In 1995-96, I was working as the UK label manager for French soundtrack imprint Milan Records. We licenced score albums from most of the major studios, including Disney, which is how I came to be on the mailing list for taste-maker screenings of their animated features. These were always held on Sunday mornings at the Leicester Square Odeon, and were usually a few months ahead of UK theatrical release dates. These screenings were full of industry and media people (and the occasional footballer and his family), the idea being to get good word of mouth circulating amongst the cognoscenti with children before their films opened, and Disney always gave out a cool bit of promo swag for the kids as well. My oldest son was around 3 at the time, and I had managed to secure two double passes for these screenings, which I usually invited my son’s best friend from nursery and her dad to come to with us. My memory might be playing tricks with me, but I think Toy Story was the first of these Sunday screenings that we had tickets for.
I recall an excited buzz in the cinema that Sunday morning as the film had already opened to great acclaim and success in North America. This was however before the days of the web and the world of chatter, promotional onslaught and finely tuned anticipation that we live in now, so I really had no expectations (I hadn’t see any clips or a trailer) other than a fun Sunday morning outing with my boy. Within five minutes of the screening beginning, I was enraptured by the story of Woody and Buzz and the other toys in a way that I could not have imagined I would have been viewing a ‘children’s’ film under the auspices of Disney. Not only was it stunning to look at, but the script was genuinely witty and knowing and possessed of real heart, and didn’t talk down to children (it was the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Screenplay Academy Award – Adapted or Original). As a parent who hated all things twee and PC (from Barney to the painfully naff offerings of most children’s entertainers), it was fantastic to be able to watch something with my son that I enjoyed every bit as much as he did – and probably even more.
As we filed out of the cinema afterwards, that all too rare communal sense of real joy was in the air; we adults knew we had just witnessed something extraordinary, and there was much grinning and head shaking all around. The film that started it all is the lowest grossing of Pixar’s 11 feature films to date (with Toy Story 3 at the top of their table, and all animated features ever, having grossed in excess of $1 billion world-wide), and while I look forward to every new release (I took my friends’ seven year old Theo to see Toy Story 3 last year), it’s impossible to re-capture that real sense of cinematic magic I experienced on a Sunday morning in Leicester Square some 15 years ago.