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"Toy Story 1 and 2": As Good as They Were in ’95 and ’99

by on March 30, 2010

Toy Story was a groundbreaking film when it debuted in 1995. Being the first computer animated feature film, it stood out and gave us a glimpse what was possible, and created numerous new animation jobs here in the U.S. Obviously, CG animation has progressed by leaps and bounds since 1995. Wouldn’t Toy Story look dated today? In terms of its visuals, perhaps it does. (Though it still looks darn good. More on that later.) But in the end, the visuals don’t matter, because it and its sequel hold up due to the timeless stories and characters.

Despite being toys, the major characters in Toy Story 1 and 2 are fleshed out, relatable, undergo character development that surprisingly carries over to the sequel, and have a noble, humble goal: to be there for human boy Andy when he wants to play with his toys. The main character is Woody, a cowboy who is Andy’s favorite toy and as such, acts like a leader to the rest of the toys: He tells them when Andy’s coming into the room so they can go back to their original places and become inanimate; he assigns them tasks for finding out what birthday gifts Andy is receiving; and in general, he is in charge without gloating about it or letting the position go to his head.

His status is challenged, however, when Andy’s new toy is the latest craze, Buzz Lightyear, a space cadet action figure with numerous advanced accessories such as lasers, retractable wings, and an electronic voice box that make Woody and his pull string look downright primitive. All the toys go ga-ga over how cool Buzz is, which makes Woody feel ignored. Think of it like a young kid learning that their parents are having another baby and will be paying more attention to the new addition to the family than to them; it’s the same deal. Woody is even more annoyed when Buzz doesn’t seem to realize he’s a mere toy like the rest of them. This is a running gag throughout the movie, and yet is also a big part of his development later on when he realizes he can’t do everything and there are millions just like him in toy stores across America.

The sequel picks up (mostly) where Toy Story 1 left off. Thankfully, they don’t retread the same ground as the first film. Instead, in this one Woody is carried off by a desperate toy collector, and the rest of the toys venture into the outside world to get him back. The scope is larger in the sequel; the first movie was mostly confined to Andy’s house, a brief stop at the Chuck E Cheeze’s-style restaurant Pizza Planet, and next-door neighbor Sid’s house. But in 2, the toys have to venture across numerous street blocks, on foot, and crossing a busy intersection, in one of the movie’s best-executed action scenes. There’s even a finale on a baggage conveyor belt at an airport!

The toys are back in town.Yet, the film still gets it right where it truly counts: the characters. It turns out that Al, the toy collector who nabbed Woody, is planning to sell him for lots of cash, along with three other toys: Jessie, an excited cowgirl, Bullseye, a faithful and eager horse, and Pete the Prospector, the aging toy of the threesome, who has never left his collectible box. The three inform Woody that he was part of a 1950’s marionette TV show, “Woody’s Round-Up”, and that his return to them finally completes the group. So there’s a good internal conflict here of Woody deciding whether he should stay with his new friends or escape and reunite with Buzz and the rest of Andy’s toys. This is made even more difficult when Woody realizes that Andy won’t be keeping his toys forever, yet if he stays with Jessie, Bullseye, and Pete, he can “live” forever as a collectible. But of course, being a collectible means he won’t be played with. I won’t give anything away for the few that haven’t seen it yet, but overall, it’s a satisfying sequel that doesn’t just rehash elements from the first film.

Part of what makes the Toy Story films work is their ensemble nature. Almost every toy has a unique purpose so they’re not mere background characters just taking up space. For instance, in the first film, at Andy’s birthday party, the piggy bank Hamm, who is always set on a high shelf, is able to see outside to announce when the guests have arrived; green Army Men are responsible for going downstairs (where something this simple is a dangerous tactical operation in the eyes of toys) and using the walkie-talkie character to relay back what Andy received. In the climax, the stretchy Slinky Dog is put to good use in trying to save Buzz and Woody. The female Bo Peep provides emotional support for Woody. Mr. Potato Head can pull a multitude of useful items out of his backside (far less disgusting than it sounds). And the timid plastic dinosaur Rex nevertheless has brute force that comes in handy.

Do the Toy Story films hold up visually? For the most part, they do. While there have obviously been significant advancements in CG animation since then, the film still has great character animation and facial expressions, dynamic shading, and some well-directed sequences that keep the camera moving at a brisk pace so as not to bore the audience. So it’s not embarrassingly dated. The Pixar crew knew they had to impress the audience right out of the gate, and their hard work shows. Even the overly pristine, plastic-like character models aren’t a problem, because they are toys after all.

Randy Newman’s whimsical music also fits the tone of each scene for both films; in particular, I like the Wild West motif used in the sequel. The various songs he wrote for montages in the movies also accentuate the visuals, such as “Strange Things” accompanying Woody gradually getting more resentful of Buzz, or the melancholy “I Will Go Sailing No More” playing when Buzz tries to fly out a window but fails. In terms of vocal work, Toy Story used a number of live action actors instead of people who are predominantly voice actors (and this trend has become rather irksome), but the high-profile stars nevertheless fit their parts like a glove. I truly can’t imagine anyone other than Tom Hanks as Woody or Tim Allen as Buzz, and I think the smart-alecky Hamm is John Ratzenberger’s best of all his Pixar roles. The sequel features Kelsey Grammer as Pete, Joan Cusack as Jessie, and Wayne Knight as Al the toy collector; again, they are perfect for their parts and deliver their lines well.

Overall, Toy Story 1 and 2 still hold up, thanks to strong plotlines, good pacing that doesn’t waste a moment of screen time on pointless scenes, amusing moments (I still love “too late, I’m already in the ’40s, gotta go around the horn!” in Toy Story 2 when Hamm is rapidly channel surfing), and features characters you care about. Best of all, even though both films are rated G, they don’t feel geared towards a specific age group (such as only kids, thus boring or irritating the older viewers); anyone can enjoy these films, and this is largely because the Pixar team made movies for themselves rather than a specific demographic. That was the right choice.

Special Features

These two Blu-ray sets feature plenty of bonuses which took me quite a few hours to finish. This is expected, since Toy Story was their first feature film and this year is the 15th anniversary of the first film’s release. Granted, most of the features are simply repeat material from the 10th anniversary DVDs, but there are plenty of new items as well. I’ll go over those first.

(NOTE: Bold means the feature appears on both the Blu-ray and DVD discs)

Both the Toy Story 1 and 2 sets include Studio Stories, quick 2- to 3-minute anecdotes, usually humorous, about working at Pixar. Two stuck out for me: One involved months of hard work almost thrown out the window because of a computer glitch deleting files, and another involving scooter races around the old Pixar building. They’re worth a watch, and have fun stick figure drawings to accompany the narration by crew members.

Also new to the sets are previews of Toy Story 3, which is coming out this summer. The video on the Toy Story 1 set focuses on story and runs about 2 minutes, while Toy Story 2‘s preview features the new characters that we’ll see, and is double the length. They’re not that much more than promotional pieces, but for those itching for some footage of the upcoming film, they’re worth a watch as well.

Pixar’s Zoetrope on the Toy Story 2 set showcases a stunning Toy Story-themed zoetrope, that is, a carousel lined with characters put in slightly different poses that, when in motion, create the illusion of animation. This 2 minute video is pretty neat and I’d love to see this zoetrope in person.

We also get Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs, two new animated shorts/informational programs split between the two sets, running about 3 to 4 minutes. Toy Story 1‘s disc features blasting off into space, while 2‘s concentrates on an international space station. They’re basically educational shorts narrated by Buzz, Hamm, and Rex to show what real life astronauts do in space, and I assume they are meant to inspire kids to become astronauts themselves when they grow up. Luckily, the presentation is agreeable enough so that even older viewers can enjoy them.

Buzz Takes Manhattan on the Toy Story 1 set is a quick, 2-minute video concerning the creation of a giant Buzz Lightyear balloon for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. For parade balloon aficionados, this is for you.

Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw runs 7 1/2 minutes and is about the trouble that Toy Story 1 went through to get made; specifically, an early version where the characters were written meaner and less likable. A preliminary version of the scene where the toys confront Woody about accidentally knocking Buzz out the window is executed quite differently than in the final film, so it’s neat to see. It’s also inspiring to see how the crew was able to make a salvageable script in only two weeks after being threatened with lay-offs.

Both sets also feature Paths to Pixar videos, running about 4 minutes each. They feature brief interviews with some of the individuals that aren’t often highlighted in the various making-of docs but nevertheless played a big part in the creation of these films, and many are thankful for Pixar giving them their big breaks.

Toy Story 2‘s set includes Celebrating Our Friend Joe Ranft, running almost 13 minutes. As you may know, Joe Ranft, one of the head writers/story editors at Pixar, died in a car accident in 2005. If the interviews are anything to go by, it’s even more tragic when they paint him as a great guy to work with, who was always willing to help others and had a comic energy that lifted people’s spirits. It’s a quality tribute, especially since we get old footage from his time at the studio.

Finally, some new trailers are also thrown in, including one for the upcoming James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray.

Now for the rehashed features from previous DVDs. Both movies contain the audio commentary from their 2005 releases. The crew discusses a variety of topics, mostly on the technical side of production, but also on story and how their direction and development got you to care about the characters. One thing I love about Pixar’s commentaries is that there’s never a silence gap in them. Someone is always talking and offering interesting tidbits, and there are a large number of people who offer their two cents, and that makes the tracks fly by. Unlike most modern Pixar Blu-rays, though, these aren’t illustrated commentaries, wherein concept art is shown on the screen with the audio, but that’s to be expected since this is reused material.

Speaking of reused, as I alluded to earlier, the Blu-ray discs on each set feature many of the bonuses from the 2005 special edition DVDs. As they’ve already been released, I’ll be brief. (Please note the items below aren’t on the DVD.)

* Filmmakers Reflect: A 16:56 piece filmed in 2005 where John Lasseter (director), Andrew Stanton (writer), Pete Docter (supervising animator), and Joe Ranft (story supervisor) have a casual chat about Toy Story. Some of the things they discuss were already covered in the commentaries, but there is still much to learn here, and the laugh-filled, easy-going nature is pleasant enough.

* Making Toy Story: A 20:17 piece filmed in 1995. Worth a watch just to see how much younger everyone looked, though it’s rather dated due to when it was filmed.

* The Legacy of Toy Story: A 11:41 piece where other directors such as Peter Jackson and Blue Sky’s Chris Wedge gush about how great Pixar is. Nothing really substantial here, though they do a good job describing why Pixar succeeded.

* Designing Toy Story: A 6:12 piece from various character designers and digital painters, among others, about, what else, designing the film.

* Deleted Scenes: 18:50 total. Interestingly, some of the deleted scenes, such as a nightmare of Woody’s, eventually appeared in Toy Story 2, albeit refined better than the early versions here.

* Design: 14:03 total. We get galleries and 3D visualizations.

The words I'm looking for, I can't say, because there's school-age toys present.* Story: 13:56 total. The most interesting bit in this category is the “Green Army Men” pitch, which shows Joe Ranft acting out the early version of this scene. Additionally, we get Andy’s New Toy and “The Chase” Storyreel/Film Comparison.

* Production: 13:41 total. There’s a Production Tour, Layout Tricks, an Animation Tour, and a multi-language feature showcasing the scene where Woody first meets Buzz in different languages.

* Music & Sound: 6:35 total. A “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” Music Video is featured, as well as a “Designing Sound” featurette and some Randy Newman song demos.

* Publicity: 10:14 of material. We get an “interview” with Buzz and Woody (sadly, Allen and Hanks didn’t seem to be available for this), Toy Story trailers and commercials, and some galleries.

As for Toy Story 2:

*Making Toy Story 2 is an 8:10 piece filmed in 1999. Like the making-of for the first film, much of the material is already covered in the commentary, and being filmed at the time of the movie’s release doesn’t allow for retrospection.

* John Lasseter Profile: A 3:02 piece chronicling the Toy Story 1 and 2 director, as well as key force in Pixar’s success.

* Cast of Characters: A 3:28 piece mostly focused on the voice artists for the second film.

* Toybox: Featurettes include Outtakes, Jessie’s Gang, Who’s the Coolest Toy?, Riders in the Sky Music Medley, and Autographed Pictures.

* Deleted Scenes: 4:11 total. One focuses on an alternate location for the “crossing the street” scene, and another is a different way that Woody ended up in the yard sale and bought by Al.

* Design: 16:43 total. More galleries, if you’re into that sort of thing.

* Production: 13:41 total. Designing Woody’s Past is worth a watch, as the crew created numerous “Woody’s Round-Up” paraphernalia for the film and show them off. Production Tour shows a basic overview of how a movie gets made. International Scene was also interesting, as a scene of Buzz in front of the American flag was altered for international releases. Early Animation Tests and Special Effects round up this section.

* Music & Sound: 14:08 total. Designing Sound is the best offering here, as we see the “crossing the street” scene with each layer of sound one at a time, then the final, full mix at the end. It shows just how well-done the sound was for these films. A Mixing Demo, Making the Songs, a “Woody’s Round-Up” Music Video, and Jessie’s Song Demo conclude this category.

Finally, Publicity features 8:32 of character “interviews”, Toy Story 2 trailers, commercials, and galleries.

For those who haven’t gotten around to picking up either Toy Story film on a home video format yet, or who own the bare bones 2001 DVDs, these Blu-ray/DVD combo sets are easy recommendations, simply based on the wealth of material here, but also for the great films. And if you’re a videophile, the answer’s obvious, as these movies never looked better in Blu-ray. But, the $64,000 question: Should those who own the 2005 DVDs double dip? It depends. Both discs don’t have more than about half an hour of new goodies, and if all you’re interested in is the making of the films, I doubt the new material will excite you. For everyone else, though, Toy Story 1 and 2 are no-brainers.

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