Toy Story [Blu-Ray]
Director : John Lasseter
Screenplay : Joss Whedon & Andrew Stanton & Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (story by John Lasseter & Pete Docter & Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 1995
Has it really been 15 years? Have we revolved around the sun that many times since the day when Pixar was not a household name and computer animation was not considered a viable medium for feature-length entertainment?
The first fully computer-animated feature film, Toy Story was something of a gamble back in the mid-1990s for the small Steve Jobs-owned upstart named Pixar and the venerable Walt Disney Pictures, which took a calculated risk by distributing the film and therefore associating its much heralded name (at an all-time high following the smash success of The Lion King in 1994) with something new and potentially alienating. History has shown that the risk turned out to be a stroke of genius that ultimately changed the face of animation, and watching Toy Story again for the first time in a long time, I was struck immediately by its seemingly effortless charms and sly humor, which is probably what made audiences accept the new digital “look” with such ease.
Director John Lasseter worked with a team of screenwriters, which included Buffy guru Joss Whedon, future Pixar Oscar winners Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL•E) and Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up), Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (who would go on to collaborate on decidedly lesser future projects like the Garfield movies and Daddy Day Camp), and Disney veteran Joe Ranft (who had contributed story material to both Beauty & the Beast and The Lion King) to craft a story that is both familiar and unique. The idea of toys coming to life when no one is in the room is probably as old as toys themselves and are a stalwart of the childhood imagination, but Lasseter and company breathed new life into the toys’ self-aware existence within a logic of both desire and fear. After all, if toys come to life, they must have some sense of their own existence and role in the world, an idea that anchors Toy Story’s most whimsical moments and also grounds it in a recognizable emotional terrain.
The noble life of the toy, to bring joy to the toy’s owner, is the cornerstone of Toy Story’s worldview, which is proudly worn by the film’s central character, a floppy cowboy doll named Woody (Tom Hanks) who is the favorite of a young boy named Andy (John Morris). Andy has plenty of other playthings, including a Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), a slinky dog (Jim Varney), a plastic dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), a piggy bank (John Ratzeneberger), and a bucket of plastic green army men led by a gruff sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), but Woody is his favorite and therefore gets the coveted place on his bed. That all changes with Andy’s birthday, which is always a time of tension and anxiety for the toys because of the imminent threat of replacement that it brings. Replacement is precisely what happens to Woody with the arrival of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), an action-figure spaceman whose futuristic sleekness and moving parts (a helmet that opens and closes! wings for flying! a console on his arm!) mark him as something new and potentially better, replacing Woody’s outdated pull-string with buttons and Woody’s limp arms and legs with poseable armature (from a cinematic perspective, Woody’s association with the western and Buzz’s association with science fiction are also notable).
Thus, Toy Story becomes a buddy movie as Woody and Buzz must learn to get along in Andy’s room despite their differences, which come down to Woody’s understandable jealousy about losing his coveted place on the bed and Buzz’s inexplicable belief that he is an actual spaceman and not a plastic toy. The star-turn voices are a boon in this regard, as Tom Hanks (coming off back-to-back Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) falls back into the comedy of exasperation that gave him his start in movies in the 1980s (think The Money Pit) and Tim Allen exploits the hyper-masculine cadences that he used to such great effect in his stand-up comedy about the essentially animalistic nature of masculinity. His Buzz is a likeable egomaniac, while Woody is a strangely appealing neurotic (which is only appropriate given his name).
There must be a plot development to bring them together, which Lasseter and company supply in the form of the next-door neighbor, a smirking little sociopath-in-training named Sid (Erik von Detten), whose young Frankenstein view of playtime in his dimly lit bedroom involves ripping toys apart and reconfiguring them into a rogue’s gallery of uncanny monstrosities (the most unsettling being a battered doll’s head stuck atop a spider body constructed of erector set pieces). The second half of the film finds Woody and Buzz trapped in Sid’s malicious clutches, and the tone goes surprisingly dark (very nearly horrific at times), before circling around to both the ultimate realization that there’s more to a book than its cover (or more to a mutilated toy than its hideousness) and a clever action climax that sets everything right in the world.
Looking back at the film from the vantage point of a decade and a half, it is easy to see how virtually everything that is good in animation right now has some small seed in Toy Story, from the humor to the pathos to the three-dimensional qualities of the animation itself, which holds up quite well despite being very nearly primitive in comparison to the finely turned detail and texture of something like Up (2009). Lasseter’s refusal to follow the traditional Disney musical mode (there are songs by Randy Newman, but they play extradiegetically; no one breaks into song) and avoidance of any hints of fairy tales or grandiose mythmaking were also fateful decisions. Setting the story in a modern suburban home populated by toys emphasizes the visual strengths of CGI at that time (great at rendering plastic and wood and fabric, not so good at depicting human characters), and it also set Toy Story apart, thus forging the path that Pixar has so successfully turned into a superhighway in the years since.
|Toy Story Special Edition Blu-Ray + DVD Two-Disc Set|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 23, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Making its debut in 1080p high definition, Toy Story has never looked better. A direct digital port, the image is flawless throughout, with stunning detail and texture to match the lifelike colors and excellent contrast. The darker scenes in Sid’s bedroom benefit from the increased resolution, as we see more details in the darker portions of the image. Granted, the high definition resolution also makes it clear how much less refined computer animation was in 1995, but that is part of the film’s charm and doesn’t detract from it a single bit. The film’s brilliantly realized soundtrack has always been one of its biggest assets, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. From the familiar sounds of the various toys clinking and clacking to the roar of the rocket as Buzz and Woody fly down the street in the film’s climax, the soundtrack is detailed, robust, and lively.|
|The new Blu-Ray edition of Toy Story combines the supplements previously available on the 2005 10th Anniversary DVD with some new material that is not quite disappointing, but not particularly exciting either. Since the DVD supplements have been well reviewed elsewhere, I will concentrate my comments on the new additions. |
The majority of the new supplements are short featurettes, including a two-minute sneak preview of the upcoming Toy Story 3 hosted by director Lee Unkrich. “Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off” (3:30) is the first in a series of educational shorts co-produced by NASA about traveling via space shuttle to the international space station. “Paths to Pixar: Artists” (4:40) features interviews with a number of Pixar’s artists and “Buzz Takes Manhattan” (2:15) is about the giant Buzz Lightyear balloon that appeared in the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There are also three “Studio Stories” mini-featurettes (each of which is about a minute and a half to two minutes in length) that use charmingly crude animation to illustrate an amusing story about the eccentricities of people who work at Pixar. The only really interesting new addition is “Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw” (7:34), which covers the initial story concepts that were ultimately scrapped because they were too dark and unhappy (Lasseter openly admits that they were “bad”). Although they never made it past the design stage, we get to see storyboards and hear recorded dialogue from Hanks and Allen.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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