When 1994 ended, one of the greatest years in movie history ended (sorry, 1939!). Pulp Fiction brought about John Travolta’s comeback. Shawshank Redemption became the greatest prison drama film of all time (sorry, Escape from Alcatraz). Forrest Gump showed audiences worldwide what was possible when meshing history with Tom Hanks. Two of today’s renowned directors showcased their abilities in their directorial debuts, Kevin Smith with Clerks and before he went to Middle Earth, Peter Jackson with Heavenly Creatures . Then, there was, at that point, in what my opinion was the crowning achievement in animation, The Lion King.
The Lion King had beautifully drawn 2-D characters that told an epic story, one that was Shakespearean in scope. (Not really surprising…it was loosely based on “Hamlet”.) It had music beautifully composed and songs that were written by Elton John. It had voices provided by James Earl Jones (that booming voice), Jeremy Irons and Whoopi Goldberg. It had memorable characters, from Simba to Mufasa to Scar, and these characters live on today on stage in its successful musical production. It couldn’t possibly be beaten, right?
Of course…then comes 1995, which would bring about a film that would change the game of animation forever. Today, CGI has become a major factor in many animated feature films and it all began with Pixar, the company behind this film.
The movie is, of course, Toy Story – the first computer generated feature film and the reason for the success of many films that would follow, not just from Pixar, but other studios from DreamWorks, Sony and Universal. So, in a way, I guess you could say that Toy Story became a test subject for other films and succeeded in its mission to prove that films could be spectacular and tell an emotional story, too.
Toy Story, in case you’ve been living on an uninhabited island for the past 24 years, is about a group of toys that learn about friendship and try to overcome the elements that test it. Voiced by the aforementioned Hanks, Woody is the leader of a gang of toys that include Mr. Potato Head (the late Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (the late Jim Varney), Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn) and Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), plus various other toys owned by Andy (voiced by John Morris).
The story begins with Andy’s birthday party and causes the toys to become stressed that one of them may be replaced with a new toy. As the party moves forward, they become relieved when there are no new gadgets that can break their bond…but wait, just as they are about to go back to their normal duties, in comes the introduction of Andy’s newest gift, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen).
It is at this point in the film that a common trait emerges that can be apparent in us – envy. The reason why the film works is because of how relatable these toys become. Imagine being the popular kid in the neighborhood until a new boy or girl moves in to the area and gets much of the attention. We’ve been there, whether it’s at home, school or work and we can sense how Woody feels with the arrival of Buzz. In turn, Woody begins to feel isolated, which in turn makes him jealous and annoyed.
Through the rage and frustration that Woody is feeling, he accidentally causes Buzz to topple out the window. The other toys don’t see it the same way and feel it was done on purpose, thus we get Woody now feeling misunderstood as well (another feeling, I’m sure, we know all too well). Andy, who begins to look for Buzz and can’t find him, has to settle for Woody. And so Andy, his mom and Woody make the journey to “Pizza Planet”. Also, joining them is Buzz and after a series of mishaps, both he and Woody find themselves in the “Claw Machine”. Of course, they’re “won” as a prize and the winner is Andy’s next door neighbor, Sid.
Woody begins to realize that he has to work with Buzz in order to escape the wrath and crazy antics of Sid and in order to do so, they need the help of Sid’s other mutilated toys. In the meantime, Buzz goes from “happy-go-lucky” to depressed when he finds out that he’s just a toy. It is now Woody that needs to turn him around and get him to realize that without him, they won’t be able to return home. Just like human relationships, the friendship between Woody and Buzz starts rocky, but begins to grow with mutual admiration. Woody and Buzz escape Sid’s lair.
They realize that they missed the departure of Andy and company. Involving a dog, a race car and a rocket, the other toys realize that Woody is trying to help Buzz, not hurt him. Soon, they land in the back seat and Andy, who thought he had lost both of them, is reunited with them. As the first film ends, Woody and Buzz and the rest of the gang end up in the new home.
Up to this point, this animated gem is the most realistic film in the genre with lively characters and personalities that match our own. It’s a film about friendship and about sharing a bond and using (especially if you’re an 80s kid), familiar moments in our own childhood. Not only does this film set out to accomplish a legacy, but it’s the reason for Pixar’s success for almost 25 years.
FINAL GRADE: A
What kind of childhood memories, if any, does this film evoke for you? Do you see other themes in the film? Is there a Pixar film you believe to better? Sound off in the “Comments” section and next time, I will be reviewing the second installment in the series.