I was lucky enough to be one of the folks that went to see “Toy Story” in theaters back in 1995 when Pixar premiered their newest animated adventure. It was an amazing experience then, and it is still one of the best movie going experiences of my life. Back then, the very notion of a motion picture completely computer animated was absurd and made people gasp in shock, even when Pixar boasted about creating a large realistic world. Just producing Homer Simpson in computer animation for a segment of “The Simpsons” cost a lot of money and took immense man hours, just think of a movie based around the medium. “Toy Story” is gladly not a film you’d expect to be computer animated since Pixar takes great pains to unfold a world that’s charming, magical, and grounded in enough reality to enjoy.
“Toy Story” is still a wonderful masterpiece of Disney animation twenty years later that inspired a ton of knock offs and wonderful follow ups. Surely, the premise is kind of derivative (“The Brave Little Toaster,” anyone?), but the movie is so damn good, you really don’t mind Disney riffing on the original animated film from the late eighties. “Toy Story” is about growing up and moving on with your life, and what happens when the things we loved as children figure out what life would be like without their owner consistently imbuing them with love and affection. We’re given a wide scope of a self contained and small universe, exploring what toys do when we’re not watching them. And surely enough they’re doing a lot. They have their own ecosystem, social classes, and they tend to appreciate seniority for some reason.
That’s made apparent with toy Woody, the pull string cowboy doll of owner Andy, who cherishes his cowboy and holds him tightly. That is until the new toy in the block Buzz Lightyear presents a compelling argument to take out the old and bring in the new. We’re given hilarious and witty peeks in to the secret world of Andy’s toys, as Disney and Pixar paint the film with familiar relics of childhood that most owners possessed in the late eighties and most of the nineties.
There’s the loyal bucket of toy soldiers, there’s the dinosaur, Mr. Potato Head, a piggy bank, Etch a Sketch, a slinky dog, a race car, monkeys in a barrel, and so many more trinkets that touch on audience nostalgia without ever feeling over exploitative. And with the limited screen time they’re given, thankfully the writers flesh the characters out enough for us to garner emotions for them and understand why they’re so close to one another and co-exist. I particularly still really enjoy Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, and he was only improved by the introduction of Mrs. Potato Head.
As for Woody, he is so charmingly and enthusiastically voiced by Tom Hanks, as he takes pride in organizing Andy’s room in to his own community that’s centered on making Andy happy and taking record of his life and developments in his life. Sub-consciously the toys tend to understand their life, like any on Earth, is limited and running on borrowed time, so every little aspect of Andy’s world is crucial to them. When Buzz comes crashing in to the room with his own enthusiasm, charisma, and dashing persona, it’s tough to dislike the toy. Even though he’s vastly oblivious to the fact that he’s a toy. Tim Allen is remarkable as Buzz, playing beautifully off of Tom Hanks’ more average protagonist, and helping to convey the interesting dichotomy of old and new, modern and classic, and old fashioned and technological.
A lot of Woody and Buzz’s dynamic is based around Woody’s line of thinking against Buzz, prompting a clear head and logic against Buzz’s man of action and ability to take charge more often than Woody appreciates. Along the course of the narrative, Buzz and Woody manage to bring something out of each other that’s positive and negative. By the time the first chapter of the “Toy Story” series comes to a close, the pair manage to put aside their differences and appreciate the fact that they inspire something interesting and positive in one another that helps them develop in to well rounded and complex characters.
Most of their actions are based around self preservation, but they’re also likable and entertaining protagonists whose motivations are based around maintaining the love of their owner Andy and not being forgotten. It’s implied that love and attention is the life force for toys of all kinds, and Andy’s love and attention keeps Woody and Buzz constantly fighting to outmatch and outwit crazed next door neighbor Sid, with a habit for demolishing toys, as well as his vicious pet dog.
There’s even a subtle implication villain Sid even abuses his little sister, as he even kidnaps her doll in one scene and dissects her as a means of torturing her. Woody and Buzz’s kidnapping by Sid, and their ultimate escape is not the most consistent side plots of the movie, but one that still inspires raucous laughter and interesting looks at the creation of this series. The toys make it very clear they can’t be found out by their owners that they’re sentient, and yet Woody stages a large rebellion against Sid, showing they can think, and feel, prompting him in to a hysterical fit of horror in the finale. The further films emphasize this idea but the clear cut rules are never quite pointed out for the audience. Despite being twenty years old, “Toy Story” still looks fresh and vibrant, with much of the action sequences complimented by Pixar’s talent for creating incredibly lifelike backgrounds and environments.
“Toy Story” works as a one and done adventure film, and as a part of the sprawling series from Pixar. Surely it’s a cash cow for Disney and Pixar, but it’s also a genuinely excellent film, filled with hilarious gags, great nostalgia and sweet tale of friendship and finding common ground in a rough world. It’s definitely held up stronger than “A Bug’s Life,” and “Cars.”