By JAY R. NEILL
Autograph June 2010

Toy Story VHS cover signed by John Ratzenberger.

Even grown-ups sometimes want to feel like a kid again. And nothing triggers those memories for me like remembering the toys I used to play with. Even in a world filled with electronic toys, I made sure my boys have gotten to enjoy the thrill of sending the toy Evel Knievel stunt motorcycle speeding off a ramp trying to move anything and anyone off its path. That and my little green Army men bring back great memories.

And I can think of no movie that brings back the nostalgic feelings of childhood quite like the Toy Story movies. In 1995, Toy Story became the first feature film released to use only computer generated imagery, and it was the first in which the young upstart Pixar Company joined forces with the Walt Disney Company. Toy Story 2 was released in 1999, but fans have had to wait more than a decade for the third installment. Toy Story 3 is scheduled for release on June 18.

With a cast of top vocal talent headed by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, collectors can blast off with signatures of Hollywood stars young, old and in between. Most of the actors and actresses had well established acting careers when the Toy Story series began and many of the cast members signatures can be obtained through the mail. This month we’ll look at some surprises when it comes to collecting the signatures of the voices and creators that have brought Toy Story to life.

Toy Story

Card signed by writer Peter Docter.

The movie begins with a toy cowboy named Woody becoming jealous when his owner, a young boy named Andy, receives a new space toy named Buzz Lightyear for his birthday. Buzz thought that he was a real Space Ranger and it took time and Woody’s funny reminders for him to realize that he was indeed a toy.

Buzz was named after astronaut Buzz Aldrin and the role was originally offered to Billy Crystal before being accepted by television and movie funnyman Tim Allen. ”I was a dope who said no to being Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story,” Crystal admitted, and he later did the voice of Mike Wazowski in Pixar’s Monsters Inc.

Tim Allen secretarial signed card.

Mr. Allen has sent me two signed items over the years, but they were both signed by someone else. When a celebrity responds to fan mail through a secretary, and allows that person to sign their name—that’s called a “secretarial” signature.

Woody was named after deceased Western actor Woody Strode and the role is voiced by Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks. I have found that Tim Allen does sign through his Boxing Cat production company, but only if you send your own item to be signed. If you don’t send your own item, it’s typical to receive a preprinted photo. Tom Hanks also has his own production company through which he may be contacted, but I haven’t seen many through the mail successes with Mr. Hanks. Don’t be afraid of writing to their evil nemesis, Erik von Detten, who provided the voice for Sid the toy torturer in the first movie. He is not evil at all—he signed for us in just two weeks.

Toy Story 2

Blake Clark signed photo.

Buzz and Woody again take the lead, but it’s the cast of lovable characters that makes the movie. In Toy Story 2, Mr. Potato Head meets his bride when Andy’s little sister receives Mrs. Potato Head as a Christmas present. Mr. Potato Head is voiced by veteran funnyman Don Rickles. Mr. Rickles began his career in the 1950s as an actor, but became famous as a stand-up comedian. He called anyone who interrupted his act a “Hockey Puck,” and he brought that line to virtual life as Mr. Potato Head.  His potato wife is Estelle Harris who has a long history of voiceover work and is best known as Estelle Costanza on the television show Seinfeld.

Who is the only actor to voice a character in all of Pixar Animation’s feature films? It’s John Ratzenberger, who is the king of Pixar voice work and the voice of Hamm the piggy bank.  Hamm and Potato are not just a great meal, these guys are also great signers. It took Ratzenberger, Rickles and Harris up to six months to respond, but all three sent signed 8×10 pictures when we mailed them a return postage paid envelope.

Toy Story 3

Erik Van Detten signed photo.

In Toy Story 3, Andy is all grown up and heading off to college. So what will happen to his toys? We’ll have to wait for the theatres to open to find out, but the new movie will bring new characters and new autograph opportunities. Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson) returns and she will finally get her Ken when Michael Keaton joins the third installment. Keaton voiced Chick Hicks in the Pixar Cars movie and is expected to return for Cars 2, scheduled for release in the summer of 2011. Veteran actor Ned Beatty will voice the Lots O’ Huggin’ Bear and Timothy Dalton plays Mr. Pricklepants. While I have been waiting over  four months for responses for these new characters, at least one new character has already responded. Whoopi Goldberg will be voicing the Purple Octopus toy and she sent a secretarial-signed photo in care of her New York production company. Blake Clark takes over the voice duties for Slinky since the passing of Jim Varney in 2001, and he responded to our autograph request in just a week.

Toy Story Writers and Directors

The author and sons Jason and Jack with Jim Belushi.

John Lasseter began his Disney career as a Jungle Cruise skipper at Disneyland in Anaheim. He later found a home at Pixar and was a writer and director for both of the first two Toy Story films. Lasseter has won two Academy Awards including a 1995 Special Achievement Award for Toy Story.

My favorite Toy Story writer and signer is Pete Docter. Pete started at Pixar at the age of 21 when he became the tenth employee the company hired and its third animator. Pete was one of the three key screenwriters behind the concept of Toy Story, and went on to write and direct Monsters Inc. and last summer’s hit Up. As a father of two, Mr. Docter is very accommodating to autograph requests from children. Not only does he have a wonderful free-spirited signature, but he often responds with a letter and by drawing some of his Pixar inspired characters. Mr. Lasseter responds to his fans with a very nice 8×10, however the signature is pre-printed.

Father’s Day Challenge

Don Rickles signed photo.

With the opening of Toy Story 3 the weekend of Father’s Day, what better way to grow your collection than as a family? This month, get with the father figure in your life and write to the person whose signature you like the best from the Toy Story movies. I have a feeling that my Father’s Day present from my boys will be a trip to the local theater to see Toy Story 3 and I can think of nothing better than spending time as a family.

Send for a signature that you’ll love this Father’s Day and make sure to say a lot of “I love you’s” no matter how old you are.