Sequential Cinema: ‘Toy Story’ (1995)

Sequential Cinema is a look at film series throughout cinema history from blockbuster franchises to smaller and international fare.

The Disney Renaissance is in full bloom in 1995. Pocahontas had mixed reactions, but still made six times its budget. The acquisition of Miramax and Dimension Film paid off. Disney had an unexpected player they aligned with.

Located in beautiful Emeryville, Calif.

Pixar Animation Studios is still a young company only being born in 1986. Steve Jobs of Apple purchased Lucasfilms’ Computer Division to create the small Bay Area-based studio. The studio garnered success for its computer graphics imagery (CGI) shorts. Pixar collaborated with Disney on the creation of the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS). The CAPS system processed the animation at 2K film resolution. It also allows for digital ink-and-painting and blends 2D and 3D imagery in a seamless fashion.

Their commercial campaigns for Tropicana and Lifesavers garnered praise. as well. With CGI becoming popular in films such as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Disney made a deal with Pixar. Together, they would produce at least one full-length computer-animated feature. This deal would shape the animation industry for better or worse (depending on who you talk to).

Thus, Toy Story was born. The film started its life as a full-length adaptation of the short Tin Toy. Writers Pete Doctor, Joe Ranft, and Andrew Stanton went a different route developing an original story from the ground up. The story became that of a cowboy toy jealous of a new space ranger toy that his owner gets for his birthday. 

Tom Hanks would voice Woody based on a screen test animating Woody to dialogue from Turner and Hooch. Billy Crystal almost became Buzz Lightyear, but he declined. Tim Allen of Home Improvement fame came into the role instead. Both Hanks and Allen had monster success in the ’90s. With the two leads in tow, it was time to bring the film to the big screen. 

Toy Story set the world ablaze showing something audiences had never seen before. Animation had moved into the next phase of growth. Pixar kick-started their film output from here on out due to the popularity. 

[Note: If you are curious for more on the production and history of Pixar, I recommend watching The Pixar Story. There are also books on the subject because the production is quite the doozy to summarize here.] 

Woody (Hanks) is Andy’s favorite toy as the de facto leader of Andy’s other toys helping them prepare for a big move. Yet, it also happens to be Andy’s birthday which means a new toy will be joining the crew. On Andy’s birthday, he gets Buzz Lightyear (Allen). Buzz believes he is a space ranger on a secret mission in uncharted space. Woody informs him he is a toy, yet Buzz doesn’t believe so.

Andy’s mom allows him to bring one toy to Pizza Planet with Buzz being the obvious choice. Woody decides to 86 Buzz via a lamp hitting him out the window. While on the trek to Pizza Planet, Buzz confronts Woody at the gas station. The two duke it out, missing their opportunity to get back in the car. They hitch a ride on the famous Pizza Planet truck to head to the restaurant that is Chuck E. Cheese in Space.

From there, Buzz gets into a claw machine fascinated by the idea of escaping in a rocket. Sid Phillips (Erik von Detten) shows up and wins him plus Woody. Sid is the bad kid that lives next door who loves to kill toys plus create unique mismatched ones. Buzz and Woody must attempt to head back to Andy before the big move by working together. They learn to discover who they are, what it means to be a toy, and how friendship matters. 

Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) points at laughs at Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen) for thinking he is not a toy. Source: Disney-Pixar

Toy Story is a classic for a reason. It’s a simple rivalry-turned-friendship story with a new coat of paint. The smaller scale helps to make it a grand adventure tale. Funny considering the adventure takes place in-between two houses and a chain restaurant.

The dynamic between Allen and Hanks is tremendous. Their performances balance one another out. Woody is a smarmy jackass and Buzz is a fish-out-of-water. Hanks gives Woody heart though as he means well. Yet, the arrogance is lingering behind his actions and words. The arrogance starts to erode as the film goes on turning into the Woody loves in the series forward.

Allen plays the naive space ranger with science fiction B-movie charm in what is his best role. When Buzz realizes he is a toy, Allen handles Buzz’s sadness as a man on the edge. It’s played for laughs especially as “Miss Nesbit” drunk off tea. Buzz accepts his fate by the film’s end too by realizing his strengths and learning why being a toy is quite amazing.

[Sidenote: This was the first animated feature nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. The performances would be nothing without a solid script.]

Special mentions go to Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, Wallace Shawn as Rex, Jim Varney as Slinky, and John Ratzenberger as Hamm. They make up the core buddies and are equally hilarious. They get more to do in the sequel, so I’ll talk them up further next time.

Sid Phillips (voice of Erik von Detten) is ready to set Buzz Lightyear of into space for real. Source: Disney-Pixar

The villain in Sid is the perfect foil to Andy. Andy loves and respects his toy. Sid? An absolute monster who is determined to rid any toy he comes across. He very nearly kills Woody for the hell of it. He made that creepy Babydoll Spider. Woody scaring him is a horrific sight but damn is it not glorious to see Sid get his comeuppance. 

The animation was mind-blowing in 1995 as it was the first. The film’s animation still holds up today with few exceptions. Every human character is definitely the victim of the film’s restoration as time goes on. Andy’s face looks, as my partner said once, “like a goblin.” Sid’s dog Scud also is not looking great these days with his fur regulated to a flat texture surface.

All hail the true Goblin King Andy. Source: Disney-Pixar

Outside of those exceptions, it’s nothing short of spectacular. Not even the then-new PlayStation and Nintendo 64 could replicate the visuals. These characters are in a fully-realized world made out of data from a keyboard and mouse. The colors are vibrant and pop and the lighting is on par with live-action features. This was the next evolution of animation in the middle of an already landmark decade of film.

[Sidenote: Toy Story on the Sega Genesis was quite close. It had pre-rendered CG backgrounds but was still regulated to side-scrolling. Toy Story 3: The Game and Kingdom Hearts III finally give the true Toy Story experience. It’s stunning to get to truly play in those worlds. Also, Kingdom Hearts III is canon to Toy Story. Wrap your head around that one.] 

The music by Randy Newman also succeeds. This was Newman’s first animated film score to kickstart a solid relationship with Pixar. It’s adventurous throughout and makes the world larger. The original songs are hit and miss (I cannot for the life take “Stange Things” seriously ever).

There is no denying that “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is a classic worthy of its placement in the Disney songbook. Heck, it even got a sweet duet with Newman and Lyle Lovett for the end credits. It’s a fuzzy warm blanket in song form that still gets me.

Toy Story is a timeless wonder of the beauty of friendship. It’s a tribute to childhood imagination and the stories we create as kids. It’s a simple ride, yet is so much more than simplistic: it goes to infinity and beyond.

Final verdict: 5 out of 5
Toy Story Series: 1/4 Complete

Next time, the toys come back to town with a bigger adventure with new characters, a new villain, and a whole set of production issues. We’ll learn not to hit delete with Toy Story 2.
P.S. You cannot tell me that 2022’s Lightyear is a movie from 1995 in the Toy Story universe when this movie can’t even make Sid’s dog look realistic.

Told you he looked rough! Source: Disney-Pixar

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s