Toy Story Movie Review
An exhilarating new technology of visual storytelling, likeable characters in form of action figures & an emotional tale - this is Pixar’s first project!
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy
Director: John Lasseter
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, John Morris, Erik von Detten & Laurie Metcalf.
Run Time: 81 min.
US Release: 22 November 1995
UK Release: 22 March 1996
German Release: 21 March 1996
With the new upcoming Toy Story 4 soon being released, I thought it might be time to review one of my favourite film series. First review up, is for the 1995 Toy Story, which is not only the first computer animated feature but Pixar’s debut animation as well. It is the flick that made me believe as a child that my toys could come to life, once I left the room. Pixar’s tale about living toys is one of the most impactful movies of my childhood, as I am sure it is for many others. Lasseter’s directorial debut is a staple of modern animation!
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
The curtain is pulled back on what happens in a child’s room, once no one is there to witness the playthings come to life. Andy is a little boy, who loves to spend time in his room and play with his toys, especially his favourite cowboy doll and best friend Woody, who in turn believes his life is perfect as Andy’s preferred toy. When Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear action figure from his mother, for his birthday, Woody's life spirals out of control. Meanwhile, Buzz, who doesn’t know he is a toy, gets pushed out the window by Woody, resulting in a search and rescue mission to find him before the big move.
Toy Story had a rough time in development before it came out on the silver screen. It started with Lasseter getting fired from Disney, after proposing to produce The Brave Little Toaster as a computer-generated feature. Lasseter moved on, becoming a founding member of Pixar, where he created computer-animated shorts to show off the Pixar Image Computer, where his short film Tin Toy (the later inspiration for Toy Story) won the 1989 Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film”. From there on Disney’s attention was sparked, which brought on years of pointless negotiations until Pixar neared bankruptcy.
Disney saw their chance and bought the complete rights for control ownership of the studios’ products, starting with the papered idea by Lasseter about a toy. It went through several re-writes and nearly was shelved, as former Disney chairman Katzenberg pushed Lasseter to create unlikeable characters, to the point of being nearly despicable. Finally, after a catastrophic screening of the first half of the movie to Disney execs, Katzenberg allowed Lasseter to take the screenplay back for rewrites, where the tone of the flick was settled.
What made this animated picture such a success, is the nostalgic atmosphere of the plot. We all have our favourite puppets or action figures that we played with as children, so seeing Andy’s toys come to life resonated with all audiences, no matter their age! Then there is the wholesome style, as well as the message embedded into the narrative, which serves as a learning lesson for children. Especially the topics of jealousy, embracing change plus staying true to friends are valuable morals in today's world.
The dialogue reflects on a lot of those virtues, while a more mature tone was developed to also attract an adult audience. Friendship is the core theme throughout the dialogue, as it sparks sentimentality to a more innocent, easier time. The characters include a large variety of playthings. All with their own personalities, living inside a democratic community, with the wooden pull-string cowboy doll at its centre as their leader.
Tom Hanks plays Woody, the respected leader of the toy community, giving the cowboy a likeable everyman’s voice. Woody himself is depicted as fair, yet a little full of himself at being Andy’s favourite. He is confronted by the emotion of jealousy, once Buzz Lightyear comes into play, which he loses control of, accidentally pushing Buzz out of the window. As he leaves to search for Lightyear, both are nabbed by Andy’s tyrannical neighbour Sid. It is through their growing friendship, co-working together, that they finally make it back on time before Andy’s family moves to a new home.
Tim Allen lends Buzz Lightyear his voice. An action figure, who doesn’t know he is a playing product, made in Taiwan. Allen gives Buzz the commanding voice of a space explorer and has terrific chemistry with Tom Hanks. Both were reading lines together, to make the characters' interaction more realistic. Lightyear is interesting as a persona, especially once he figures out what he truly is, going into a full mid-life crisis. It is only through his friendship with Woody, that he can escape the mental hole he fell into.
Annie Potts voicing Bo Peep is Woody's romantic interest. While Potts gives a good rendition of her character, her relationship with Woody is kept to a minimum, thus feeling shallow. Her character also has the least screentime of all big supporting characters.
Erik von Detten as Sid is the exact opposite of John Morris’ Andy. Both have a fondness for toys, though while Andy plays and takes care of his, Sid’s sadistic nature drives him to tear them apart or blow them up. Surprisingly, the studio chose to paint him as scary as he is. The voice acting by von Detten and Morris is on point!
Mr Potato, Hamm, Slinky and Rex, voiced by veteran comedians Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Jim Varney plus Wallace Shawn respectively, round out the cast as well as add to the humour.
Cinematographically speaking, Toy Story is a real gem! Of course, every frame was developed on a computer, yet the detail plus aesthetic in every scene gave the movie a feeling as if real camera work was actually at play. The only grudge I have is with some of the colour gradings. It always bugged me that, especially the green tones, were too bright and pastel, erasing the edges of objects.
Pixar was the pioneer of this new animation technique. Animators needed to learn how to work with the tools, which had been developed from scratch, as it was completely new technology. The result is a meticulously detailed world that still holds up visually. It might have aged a little, when it comes to superficial texture, however, the effects of light, shadows as well as character movements still look astonishing. It is unbelievable that it is still better looking than a lot of animated flicks from rival studios today.
The score was composed and performed by Randy Newman, which includes three original songs. The soundtrack was nominated for an academy award, while the song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is one of the most recognised movie songs to date!
Verdict: John Lasseter’s debut picture is an everlasting experience! It is by no means flawless; even though the narrative is endearing, playing on nostalgic sentiments, it does drag a little around the “Pizza Planet'' segment. While the effects are still top-notch, it aged a little when it comes to human models and the structure of some objects. However, it did reshape the sector, being the first full-length 3-D animation feature, introducing the world with a completely new technology that brings fairy tales to life. The toy characters are incredibly likeable and the voice-acting is lively. Not being a Disney typical musical, it managed to include original songs by Randy Newman, as non-diegetic background music. Toy Story is one of those films you can never see enough of and deserves a 9.5 out of 10.
What is your favourite Toy Story flick? Do you agree with my thoughts? Leave a comment & if you like my reviews subscribe! Thank you for reading!