Toy Story series (1995, 1999, & 2010)

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in The Best of the Best | 9 comments


Disclaimer: Displays unsavory acts of violence against unsuspecting (and sometimes sexually aroused) plastic figures.

Based on the animated short Tin Toy, Toy Story impressively and comically conceives a world within ours, where childhood playthings have lives of their own. We’re given a privileged glimpse into this world through the many occupants of one child’s bedroom. Though the civilization is foreign to us, its members live by rules and norms not dissimilar from our own. They have class status and governing leaders, dictated by a toy’s popularity and location within the bedroom (closet denizens trump those in chests or on shelves, while the bed is the most envied and powerful position of all). They have birthplaces and parents, dictated by “made in” locales and companies. They have varied maturity levels, based on what age the toy is intended for. Some even have forms of religion, as vending machine toys live by the code of “The Claw,” which chooses “who will go and who will stay.” But the most paramount concept of the species is to ensure their owners never know they’re alive.

Directed by John Lasseter (and the first had Joss Wheadon and Joel Coen as writers), Toy Story was the first film released by the now-giant Pixar Studios and the first feature-length picture shot entirely in CGI. With each frame requiring up to 13 hours and 300 MBs to create, Toy Story won a special achievement Oscar and paved the way for a new era of film animation.

In this rapidly changing world, Toy3where a toy could be constantly handled one day and collecting dust the next, every holiday at Andy’s house becomes Defcon 5. “We’re next month’s garage sale fodder for sure,” one toy exclaims as children pile into Andy’s home for a birthday party. Woody (Tom Hanks) is a pull-string cowboy figurine and Andy’s favorite toy. But his status is quickly challenged as an astronaut action hero named Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) enters the picture. Woody, obviously jealous and threatened, tries to get rid of Buzz. When his innocent assassination attempt goes awry, the duo finds themselves miles from home two days before their owner moves. A series of misadventures on their way home brings them to the bedroom of a hell-bent child and his twisted workshop of freakish toy creations.

Woody and Buzz have a hostile, but comic relationship (like Hansel and Zoolander) that escalates into a humorous fistfight at one point. Added to the comic equation is Buzz’s insistence that he’s a space ranger in the universe protection unit, to which Woody must insist, “You are a toy! You’re an action figure, a child’s plaything!” The moment when Buzz finally comes to self-realization (and becomes the tea-drinking Mrs. Nesbitt) is actually quite sad. But Woody helps him learn that, “Being a toy is a lot better than being a space ranger. Over there is a kid who thinks you’re the greatest. Any other toy would give up his moving parts just to be you.”

Andy’s room includes loads of familiar faces (and voices, for that matter) including Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky dog (Jim Varney), Piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Rex (Wallace Shawn), an army man (Full Metal Jacket’s R. Lee Ermey), a Speak and Spell, race car, Etch-a-Sketch, Barrel of Monkeys, Tinker Toys, troll, and magic eight ball.

I stayed away from the sequel Toy2for a few years, thinking it couldn’t possibly continue the brilliance and, perhaps, fearing that it would mar my memory of the original as so many sequels had done in the past. But Toy Story 2 is a far deeper experience than I could have imagined, as it grapples with themes of morality, love, and death so intensely that it feels as if Ingmar Bergman created it. Like The Godfather, I now find myself hard-pressed to decide which is “better.” Interestingly, the sequel was originally intended for a direct-to-video release, but ended up winning a best picture Golden Globe.

In said sequel, Woody is accidentally left behind as Andy heads off to cowboy camp. Before Andy leaves, Woody’s cloth shoulder rips. “I’m sorry honey, but toys don’t last forever,” mom says, as she places Woody in the most feared location of all: on a dusty shelf. To make things worse, a collector (Wayne Knight) takes Woody at a garage sale, and Buzz and the gang set out to rescue him. Over the years, the collector has accrued quite the Woody paraphernalia, including Woody’s Roundup Gang with trusty steed Bullseye, cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack), and prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammar). With his collection complete, he intends to sell them to a museum in Japan. You’d think Woody would put up a fight and try to escape, but his damaged arm and threatened status in the bedroom makes Woody think this may be his last chance to be loved again.

In the film’s best scene, Jesse unfolds the sob story of her previous owner through the Sarah McLachlan-sung ballad When She Loved Me and Woody comes to realize that Andy’s path to adulthood means his death. The emotional moment could very well make you cry, and, if you reflect on the fact that you’re reacting to a fictional story about toys, you’ll realize how well developed these characters are. “Andy’s growing up and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Stinky Pete tells Woody, who looks to his escape route (a ventilation shaft) back to Andy and sees bleak darkness.

The sequel introduces a few new characters in Mrs. Potato Head, a wheezy penguin, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Buzz’s nemesis Zurg, and Barbie, who was intended for Bo peep’s role in the original until Mattel declined, thinking the film would be a failure. When the rescue attempt brings the gang to a toy store, we’re given another ingenious twist when Buzz tries to steal a utility belt and is reprimanded by another Buzz and locked back in “his box.”

Randy Newman won some acclaim for the music in the films, with Oscar nominations for You’ve Got a Friend in Me and When She Loved Me. The writing in the films is superb (earning an Oscar nomination), and with enough pop culture references to rival Shrek. These include The Shining, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Star Trek, Jurassic Park, Alien, and, my personal favorite, nearly an entire scene stolen from The Empire Strikes Back. There’s no shortage of action, either, as the toys contend with airport baggage, a maniacal child, driving a car, and crossing a major roadway in parking cones.

The third movie in the series continues the emotional weight of Toy Story 2, but beefs up the action considerably. The days of playtime are long over, as Andy prepares to leave for college. And as he struggles to decide whether to store them in the attic, bring them to school, or donate them, the toys have their own internal struggle about their life’s purpose. Do they exist to exclusively bring joy to their owner, or are do they deserve to choose their own fate in playtime popularity? The gags in this last installment are some of the funniest, and the sinister class system at the daycare they wind up at riffs on prison escape movies ingeniously.

The real highlight of the movie is the ending. This genuinely sad moment just might bring on tears, and if you think about how ridiculous that is, it just goes to show you how well Pixar did in giving life to a group of inanimate objects.


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