NOTE: This is a fixed version of the Debuts Blogathon post mainly for posterity.
It’s a great feeling to know that a movie is still as great, if not better, as when you first saw it. When I was young and when my family would go on vacation, we would take a small TV and wedge it between the driver and passenger seats. Part of my preparation was to pick out the tapes we would watch. Toy Story was the one of the few tapes that would stay in our travel library; in fact, we only watched it on road trips. When it was time for freshman orientation a few years ago, our theme was “To Infinity and Beyond!” It was especially fitting as I met with fellow computer animation majors (back when that was my major before switching to film). Long story short, this film has stayed with me for as long as I can remember. Of course, watching this today immediately after seeing something like Monsters University is a bit of a shock to the eyes because it’s a noticeable step back in terms of aesthetics and technical execution. Still, it holds up and continues to entertain and enchant.
I’d hate to presume that everyone has seen Toy Story but for the sake of this special review, I’ll go over the plot and much more.
We begin with Andy playing with his toys. It’s child’s play as a make-believe session set in a western town includes a Slinky dog with force fields and a dinosaur who eats them just because they can. Woody comes in and saves the day, stopping a bad potato from robbing everyone. Good clean wholesome fun. It’s no ordinary day, as Andy is having his birthday party early before they move to a new house. As soon as Andy puts Woody on his bed, that’s when the toys really come to life.
Woody is the leader of the pack as they come together for a staff meeting. The toys are adults and treat each other as such, most of the time. The whole set-up is like an organization, with each member dedicated to making this one kid happy just by being toys. Things are going well until kids start showing up for the party with presents. Woody sends out army men to scope the scene for new additions to the crew. After hearing about same rather lame presents, Andy’s mom pulls out a surprise that’s really something. The toys don’t figure it out yet as a tornado of children storm up to Andy’s room and leave it in some disarray. Woody comes out from under the bed as the toys wonder why Andy would do something like that. Woody climbs up and then we see the fancy new toy: a Buzz Lightyear. Oh. My. Gosh. A Buzz Lightyear? Must want! Sorry. Well, after his introduction, Buzz doesn’t seem to make a good impression on Woody. Andy spends his time playing with Buzz as we see a change of his interests as Buzz is in drawings, posters, and bedsheets. It goes to the point of near ultimate shame as Woody is put in the toy box instead of Andy’s arms when he sleeps.
One afternoon, Andy goes to Pizza Planet. But before that, his mom calls him for some reason and leaves the room learning that he can only bring one toy. Fueled by jealousy, Woody knocks Buzz out of the window. Before the other toys have the chance to lynch him, Andy returns and takes Woody, disappointed that he can’t find Buzz. They stop at a gas station as Buzz and Woody fight and are out of the van as Andy leaves. They have an argument that leads to Woody screaming at Buzz “YOU ARE A TOY!!!!!!!!” They then hitch a ride on a Pizza Planet delivery car and try to make their way to Andy. That all fails when Sid, the evil neighbor next door, takes them after winning them in a claw game.
From there, it’s a matter of survival as they try to get back to Andy before the move. Sid’s house is far from paradise, with friendly mutant toys, a viscious dog, and Sid himself. How much worse can it get? Well, if you look at the carpet in the hallway from the top of the stairs, it’s a variation of the carpet from the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Frankly, I’d like to have the carpet in my house but that’s a whole other story. They escape and scare the living daylights out of Sid. It’s then a race to the moving truck as the toys have to dodge traffic. All’s well in the end as Woody and Buzz fall with style into the van and celebrate their first Christmas together in the new house.
As a kid, I liked it because the toys could talk and that was about it. Now, it’s about the way the story works. The story was written by four people, one of them being Joss Whedon. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. While there are musical numbers in the movie, none of them are performed by the characters, something Joss and John Lasseter agreed on. Could you imagine these toys breaking out into song in a film like this? Neither can I.
Toy Story debuted as the first ever full-length computer animated film and marked the start of John Lasseter’s directorial position in 1995. This film set the mark for what computer animated films can do. Computer animated features can be successful when they have a combination of a good story, characters we can relate and emote with, and a good style. Sadly, that’s not always the case as there are bombs like Dougal, Hoodwinked Too!: Hood vs. Evil, and Mars Needs Moms just to name a few. Computer animation is not cheap and when a film made in that medium fails, it’s a hard loss to write off.
Now, what else has John Lasseter directed? A Bug’s Life, the next Pixar film which set the stage for the Dreamworks vs. Pixar movies after Antz was released two months before Pixar released their bug-themed film, Toy Story 2, Cars, and Cars 2. Each film helped establish Pixar as the then-dominant computer animated movie house; now, it’s a fierce competition between Pixar, Dreamworks, Illumination Entertainment, and Blue Sky Studios. While each film grew better in visual quality, most people say Cars was when people realized that even the mighty can fall. I wasn’t a fan of the first installment mainly because of the characters. Sure, the cars looked great in different lighting situations but I couldn’t find a reason to care about why Lightning McQueen needed to race and leave Radiator Springs. The second one, well, click on the link. I guess I wasn’t the intended audience for that franchise.
This is one film that won’t vanish into obscurity. Whether it’s with kids, a bunch of college friends (especially animation majors), or even just by yourself because you feel like it, Toy Story remains as the benchmark for storytelling through computer animation and is one that will be enjoyed no matter how old you are. It was the first of many things and will be studied and enjoyed from now until infinity and beyond.
1001 MYMSBYSD selection
IMDB Top 250
AFI Top 100 (2007): #99
400 Nominations selection for AFI Top 100 for both years