Directed By: John Lasseter
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Laurie Metcalf, Annie Pots, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn and Jim Varney
Screenplay By: Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow
Original Release: November 22, 1995
21 years ago, a little movie about what toys think and feel and do when we aren’t looking exploded onto the big screen and neither film no animation have been the same since. Pixar started strong with a legacy and since that day in 1995, every other company, including Disney Animation themselves, have been trying to catch up. Buzz and Woody are household names. They’re as Disney as you can get. There are already two sequels and soon we’ll have another with Toy Story 4. So what makes this franchise so insanely good? And what about this film put Pixar on the map, while simultaneously shoving everyone else off of said map? Let’s find out together shall we?
Pixar was actually a company focused on making computers and these computers had garnered interest from the likes of Steve Jobs and the government. In order to promote said computers, they were creating cute little shorts that were fully CGI. One of these, Tin Toy, was so good that it won the Academy Award for best animated short and in turn earned the attention of Disney. Now I’m not going to go into the details here, but know that there was quite an epic battle of office politics that went into the final decision to actually make Toy Story. Ed Catmull, Jeffery Katzenberg, John Lasseter and others went back and forth on the idea. The hardest to convince was Lasseter who had worked at Disney before and did not want to come back.
After a while, a deal was finally made and work began on Toy Story. The initial script, though, was not liked by Disney as it was not edgy enough and was eventually thrown out and started over. The script went through many treatments mainly because the team making the film were simply not professional film writers. Over the years, they got several more known writers to weigh in on the story. Even Joss Whedon himself got in on the action. This sort of seems to be the theme of making of Toy Story. Back and forth, back and forth. A story would be finalized and then test animation would begin and the directors would realize it just wasn’t what they were going for. There was a fine line between making the characters, especially Woody, flawed while not making them downright jerk faces. Eventually though, a story was solidified and production was back on course.
I want to point out this idea that Disney wanted this film to be a bit more edgy. Because coming off of all those Disney animated films in my Vault Disney series, I really see that in this film. There are truly creepy moments here. In particular are the dolls who reside at Sid’s house. Baby doll heads with spider legs are not exactly something you see in Brother Bear. We also see a young man blowing up toys, which given the circumstances of the film is rather horrific. Even the language of the film is more adult. Woody often yells “Shutup!” or calls Buzz an Idiot. I don’t mind this, but it definitely gives the film a more grown up feel.
The story here is so brilliant. After all, we are really just watching a tale of jealousy, but these characters are so interesting and the setting begs for us to know more about the rules of this world. Toy soldiers taking a walkie-talkie to find out what new toys are coming to the room is just the first of many surprises throughout. As it turns out, there is something intrinsically awesome about finding out how our toys think and feel. After all, when we were young, didn’t we all want our toys to come to life?
There are plenty of great characters here, but at the heart of this story Buzz and Woody are fantastic. They’re so different yet manage to have so much on screen chemistry and it’s great to watch them finally learn to work together in the end. Every moment is so fast and witty between the two of them and all of this is fueled by some of the best voice work in the business today. In particular, I loved watching Woody open Buzz’s space helmet, making Buzz think that he was suffocating. It’s all so masterfully crafted.
There’s something great on a deeper level too. I love this idea that this little boy loves Westerns but then gets into Space stuff and eventually learns to love the two of them together. It feels a bit like Disneyland doesn’t it? There’s Frontierland and Tomorrowland but at a certain point, they work so effortlessly together. It goes to show that the world of imagination is best when blended into one.
Toy Story is a masterful story and deserves all the praise it’s gotten over the past decade. From amazing characters to heart warming moments to a brilliantly imagined world, there is a reason that Pixar exploded after this film. Toy Story does everything right, and while it might be a tad darker than we are used to from Disney, it really represents a changing of times. It goes to show that old idea that Walt once had that animated movies, at least the good ones, are not just for kids but for everyone.
With our journey started, it’s time to head into the unknown, towards robots and super heroes, rats and fish, but first, some bugs.
Next Up: A Bug’s Life