Ever wonder how toys apparently get from one place to another with no human help? Toy Story, Disney's first feature-length foray into computer animation, postulates that they do it all by themselves. Toys have their own magical world which comes to life any time the lights are out or people aren't around. Any who doubt this should take a look at Toy Story. You'll never again feel quite the same way about Mr. Potato Head, Monkeys in a Barrel, or Slinkies.
Of course, the visual aspect is the centerpiece of Toy Story. The computer-generated effects are a marvel. Rich in unexpected detail (the grain of a wood floor, fingerprints and chipped paint on a door, reflections in polished surfaces, and so on...), this colorful and brilliantly-rendered aspect of the film would alone be worth the price of admission. It's something of a bonus that the characters, dialogue, and story provide entertainment value of their own.
Toy Story is a buddy movie/adventure tale with an understated lesson about the value of friendship. Parents might also be able to use some of what transpires to encourage their offspring to put away toys after playtime. While the screenplay isn't a marvel of originality, it is capable of holding the attention - light, undemanding fun that never gets too immature or syrupy. There's also quite a bit of intelligent wit that will go above the heads of younger viewers - that stuff's for Mom and Dad.
The two main characters are toys: cowboy Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), the old-time favorite, and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen), the battery-operated newcomer. The supporting cast includes a dinosaur (voice of Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato Head (voice of Don Rickles), a piggy bank (voice of John Ratzenberger), a slinkie (voice of Jim Varney), Little Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts), and an army of tiny plastic soldiers who scout out the new arrivals on birthdays and Christmas. The humans who appear in Toy Story are intentionally rendered to look artificial. In this movie, people are "unreal"; all the vividness and multi-dimensionality is saved for the toys. But that's a typical convention of animation.
Toy Story opens with Buzz's arrival. Woody is upset that this high-tech neophyte has usurped his rightful place on the bedspread and in his six-year old owner's play time. The disgruntled cowboy comes up with a plan to eliminate Buzz, but it backfires, and soon the two rivals are out in the real world, forced to help each other in their struggle to escape the clutches of a toy-torturing juvenile delinquent.
How does Toy Story compare to Disney's more conventional animated features? They're really very different types of productions. This film is less artistic and more technologically impressive. Despite a few Randy Newman songs, it's not really a musical. Of course, the target audience is the same, and everything from Disney embraces "family values", but it's difficult - and unfair - to make an effective contrast of the two film making styles.
The one big negative about Toy Story involves Disney's overcommercialization. Already, Woody and Buzz dolls line store shelves. Burger King is coming out with figurines. It won't be long before the movie is drowned in hype. So, from the perspective of pure entertainment, it's a good idea to see Toy Story before the deluge of promotions becomes so excessive that it turns off every adult. Frankly, the movie deserves a less ignominious fate than the marketing overkill which will surely overcome it.
Leading the new wave of fully computer-animated features, Toy Story portrays the secret life of toys with energy, humour, great characters and real feeling. Woody the sheriff (Tom Hanks) is the nominal leader of Andy's (John Morris) toys purely because he's his favourite plaything. Andy rushes around his room building towns out of cardboard boxes, creating adventures and crashing cars together -- just like most kids. However, as soon as he leaves the room his toys spring to life and resume their parallel life. Along with Woody there is Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who secretly adores Woody, Mr Potato Head (Don Rickles), who just wants a Mrs Potato Head, Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and a host of other trinkets. Unfortunately Andy's birthday is due anytime, an event which pushes the toys neuroses to the fore. After all, they could easily be usurped in Andy's favour by new, super-duper acquisitions. Enter Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen).
With flashing lights, retractable wings and a mission to save the Universe, Buzz soon becomes the favourite of both Andy and his toys, much to the disgust of Woody. The catch is that Buzz doesn't realise that he was made in Taiwan; he really believes that he's just temporarily crash-landed on a strange, new planet. As Buzz gets busy repairing his spacecraft (the box he came in), Woody feels ever more shunned, particularly when Andy changes his posters and duvet to the latest Buzz Lightyear editions. However, one evening Woody is determined to be the toy taken to Pizza Planet and he (accidentally) knocks Buzz out of the window and into, what seems to be, oblivion. The other toys accuse Woody of foul play and villainous envy, forcing him to try and retrieve Buzz.
By good fortune Woody manages to find him and with more luck than planning they make their way to Pizza Planet, hoping to be reunited with Andy. They almost succeed but Buzz becomes fascinated by a rocket shaped crane machine, crawling inside and forcing Woody to follow him. The inhabitants, little green men with three eyes, have evolved a religion where the crane is their god and whoever it picks up is one of the chosen few (who go onto a better life). Regrettably the next player is vicious neighbour Sid (Erik Von Detten), a kid who takes great pleasure in dismembering his sisters dolls and blowing toys up with rockets. At Sid's house there is a collection of mutilated and Frankenstein like creations, the results of his experiments, and it looks as though Buzz and Woody will be next! They must return to Andy (before his family moves house) and escape the destructive clutches of Sid, but how?
Toy Story is an outstanding movie, not only for its ground-breaking effects but because it is the funniest film that I have seen in a long time. Throughout the entire 80 minutes (it certainly feels like more) there is a constant thread of humour, utilising one-liners, character jokes, action comedy and subtle referential aspects (often several of these methods together) which work on two levels, appealing to both adults and children simultaneously. Although the tale is an old and simple one, of the power of friendship, it's what the creators have done with these elements that gives Toy Story such a stunning and lively script. The individual characters are interesting, witty, pitiable and completely entrancing, often playing off the voices that give them life to include external references (which it's a joy to pick up). Add fantastic 'camera' movement (such as following Buzz's view as he attempts to fly) to this rich broth and the result is satisfying, overwhelmingly enjoyable and worth watching again (immediately!). [Sure, Toy Story may not be the artistic/cinematic equal of The Seventh Seal but it is incredibly fun and a classic in its own right].