Welcome to the first installment of Pixar-thon, my 13 part mission to review all of the Disney Pixar movies. Today we begin with the first ever full length computer animated film, Toy Story.
Andy has a lot of toys, but his most favorite one of all is Woody, a talking cowboy doll that all the other toys look up to as their leader. But his leadership is challenged when Andy receives a new toy for his birthday; a gadget packed space ranger action figure by the name of Buzz Lightyear. The only downside is that Buzz isn’t quite aware that he himself is just a toy. When Buzz starts stealing all the attention that Woody had, the jealous cowboy tries to get rid of him. But both end up in the hands of Sid, a sociopathic teen that spends his time torturing toys. Now both Woody and Buzz must put their differences aside to break out of Sid’s house and get back to Andy’s house before moving day
Toy Story is built around a fairly simple premise: your toys come to life when you leave the room. That alone opens a lot of doors for plenty of storytelling opportunities, but Pixar chooses not to reach for the low hanging fruit and decides to explore some of the richer aspects of this concept. This wasn’t the first movie to do this scenario, but it was definitely the first to really play around with it and even take it seriously. If you watch it now, it’s amazing how many little things they add which give the whole concept a little twist, and the attention to details about both the benefits and hardships of being a toy are really well thought out but at the same time really easy for anyone to grasp. It’s like they took the concepts and themes of The Velveteen Rabbit and took them to its next logical step.
The major themes of the movie that I’ve noticed are irrelevance and the obsolescence. Before Buzz came along, Woody had the good life. He was Andy’s favorite toy, all the other toys respected him, and he was pretty much the center of attention. When Buzz pushes him off his pedestal, Woody starts developing the same kind of jealousy that a kid might have for a newborn sibling. Buzz deals with a similar revelation, but in a different manner. For a majority of the film, he seriously believes that he is the actual Buzz Lightyear. When he sees a commercial of himself and comes to terms with the fact that he’s a child’s plaything, it’s almost like watching a man going through a midlife crisis. This is a universal fear that a lot of people have, which makes this movie so relatable to such a wide demographic, which is probably why the theme is further explored in the other two movies.
This is also a major landmark in filmmaking in general, because this is the first ever animated film to be made entirely with 3D computer effects. The effects this movie had are seen today, since a large portion of animated films that have come out in the past couple years are done with CG. It’s a bit more obvious by today’s standards, but for 1995, this film was absolutely revolutionary. If you thought it looks good in the forefront, go watch it now and pay attention to the backgrounds, because there are a million things that slip by the untrained eye. I noticed there were a lot of reflections in objects, and for the technology they had back then, I can’t imagine it being an easy task to pull off. This is also an excellent example of Pixar’s trademark for slipping things in the background. If you look at the scene where Woody is trapped under a milk crate in Sid’s room, you’ll see a little booklet that says “Improvised Interrogation Manual”. Pixar is widely known for sneaking in clues for their next movie in the background too, but I never really noticed anything from A Bug’s Life in there. But then again, it’s been ages since I’ve seen it and I wasn’t really searching.
Even though they never promote it in their marketing campaigns, most of Pixar’s voice casts do tend to have some A-list celebrities in the bunch. In the case of Toy Story, the two leads are played by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, both of which were at their prime when this movie was released. Tom Hanks is brilliant as always, brining in that natural leader aspect to Woody’s character. Tim Allen in particular is a very underrated actor in my opinion, and I believe this is one of his better roles, playing through that straight faced seriousness that Buzz had in the first half which comes across as pretty humorous in how serious he takes his “space ranger” role. Incidentally, the funniest moments from both of these characters for me come from when they have a mental breakdown. For Woody, there’s a certain point where he’s had enough of Buzz’s space ranger act and tells him off, and it made me laugh in a way that didn’t really hit me as a kid. Buzz has one when they’re both trapped at Sid’s house, and I thought that was really funny as a kid, but for whatever reason I can’t put my finger on, I find it a lot funnier now than I did back then. (“You see the hat? I am Mrs. Nesbit!)
It’s easy to see why this film gets the praise it gets. Sure, it was the most technologically advanced film of its time, but if that was all it had to offer, it wouldn’t be as well remembered today. It very easily could’ve been a fluke, but because they went out of their way to make a good story, interesting characters and a timeless theme, it’s no surprise that it still holds up as well today as it did seventeen years ago.
I give Toy Story 9/10.
One down, twelve to go.