It’s hard to believe it, but Toy Story was the very first computer generated animated feature film. CG graphics had already appeared as parts of films starting with the “Genesis proposition video” from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. It was a rather fitting movie for this Hollywood and technological first to occur. The piece was rather short and not as breathtaking as we’ve come to expect today, but, it did herald the beginning of a new era in filmmaking, to be sure. What better place for such an historical technological breakthrough than in Star Trek?
Pixar had already been making short subject computer animation. If you ever have the opportunity to check out their collection of shorts, you can’t help but be impressed with the evolution of the process as evidenced in these short films. The awards were rolling in for the upstart company, and it was only logical that sooner rather than later they would be the ones to attempt a full length feature film. Of course they were quite a small company at the time with no distribution network in place to launch a major motion picture. There wasn’t much of a promotional arm to the company to create the kind of buzz, pun intended, a full length film would require. The truth was that Pixar’s small size, which was so much of a creative asset, just wasn’t up to the kind of task they were taking on. The first step would have to be to find a partner with the name recognition and resources to back up such an ambitious project. They would likely be betting the future of the company on this one effort. The choice was obvious. They would tie their fortunes together with the same company that took the very same risk 70 years ago. Walt Disney had created the very first animated feature film with Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. The result started an entire industry and put that one-time fledgling company on the map. Would Pixar be able to make the same impact on the industry that Disney had so many decades before? Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Toy Story knows the answer to that question. Lightning did indeed strike twice, and Toy Story would open the floodgates to an entire new industry of computer animated features.
The idea is simplicity itself. We find ourselves in the bedroom of a 10 year old boy named Andy. He has a collection of toys that would not surprise anyone at all. From a slinky dog to a plastic dinosaur, Andy’s toys appear pretty mundane on the surface. But this isn’t quite the world that we live in. In this universe toys can talk and are sentient creatures complete with emotions. The top toy in Andy’s room has always been Woody (Hanks) a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy from a long forgotten television show called Woody’s Roundup. Woody has gotten used to being the number one plaything for Andy. He occupies the position of honor in his perch on Andy’s bed. But it’s Andy’s birthday, and the toys all know that Andy will be getting gifts. Gifts could mean new toys, and it’s every toy’s worst nightmare that they will be replaced by a more modern and interesting toy. Their fears just might be realized this time when Andy gets the latest fad toy, an astronaut named Buzz Lightyear (Allen). With his catch phrase: “To infinity and beyond” Buzz has all the latest electronic gadgets, bells and whistles to make a certain cowboy with a pull-string voice begin to feel inadequate. So, at first Woody is pretty cruel to Buzz, much to the disappointment of his fellow toys. But Woody’s jealousy ends up putting him and Buzz in the clutches of a neighbor kid who loves to torture and dismantle toys for fun. He uses spare toy parts to create Frankenstein toys with mutated personalities to match their forms. Now Buzz and Woody must work together if they are going to have any chance of getting out of Sid’s bedroom in one piece. To make the task that much more difficult, Woody has to try and get Buzz to understand that he is indeed a toy. Buzz thinks he’s a real Space Ranger and that his accessories really work. Obviously, the two escape and become fast friends.
With this being the first computer animated film, you might expect that the folks at Pixar would play it safe and basically keep it simple. You would expect incorrectly. While the plot isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, the artists at Pixar managed to do something very special with this movie. These toys have a heart and soul that bring them very much to life. While the animation has gotten much better over the years, these character designs were quite impressive. The animation allows these plastic characters to emote in a way the world at large wouldn’t have thought possible at the time. There’s a natural movement and flow to these characters that is impressive even today after 15 years of evolving technology. It helped that toys are supposed to have a plastic look and feel to them. Early CG animation gave that too-smooth glossy plastic feel to almost everything. Credit Pixar for taking advantage of that characteristic of the technology and starting with characters that are enhanced by that texture.
Perhaps the best decision these guys made wasn’t to be found in a computer animation software bundle after all. The choices for the character voices is perfection itself. Tom Hanks as Woody and Tim Allen as Buzz? That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg here. The crew managed to capture the personality of each of their voice cast and marry it so wonderfully to the characters themselves. Could you imagine them any other way today? Don Rickles is the constantly complaining Mr. Potato Head along with the trademark Rickles insults and a very sweet touch on his familiar “Hockey Puck” routine. Our old friend Cliff from Cheers in the person of John Ratzenberger has become a lucky charm, of sorts, for Pixar and has appeared in every film the studio has produced to date. Here he plays Ham, a literal piggy bank. R. Lee Ermey brings his established drill sergeant cadence to Sergeant, the leader of those green army men that boys have been playing with for decades. Rounding out the cast is Annie Potts as Bo Peep, still guarding her sheep and carrying a torch for Woody. Wallace Shawn plays the T-Rex with a lack of confidence that brings back images of the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard Of Oz. Jim Varney is the Slinky Dog. I don’t know about you, but I can’t look at any of these toys in real life and not think of this movie’s voice cast.
Toy Story is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 35 mbps. Toy Story is about to make history once again. This film looks absolutely stunning in high definition. While later Pixar films including Toy Story 2 show a marked improvement, this is just beautiful to look at on Blu-ray. Colors jump out at you from the film logo all the way through. It’s a rainbow burst of primary colors as strong as can be. Add in a sharpness level that literally makes your television disappear into a window, and I dare anyone to find even the tiniest fault with this transfer. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re talking about an entirely digital environment from the get go.
The DTS-HD Master 6.1 is more impressive than the image presentation, if you can believe that. I pretty much expected this film was going to look good in high definition. I never dreamed it would sound so good. The audio has the most natural sound. I can’t think of an animated film that sounded this good before, even from Pixar. Someone did something incredibly right on this transfer. The Randy Newman songs have the same dynamic quality to them you remember from the theater; even better as far as I can tell. The quality is rich with both highs and lows perfectly balanced and rendered. There’s plenty of ear candy, and even if this isn’t exactly the most aggressive mix you’ll encounter everything is placed so well that you’re right there. Dialog can be completely understood at all times. Truly an impressive production from top to bottom.
All of the DVD features have been ported over in Standard Definition to this Blu-ray release. For more details on that content, be sure to look up our DVD review.
There are a few Blu-ray exclusive extras here, and it’s all in HD.
Sneak Peak – Toy Story 3 – The Story: (2:07) This is basically a promo for the new film coming in June. Director Lee Unkrich gives us a very quick rundown on the new film’s basic plot.
Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs – Blast Off: (3:27) This is a very interesting educational piece that is hosted by Buzz. He talks about his excursion to the International Space Station. Here he gives us a really cool breakdown of the Space Shuttle and describes the trip to the station. The piece utilizes impressive NASA footage of the real deal.
Paths To Pixar – Artists: (4:47) Meet several Pixar artists and hear them recount how they got interested in their craft and eventually found their way to Pixar.
Studio Stories: These are 2 minute anecdotal pieces about life at Pixar.
Buzz Takes Manhattan: (2:13) This piece covers the Buzz Lightyear balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Black Friday – The Toy Story You Never Saw: (7:38) The path of this milestone movie was not a smooth one. The film underwent drastic changes from its first disastrous pitch to Disney. Hear the crew talk about those frantic times, capped off with the original pitch reel.
Firsts are not always so impressive when you look back on them. Often improvements occur at such a frantic pace that the pioneer projects soon become dated and actually begin to look crude. That didn’t happen here. All of the magic that the film had when it first hit the box office remains even after we’ve witnessed tremendous advances in the technology. I’m not just talking about the film’s huge heart alone. The animation stands up. Of course, things have improved, but this movie holds its own against anything released in recent years. Pixar didn’t just invent the computer animated feature film, they defined it. With Pixar on the job the industry has plenty to look forward to. With a third Toy Story film on the horizon the end is not yet in sight. Pixar has truly taken animation “to infinity and beyond”.