Toy Story (1995)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Laurie Metcalf, John Morris, Erik von Detten
Directed by: John Lasseter
When I first saw Toy Story, I was 18-years-old and pretty much too cool for a children’s animated feature. But I was visiting a girl who I had a HUUUUGE crush on (I was young enough for crushes!), and she wanted to go see this. It looked cool (visually), so I was alright with it. Then I saw it, and it blew me away. I tried to stay cool about it, but there was no getting around it: I had just seen an amazing movie, one that I connected with as much as I was impressed by, one that made me feel like a kid again, while still satisfying my young adult brain.
Twelve years later, after other computer-animated movies have followed the trail Toy Story blazed, the movie still blows me away. Truly, Pixar’s Toy Story is a landmark film, one that changed the world of animation profoundly (not always for the better), bringing in modern tools to create a wonderfully rendered universe of toys. The animation is just as impressive today as it was the first time I saw it. Some other movies may have come along to improve upon a few features of Toy Story animation, for instance, the human forms from the movie have been improved upon, but I still think it holds up just as well as anything put out today. The toys are both realistic and expressive, and the colourful backdrops really capture the imagination.
But beyond the animation, the true excellence in Toy Story is the story. The secret lives of toys is a wonderful idea, allowing the writers and animators to express ideas in fun and unique ways (different uses for toys, the personalities different toys would assume, how they perceive the world). But unlike many of the computer animated movies to follow it, Toy Story isn’t just a series of gags, of-the-moment pop culture references, or excuses to cram in celebrity voices. The story of Woody (Tom Hanks) forced to come to terms with the newer, cooler Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) taking his honoured spot as Top Toy for Andy (John Morris) is a great idea, taking us on an adventure that sees their rivalry put them in jeopardy with the toy-torturing kid next door Sid (Erik von Detten). The story grabs my attention every time, told in a compact 81 minutes, with every frame servicing the story (which makes it different than a lot of today’s animated movies, which tend to suffer from bloated running times that stretch the story past its limits).
Everyone remembers the animation as Toy Story‘s big innovation, but it’s not the only way it changed the industry. At the time, Disney pretty much stuck to musical re-telling of fairytales. The other American animation studios pretty much stuck to the same formula, with perhaps the exception of not re-doing fairytales (instead, adapting children’s books), but generally, they were always musicals. Since the release of Toy Story, all the studios, including Disney, have explored more original stories, and left behind the tired musical concept. Pixar remains the industry leader in North America, making sure that their beautiful animation always serves the story (a lesson Dreamworks would do well to learn. Another lesson they could stand to learn would be to stop making Pixar rip-offs, Antz *cough* Shark Tale *cough*).
The beauty of Toy Story is that it’s a timeless family movie. Too many family movies, since the release of 1992’s Aladdin, have been selling out their timelessness in order to appeal to an older audience, and to make them seem more edgy and modern. The result is that these movies tend to be outdated by the time the movie is released on DVD. You’d think that a movie with anthropomorphic commercial products would easily become dated, but it isn’t. John Lasseter and company made the wise choice in picking generic toys that kids have been playing with for ages (the cowboy, the spaceman, the dinosaur). One of the few name brand toys is Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), a timeless toy in its own right that the movie helped re-popularise. A lesser studio would’ve used the movie as an excuse to make a full length commercial for their products, but instead they created a world of unique characters using universal themes that should make as much sense, and be as appealing, in a dozen years from now as it is today, a dozen years since it was released.