Should I Watch..? 'Toy Story'
What's the big deal?
Toy Story is a computer-animated family film released in 1995 and broke new ground for feature-length animation in a number of ways. It was the debut feature film by Pixar Studios who would go on to become the front-runners in computer animation, arguably surpassing Disney themselves. It was also the first feature-length computer-animated film, something which has since become the standard for cinematic animation (at least, in the West). It was also the first entry in the Toy Story franchise, no doubt due to the film's enormous success at the box office and warm reception from critics. The directorial debut of John Lasseter, Toy Story featured the vocal talents of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn and John Ratzenberger and saw a traditional cowboy figure duel for the affections of his owner Andy with a hi-tech, futuristic action figure. The success of the film led to the foundation of the Toy Story franchise as well as countless merchandise that Disney is only to happy to sell.
What's it about?
The film is set in a world where toys have a life and society all of their own which plays out in the absence of human onlookers. For six-year-old Andy, his favourite toy is Woody - an old-fashioned cowboy doll with a pull-string in his back that plays stock catchphrases. Woody's position as Andy's favourite makes him the leader of the playroom although he is friendly with other toys like Mr Potato Head, Slinky Dog and Rex the cowardly dinosaur.
A week before Andy and his family move house, Andy celebrates his birthday where he is given the latest hot new toy - Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger action figure who quickly supplants Woody as Andy's favourite. Winning over the other toys, Buzz is unaware of the true nature of his existence and with jealousy taking over, Woody is only to happy to point that out to Buzz. But during the chaos of the move, both toys find themselves left behind and at the mercy of Andy's destructive neighbour and local bully, Sid...
Mr Potato Head
Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen & Alex Sokolow *
Release Date (UK)
22nd March, 1996
Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Special Achievement Award - John Lasseter
Academy Award Nominations
Best Screenplay Written For The Screen, Best Original Song, Best Original Score
What's to like?
The very first thing a truly great family film has to do is to appeal to every member of the family - mum, dad and the two kids - at the same time. Toy Story makes this often difficult task look ridiculously easy, something that typifies much of Pixar Studio's output. For the younger viewers, the film is a magical and very entertaining ride through their own toys in their room because surely every child wonders whether their toys come to life when their backs are turned. For adults, the film displays a surprisingly deep awareness of the character's backstories which in turn fuels their ambitions, their fears and their very society. Throw in the identity crisis Buzz experiences about his own existence together with some genuinely brilliant comic touches and the film has "winner" stamped all over it.
What also makes this film so special is the warmth you can feel through the screen via Randy Newman's fantastic score and songs and also the faultless vocal performances from the cast. Hanks and Allen make a great team, fleshing their characters out superbly from what might have been perceived as cold, digital animation. But Buzz, Woody and the rest live and breath as well as any physical actor but with the added bonus of having precise comic timing and genius writing behind them.
- Mattel, who own the rights to Barbie, refused to let Barbie appear in the film because they thought it would be a flop. After the success of Toy Story, they were all too happy to let Barbie appear in Toy Story 2.
- Hanks was encouraged to sign on to appear as Woody after Pixar made a short test film featuring some of Hanks' dialogue in Turner And Hooch. Allen signed on because Chevy Chase, Allen's idol, turned the role down.
- Look closely at the hexagonal carpet seen in Sid's house - it's the same carpet seen in the Overlook Hotel in The Shining!
What's not to like?
It should come as no surprise that Toy Story looks a little rough around the edges these days, given how far computer animation has come since 1995. It isn't immediately obvious if you've somehow avoided seeing a CG movie but compared to the likes of later Pixar movies like Brave or Finding Dory, it looks almost crude in places. Having said that, you only really notice this with the benefit of hindsight - I remember watching for the first time when it was first released and couldn't believe how good it looked.
Although it isn't as much fun as Toy Story 2 or as emotionally charged as Toy Story 3, Toy Story remains as relevant and game-changing as ever. You can forgive Pixar for taking things easy on this picture - the whole project was a massive step into the unknown and a potentially risky endeavour, something probably lost on viewers who are used to such films propping up summer release schedules. But for viewers who have fallen in love with Pixar in the intervening years, you do get the sense that some ideas were being kept back - either because they had designs on a sequel or because they weren't sure if the film would succeed. Such fears, it appeared, were ill founded.
Should I watch it?
For families around the world to budding CG animators, Toy Story is arguably one of the most important movies released in the last thirty years as it sparked the craze for CG animation that continues to grow today. The film works on so many levels - as a comedy, a family film, a fantastical adventure for everyone to enjoy - that Pixar have rarely been as creative, imaginative or brilliant as they were here.
Great For: the whole family, Pixar's reputation, Disney's bank balance
Not So Great For: very young kids who might get spooked by the villainous Sid, cowboy dolls
What else should I watch?
The Toy Story franchise has continued through Pixar's illustrious history, so much so that a fourth movie is in the pipeline. The first sequel, Toy Story 2, is actually pretty similar to this movie but has more laughs and feels more ambitious as it explores Woody's past as he tries to evade the clutches of an evil collector. Toy Story 3, by contrast, is a much more grown-up affair that sees Andy, Woody's owner, go to college and the toys face up to an uncertain future. While it still works as a caper for the kids to enjoy (especially with Michael Keaton's hilarious performance as Ken), the film has an enormous emotional sucker-punch at the end that will have you reaching for the hankies.
Ever since Toy Story's release, Pixar has been searching for another franchise to keep the coins rolling in. Despite John Lasseter's enthusiasm for Cars and their sequels, Pixar's better films tend to be stand-alone affairs like the sublime WALL•E or the imaginative Inside Out. These films may be better suited towards a slightly older market but are fascinating, enjoyable and brilliantly written movies that I defy you to ignore.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Benjamin Cox