“To infinity, and beyond!”
The first two Toy Story films were some of my most beloved viewings as a child. It’s a childhood fantasy that resonates with you at a young age, seeing your box of toys come to life and have an adventure. For older viewers, it transports you back to a magical time, when you imaged your plastic dinosaurs and action figures lived out fantastic scenarios. In their very first production, Pixar not only astounded audiences with innovative CGI animation, but they brought a heartfelt story of friendship and adventure that solidified the film a place in cinematic history. I was delighted to revisit Toy Story once again, finding it charming and captivating with another viewing.
The film puts forward a world where toys come to life when their humans aren’t around, and something they greatly desire is to spend time with their owners. In this case, that owner is Andy (John Morris), a six-year-old boy who receives a new Buzz Lightyear action figure (Tim Allen) for his birthday. While most of the toys find Buzz charismatic and impressive, cowboy toy Woody (Tom Hanks) becomes jealous as Buzz threatens to usurp his place as Andy’s favorite toy. The two toys soon find themselves on an adventure as they get separated from their home just as Andy is preparing to pack up his toys and move house. Over the course of the film, Woody must also convince Buzz that he exists only as a toy, and that his history as an intergalactic space hero is only a marketing facade.
While I would consider Toy Story far from Pixar’s best film, it’s stunning how great of a start this company had with telling engaging, original stories. One of the primary factors here is Pixar’s talent in world-building. Environments are packed with details that only enhance the world of the story, and the characters are animated with immense care and attention to detail. These details don’t have to be there for the film to succeed, but they’re there anyway, proving this film to be a passion project from the studio and not simply a paycheck. While the animation may look a bit wonky by modern standards, the film still holds up fairly well visually and is absolutely stunning for a movie that came out over 20 years ago. It also has a distinct visual style, with every toy given a unique design which fits well with the overall aesthetic of the world. The toys of Toy Story have become iconic images of CGI animation. When I think about these films, I could probably name 15 to 20 different characters off the top of my head, a testament to both the visual design and the memorable narrative.
Another critical element to Pixar’s astounding storytelling is, well, the stories. While I would argue that they have produced stronger concepts since Toy Story, this film would probably still rank highly in terms of unique screenplays. What I enjoy about the film is that it doesn’t just wallow in its premise with joke after joke about the toys being toys; rather, we get a sense of the toys as dynamic characters. While I enjoy a lot of Dreamworks films, this is what sets Pixar ahead of the competition in my mind. Almost nobody is reduced to an archetype. With so many characters in this movie’s toy box, this kind of flat characterization is inevitable every now and then. On the whole, however, this isn’t just a movie about toys that come to life. It’s a movie about genuine themes such as change, acceptance, and friendship told through characters that feel like real people.
I’m not going to say that Toy Story struck me in the same way it did when I was a child or even that I enjoyed it the same amount today (though many would say so), but this film is still a remarkable feat for Pixar’s first film. It puts a smile on your face, has some great insight into its themes and characters, presents a unique story and visuals, and you can tell that this thing was a product of love. It’s a film I enjoyed seeing again, though I look forward to rewatching its sequels even more.
Films Left to Watch: 903
(Similar to Lord of the Rings, the book lists the whole trilogy as one entry, so we’ve got another case where I can’t drop the tally until I’ve reviewed all 3.)