic blister backing, it was mounted in a Lucite cube and marked as a Disney Store Exclusive or something like that. I didn’t really pay that much mind until the day came to actually give Red to the little guy, at which point he opened the cube and … we discovered that Red was screwed down on the little replica stretch of asphalt under his tires. Unfortunately I presented Red in the car, on the way to the pediatrician’s, so we had to wait through the appointment and all the way home before I could liberate the firetruck from its base with a screwdriver. But I did, and the little guy was pretty psyched.

But even more unfortunately, not long after that, things started falling off Red. He has a ton of tiny-fiddly delicate sculpted bits, his itty-bitty rearview mirrors and brittle hose nozzles and so on, and it gradually dawned on me that we were not simply dealing with some semantics used as justification for jacking up the price of a toy. Red really isn’t a toy. He really is a collectible intended to sit on a shelf, permanently affixed to his display base, not to be touched and certainly not to be played with. He was neither designed nor constructed to stand up to the rigors of actual play. He might very well shatter if you looked at him funny (which I admit is very in keeping with his characterization in the movie).

Even if I had realized this when I spotted Red online, I probably still would have gone ahead and clicked my way through the transaction, because I am firmly committed to the principle of letting playthings be playthings. I admit, there are a couple of action figures in my Green Lantern shrine which remain in their original packaging, and I even know that if I ever listed them on eBay it would be as MOC, not MIB (“mint on card” as opposed to “mint in box”) but those are far outnumbered by the toys which are loose. And while I am content to pose those loose action figures amongst my books for pure aesthetic enjoyment, I’ve never stopped the little guy from grabbing them and putting them to what I believe is their intrinsically correct purpose. So anyone telling me that a toy (or at least something that looks like a toy, sounds like a toy, and hangs out with other toys) is actually a collectible, well, that rankles a bit. Disney in particular occupies this very strange area where they seem to be expressly and almost exclusively in the business of entertaining small children, yet there are so many adult Disney fans that it’s actually (arguably) kind of hip to get a Tigger tattoo or have a Maleficent snowglobe out in the living room or whatever. But be that as it may, grown-ups (non-geek) aren’t supposed to buy themselves toys, so Disney has to market “collectibles”.

All well and good in the abstract, but dealing with the reality is something else. Apparently sometimes a toy truly is not a toy, those times being when treating it like a toy results in dangerous fragments breaking off on a regular basis. But of course in the time it has taken to figure that out, Red has become a beloved part of my son’s Cars collection, so it seems cruel to take it away now. Of course it also seems cruel to willingly let my daughter gag on a stray firetruck ladder, so some kind of compromise is inevitable. And henceforth I will be significantly more cautious about restricting myself to the designated toy aisle.

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