Mon
Jun 11 2012 12:00pm

Something New: Toy Story

In preparation for the upcoming release of Pixar’s Brave, Tor.com is having a Pixar Movie Marathon! Get ready to revisit all of your animated favorites, as we kick off this rewatch with the one that started it all: Toy Story.

For me, Disney animated movies have been the staple go to for entertainment in my house as a child. Bright colors, music, song and dance, how could one go wrong? Toy Story decided to carry on with this honored tradition in a completely different way. In 1995,  movie magic happened when Disney joined with a new company, Pixar: they brought fans to the next level through a sense of sophistication and delivered a completely new signature style of animation.

I remember my Dad coming home from work on the day Toy Story was released on tape. My brother and I practically ripped it from his hands, smashed that flimsy plastic clamshell in the process and popped the tape into the VCR. Now as an adult, I continually eye my Toy Story special edition Blu-Ray/DVD box set that is housed in Andy’s Toy Chest, and I find that same sense of excitement really hasn’t been lost.

As a child of the Mouse, I grew up loving the classics Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid (a personal favorite), and more, but one day a little company called Pixar decided to join forces and create something different with a little help from that good old Disney magic. There are many reasons why this movie was such a great success at the time. Of course, a brand new type of animation is enticing to just about anyone. A painstaking process that goes beyond hand drawn animation, which combines traditional techniques of storyboarding, voice recording, etc. with digital animators, set designers, lighting, you name it! (Pixar has a cute slide show that shows you how they make a movie.)

 It is truly mind boggling all the extra hands that come into play to help create this visual feast for the eyes. What this movie delivers on is keeping its audience engaged by digging up that old spark of nostalgia, simply by reliving what it felt like to be a child. And if you are one, well, its just like looking into a mirror.

For all you adults, lets travel back in time to a place where stress does not exist, and you are still on the floor in a self made fort, constructed with the aid of couch cushions and bed sheets. Toy Story transports us back to this very moment. You can’t help enjoy reliving the sense of freedom and fun through Andy. As that door closes, you see that classic instant of magic appear as Woody rises from his bed, calls out “Coast is clear!”—and all of a sudden, your secret wish of having your toys come to life is true!

Woody, my personal favorite, embodies the voice of reason and natural leader of the group. He not only has the big responsibility of being Andy’s favorite, which is clearly stamped on the the bottom of his cowboy boot, but he has the task of making sure that no toy is left behind for moving day. When it is announced during a weekly staff meeting that Andy’s birthday party will be celebrated early, the troupe goes into a frenzy and panic over the incoming batch of new toys that could potentially disturb the fragile eco system that is known as Andy’s room. All toys want to be loved and played with, and their main job is to be there for children when they need them. Uh, I know, my heart melts too!

In an attempt to calm the gang, Woody deploys the green army men to scope out the operation birthday present situation. What Woody does not expect is for Andy to receive the granddaddy of all toys (for 1995), a Space Ranger called Buzz Light-Year. Buzz has no idea he’s actually an action figure and believes he is on a Space mission to capture the Evil Emperor Zurg, sworn enemy to the Galactic Alliance.

Across the windowsill we get a glimpse of the “other-side” of what life is like as a toy. Enter Jeffrey Dahmer Sid, a child who looks to be around the same age as Andy, but lives to torment his toys. A place no toy would ever want to go, and Combat Karl can tell you, once you go in there is no checking out! While Woody unwillingly adjusts to life as second best, we hear a classic Disney montage sung by the great Randy Newman. Buzz has now replaced our fearless cowboy by taking his role as Andy’s new favorite toy. Woody, finally fed up, develops a plan to knock our gallant space explorer behind a dresser so Andy is forced to choose Woody to accompany him to Pizza Planet. (By the way, I just have to comment on what a cool place Pizza Planet is! I can get a guy to dress up as a mouse and hand me pizza any day, but I would rather go to a place that has my soda drink poured out of the mouth of an alien. Take that, Chuck E. Cheese!)

Anyway, the plan goes awry when Buzz is accidentally knocked out the window. The plot takes yet another turn, and we are suddenly transported to something that resembles an 80’s buddy cop movie. Two mismatched personalities struggling to attain a common goal, which in this case is getting back to Andy’s house before the big move while trying to save one another from being mutilated by Sid.

Some of the best parts (apart from “the Clawwww”) include Buzz’s mental breakdown following the realization that his quest for the termination of evil Galactic Empire is only make believe and he is, in fact, an action figure. One of my favorite lines: “One minute you’re defending the whole galaxy, and suddenly, you find yourself sucking down darjeeling with Marie Antoinette... and her little sister.” Woody helps him to realize that there is no shame in being a toy. Toys embody the dreams that keep children happy and feel loved. And that job is just as important as defending the Galaxy from evil!

Plus Woody learns a thing or two about how its not so bad being #2 and sharing the spotlight. After everything they’ve been through, Woody realizes the Spaceman and the Cowman should be friends!

To me, the mark of a successful movie is one you are willing to watch over and over again while attempting to quote every line. This movie is bursting at the seams with witty personalities, sly comments, and clever dialogue that practically calls you to hit rewind button to catch it all.

Another thing that sets this picture apart is its comedy for adults. We see a glimpse of this in the movie Aladdin, where a huge part of its success was the Genie. Robin Williams brought to life a fast-talking Genie in what I think is an homage to the classic Lonely Tunes style of delivering comedy. And yes, you can argue that it is partly Robin Williams just playing Robin Williams, but my point is: I don’t think the normal 5-year-old understands his impersonation of Jack Nicholson, but who’s to say it isn’t funny? What Disney finally realized was that parents were taking these kids to movies, and it would be nice to throw them a bone every once in a while with an off-color joke. Plus, giving credit to where credit is due, kids can understand a lot more than we think they can. There is no reason why a joke made for an adult to understand can’t still be funny if it comes out of a talking piggy bank’s mouth. It’s no secret that kids want to sit at the grown up table, too!

I have to say, a movie like this is a real rarity. I feel today we take special effects and new technology with a grain of salt. Yeah, it looks exciting and 3D is supposed to make everything better right? Uh, I don’t think so. It really depends on the core of the movie, plot, characters and dialogue that truly hits it out of the park. The team in room A113 knew what they were doing. They had a powerful new medium and never lost sight of the true story-telling style Disney is famous for.


Stephanie Treanor lives in New York, absolutely hates egg salad sandwiches, and has reconnected with her former love of all things SFF thanks to her job here at Tor.com.

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11 comments
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
1. Lisamarie
I am not sure how I feel about Sid - Yes, he terrorizes his little sister and destroys his toys in various creative ways, but he THINKS THEY ARE LIFELESS PLASTIC! It would be one thing if they showed him terrorizing animals or something like that, or being truly cruel to his sister (yes, decapitating the doll was mean but didn't seem above and beyond the kinds of things siblings might do to each other) but I hardly think he he's a serial killer because of that. It is perhaps disturbing that so many of his games are violent in nature but again, he didn't seem totally out of the ordinary to me and one would hope he'd grow out of it (I did) and channel that creativity into something more productive (canon just has him becoming a garbage collector in the third movie). I do think he made a great villain for the movie, of course.

I love this movie though :)
James Whitehead
2. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
One of my favourite movies that I can watch over & over.

How many movies have a neurotic dinosaur ("Now I have guilt") or Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head ("What are you looking at, you hockey puck?")?

Regarding Sid, I never thought he was'evil' or that he'd become a serial killer. He was just one of those kids with no discipline at home and one you didn't want to share your toys with. Also, he liked his dog & secretly wanted to ride the pony. So I just took him as an example for kids on how not to play with one's toys.

Kato

PS - Didn't know he became a garbage collector by the third movie; missed that. Oh well! a good excuse to rewatch them all now. ;-)
Dean Tucker
3. StoryCottage
It would be interesting to find out how much of a hand Joss Whedon had in the final version of the movie - he is one of four credited writers for the screen play, and there were four others credited for the story.
Tehanu
4. Tehanu
With all due respect, as a singer, Randy Newman is a great songwriter. Two of his songs are my all-time favorites -- but he CAN'T SING. Just sayin'.
Simon Southey-Davis
5. Glyph
Re jokes for parents as well as kids - one comment I saw on the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks made the point that while Dreamworks do indeed tend to 'toss a bone' to the adults with sly gags and pop-culture references, Pixar excel at multi-level storytelling that works for both kids and adults at the same time.

I'm not sure of the extent to which that has remained true as both studios have developed - I'd say Dreamworks grew up a lot around the time of How To Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda - but at the time it was one of those comments that had me nodding along and saying, "Yes, THAT - exactly that."
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
6. Lisamarie
The thing with Dreamworks (at least with Shrek) is that the references are either dated, or resort to being off-color - and I do think it's possible to be funny for adults without resorting to jokes about penis size, etc. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the Shrek movies and I also like off color jokes.

But overall, I think the Pixar movies age way, WAY better.
Tehanu
7. politeruin
I usually refer people to a handy printout of the following when needing to sum up the fundamental difference between pixar and dreamworks...

http://www.geekinheels.com/2011/10/13/the-difference-between-pixar-and-dreamworks-animated-films.html
Tehanu
8. GaryE
It's interesting that you chose the picture of Woody addressing the toys, as that illustrates exactly one of the things that makes this film fun for adults as well. In this case, that several of the books visible on the shelf behind Woody carry titles of notable Pixar shorts!
Stephanie Treanor
9. Streanor
@LisaMarie and @KatoCrossestheCourtyard, i do admit my comment on Sid was a little harsh but i'd like to believe that any "serial killer tendences" he might of had were completely washed away by Woody's brilliant plan of revenege. In Toy Story 3 he seems pretty happy as a sanitation worker!

@ Glyph i do agree with your comment.. i like to think of dreamworks and pixar as Universal Studios and Disneyworld. If you have ever visited both you'll know Disneyworld is more kid friendly, completely G rated but still has that nostaglic enjoyment for adults.

Universal Studios is like a Disneyworld on steriods with a dash of acid, bigger, faster and caters more to adults/teenagers but still fun for the kids. While Disneyworld is like a soft blanket always ready to welcome you with open arms, sometimes you want to be strapped into a metal cage and scream at the top of your lungs while your being dragged into a swirling vortex.

Not to say one's better than the other, just depends on your mood.
Travis Butler
10. tbutler
Hm... I have to agree with the original article on Sid. Yes, he might just think they're 'lifeless plastic'... so?

In the first place, cruel behavior is cruel behavior, no matter the target; even though just about everyone loathes flies, 'pulling the wings off flies' is still a touchstone for a nasty kid, and a warning sign of bad behavior in other ways.

Second, even if you don't think it's a sign of cruelty, it's wasteful; taking toys that might have been played with for years and just destroying them is not behavior I'd want to encourage either.
Tehanu
11. Jessica2
Regarding Joss Whedon's hand in Toy Story, there are a few interviews out there where he talks about that. (One could try doing a search for 'Toy Story' at Whedonesque if you have time to browse throught the results).
If I recall, the main thing he gives himself credit for is writing a lot of the dialogue and updating the movie's sense of humor, away from the old Disney sense of humor (I seem to remember him using the phrase 'old man humour.') He also created the character of the dinosaur. There were also some minor plot bits he fudged I believe, but he has always emphasized that the movie is very much Lassetter et al's. And he didn't write the scene with Buzz and the toy aliens pictured above (apparently a lot of people have asked him if he wrote that scene. Answer: no).

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