#150 Toy Story

(1995, John Lasseter)


It’s strange to think of a cinematic world without CGI, especially when modern-day family films almost always seem to be computer-generated, with drawn and stop motion animation barely getting a look-in. But it did exist, which is why the arrival of Toy Story was such a revelation. It was the first entirely CGI movie released to cinemas, and it helped change the landscape to what it is today. But does it hold up today?

You may already be familiar with the plot. In a world where toys come to life when no one’s around, we join a group of toys in the room of a boy named Andy (voiced by John Morris). Leader of these toys is Andy’s favourite, a cowboy doll named Woody (v/b Tom Hanks). When Andy’s birthday comes around though, Woody finds his position of favourite challenged by a fancy new action figure: Buzz Lightyear (v/b Tim Allen). With pop-out wings, electronic speech, a fancy laser and karate chop action, Buzz is the coolest new toy; he’s also entirely unaware that he’s a toy, genuinely believing himself to be the real space ranger from the (fictional) television show. The movie follows Woody and Buzz’s strained relationship as well as Buzz coming to terms with his real identity as they face challenges such as getting lost and dealing with the toy-murdering child next door.

The story is relatively simple, and this works to the film’s advantage. It appeals to kids because, let’s face it, we all imagined our toys coming to life and having tea parties behind our backs when we were little, and it appeals to adults because it allows us to relive our childhoods. On top of that, it’s easy to identify with Woody’s fear of being replaced by someone “better”.

This movie works first of all because, even though there are numerous screenwriters (including, surprisingly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon), the writing is actually kept fairly simple. Toy feels challenged, toy attempts to get rid of new toy, toy realises what he’s done, attempts to save other toy, both become good friends. It’s a wonderful tale of learning to work with others instead of feeling jealous of them and, in a sense, learning to respect your things you horrible, selfish little brat!

It helps that the acting is superb. Admittedly, much of it comes from the two leads, but when one of those leads is Hollywood nice guy and all-around fine actor Tom Hanks, it’s hard to go wrong. Tim Allen also does a fantastic job as the pompous and hammy Buzz, both in his typical space hero guise and during his emotional turmoil as he discovers he really is a toy after all.

There are some issues story-wise though. Some of the initial scenes as the toys prepare for the birthday have some slightly cheesy dialogue that really does sound like a bunch of writers sitting in a room trying to come up with as many toy puns as they could rather than something endearing and likeable.

But aside from that, the story is fantastic, which is a good thing, since the animation hasn’t aged all that well.

The problem with CG animation is that, unlike hand-drawn or stop motion styles, it tends to show its age more, and Toy Story is sadly a perfect example of this. Made in 1995, the technology of the time was so vastly different to what it is now that, going back to it now, the movie now looks a little flat.

You see, a lot of the texturing is very limited and a lot of the movie ends up looking like everything’s made of plastic. This is obviously fine for the toys themselves, but when you start adding human characters and animals to the mix, things tend to get a bit shaky. A panorama of a child’s themed pizza restaurant ends up looking like a hastily-made school project compared to today’s CGI, and human animations evoke memories of hilariously stiff FMV sequences from early PlayStation games.

But it just manages to hold up, thankfully. While dated, it’s still recognisable as a major feat in cinema and it’s still got a certain charm about it. And if you still can’t get past the animation, then much more recent sequel Toy Story 3 has better animation and still retains that charm, which is an even bigger cinematic feat.

Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf & Erik von Detten
Written by John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft, Joss Whedon, Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow
Produced by Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold
Music by Randy Newman
Edited by Robert Gordon and Lee Unkrich

Favourite Scene: Buzz and Woody arguing in the petrol station, leading Buzz to call Woody a “sad, strange, little man”
Scene That Bugged Me: The cheesy jokes in the opening scene just grated a little too much for my tastes

Watch it if: You still own several of your childhood toys
Avoid it if: You like your CG animation to be a little more dazzling


Posted on January 17, 2013, in 1990s, Animation, Comedy, Family and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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