Toy Story (1995)

Argh. Aah. Nooo… How dare Disney do another Toy Story? They already finished it with such a beautiful ending, why? Stomp stomp stomp. It’s not fair those greedy studios and stuff. Argh.

While the outcry of a fourth Toy Story was somehow nowhere near the animation/live-action discourse in the upcoming The Lion King (Why was that a big deal again?), I can empathize that people are content to leave well enough alone. Toy Story 3 did end beautifully, especially since not every movie gets to tie things up so neatly, lookin’ at you, DCEU and Universal’s Dark Universe. But it’s not like there can’t be anymore stories to utilize. The characters don’t age or anything (Though we have had to say goodbye to Jim Varney, R. Lee Ermey, and Don Rickles in the past 24 years.). Regardless, I’m game for another outing with Andy’s/Bonnie’s playthings. So what do you say, guys?

Yeesh. Tough crowd.

Well, let’s reminisce back to 1995 when computer animation was this frightening new thing. Turn time toward a tumultuous timetable to take in the terrific toys!

The plot: When Andy leaves his toys alone, they all come alive. The de facto leader is his favorite since kindergarten, a pull-string cowboy named Woody (Tom Hanks). When Andy’s birthday arrives, the other toys fret about getting replaced. But the new toy turns out to be Buzz Lightyear, the coolest space ranger toy ever, voiced by Tim Allen. While the other toys – Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Sarge (R. Lee Ermey), and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) – are enthralled by him, Woody is seething with sheer jealousy.

When it becomes clear Buzz has become Andy’s favorite, too, Woody knocks him out a window. He finds Buzz, but the two become lost, only to wind up at neighbor Sid’s house, who delights in destroying toys. With Andy and his mom moving in a few short days, Woody and Buzz have to work together to get back to Andy’s room.

How’s the writing?: When you really think about it, this story is pretty mature for what is essentially a “kid’s” movie. Yes, it’s a movie about toys, but hear me out: what does Woody call the gathering at the beginning? A staff meeting. He has notes, he keeps an open platform while maintaining a sense of authority. Being a toy is literally a job for them. It’s not something kids are familiar with, but they can still understand it.

Similarly, there is no true villain. True, there’s Sid and his dog, Scud, but the primary conflict is Woody’s jealousy. This is the impetus for all the following discourse. No one has to be defeated or beaten, it’s about Woody having to come to terms with his own emotional issues. Again, this is what makes it a mature story, rather than painting its characters in black and white. It’s sincerely admirable.

The movie is written very, very smartly. Buzz’s perception about being real is comical without getting grating. The toys are vivid personalities. The dialogue is quippy and modern. In fact, for all of Woody’s faults, it’s hard to imagine how Katzenberg wanted Woody to a complete and utter jerk to the toys. Also fun fact, Joss Whedon is another one of the many writers on the script.

Does it give the feels?: Buzz spends so much of the movie convinced he is 100% the real Buzz Lightyear, and you understand why he thinks that way. Despite being surrounded by cowboys, dinosaurs, a dog, and a piggy bank, he just soldiers on in acting the brave, heroic space ranger you’d expect him to be.

When he tries to fly, during the song “I Will Go Sailing No More”, Buzz’s agony is front and center, particularly at the song’s high note. It becomes a truly heartbreaking moment, and you see Buzz’s reaction as he struggles to cope with this new reality. It comes off as funny during the tea party, but it hits hard when the two finally have and heart to heart. It’s already emotional as it is seeing Buzz being depressed, but it also opens up Woody’s character as he finally has to be the better man…er, toy.

It’s a great scene that gets great buildup. It didn’t need to make anyone cry, but it’s all there, and a lot of credit has to be given to both Allen and Hanks’ voicework and the wonderful animation.

Who makes it worth it?: I’ve always loved Buzz Lightyear since the beginning. It’s not just a cool design, it’s a cool personality.

For whatever reason, Buzz is essentially a cop, not unlike a Green Lantern. He carries himself with strength and pride, addressing everyone formally. This has softened over the franchise after he’s become aware of his status as a toy, but he still maintains that demeanor. Even though he’s just plastic, you’re kind of okay with him leading the charge into danger. He just commands respect, and there’s something appealing about that.

Best quality provided: You may have to realize just what was at stake when Toy Story came out. It was the very first completely computer animated movie ever. Really stop and consider the landscape of animation today had this movie been not as successful as it was. Sure, there still might have been computer animated movies, but even if it got to the level that it is at today, it might’ve taken much, much longer, and we’d be hearing studios bemoaning “Oh, audiences don’t want computer cartoons!”

So even if the technology isn’t quite up to snuff in some parts, like the humans, you have to respect their acumen in heir understanding how these characters can emote. To really get to know what I’m talking about, watch the “I Will Go Sailing No More” or the “Strange Things” songs, and mute the movie. Can you understand the emotions the characters are feeling without dialogue? These scenes had to be read on visual alone, which is a monumental for any artist, but these guys tackled it masterfully with software from the early nineties, and they were basically self-taught. That is friggin’ incredible.

Also, this is the movie that introduced me to Easter eggs: you know, those cheeky homages and references no one but colossal nerds get if they’ve seen the movie as often as I have? Among them:

  • The Mickey Mouse watch hanging as a clock on Andy’s wall.
  • The carpeting in Sid’s house is meant to look like the disorienting rug in The Shining.
  • When Buzz bids Woody farewell at the gas station, he flashes the “live long and prosper” sign from Star Trek.
  • The books behind Woody’s head at the staff meeting – Scooter Run, Tin Toy, and Red’s Dream – are all previous Pixar shorts.
  • Eggman Movers is a nod the art director Ralph Eggleston.
  • The Binford tool box on Woody’s crate is a reference to Tim Allen’s other Disney project, Home Improvement.
  • This was only the beginning as Pixar would continue this trend even a quarter century later.
  • What could have been improved: Also, despite the sheer brilliance of the story, there are a few questions I have. Chief among them: if Buzz thinks he’s the real space ranger, why does he revert to “toy” mode when Andy’s around? It’s not an involuntary reflex, because we see the toys go after Sid in the climax. Maybe if there were a two-second scene of Buzz observing everyone’s behavior around Andy, he decided it was the best course of action in a “When in Rome” survival tactic. But here’s the thing: how many people have you heard ask this? Because that’s the testament to Pixar’s storytelling.

    Also, if toys don’t eat, why does a seasoned veteran like Woody think Sid’s toys are cannibals? How did Andy and his mom not see or hear the two fighting at the Dinoco gas station? How does a clearly underage boy like Sid send away for and receive a rocket that says “Keep our if reach of children”, if his mom seems present enough? In fact, why have the cops never been called upon if Sid uses explosive devices that can be clearly seen by his neighbors? What purpose is there for a panel on a crane machine that’s accessible from the inside? How did that truck tire at the gas station roll past Woody’s head without crushing him? And did no one besides Molly seriously notice the ENTIRE episode where Buzz, Woody, and R.C. are racing to catch up to the truck, including – might I point out – when they were shooting down the road propelled by a bright and very loud firework?!

    Like I’ve said before, it’s not that a great movie is devoid of plot holes, it’s whether or not it distracts you from them. The writing, animation, and voice acting are just that darn good that so many people just do not care. But someone must have started asking deeper questions about the nature of toy-dom, because Toy Story 4 is set to ask if a plastic spork with googly eyes and pipe cleaner arms qualifies as a toy. How’s that for deep?

    Verdict: Sadly, much like Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, this is one of those movies I put in the “Movies everyone loves to death and I get why but I’m not a fan per se regardless I cannot point out any massive flaws” pile. I like it fine, I just don’t obsess over it. There’s nothing really wrong with Toy Story. Like, at all. But objectively, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still damn good. I award Pixar’s first hit with nine squeaky aliens out of ten. I’m glad I grew up with it, and kids today are lucky to know it, and I’m sincerely curious to see how entry number 4 turns out.


    Author: TAP-G

    Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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