US Release Date: 11-22-1995
Directed by: John Lasseter
- Tom Hanks, as
- Woody (voice)
- Tim Allen, as
- Buzz Lightyear (voice)
- Don Rickles, as
- Mr. Potato Head (voice)
- Jim Varney, as
- Slinky Dog (voice)
- Wallace Shawn, as
- Rex (voice)
- John Ratzenberger, as
- Hamm (voice)
- Annie Potts, as
- Bo Peep (voice)
- John Morris, as
- Andy (voice)
- Erik von Detten, as
- Sid (voice)
- R. Lee Ermey, as
- Sergeant (voice)
- Sarah Freeman as
- Hannah (voice)
Tom Hanks voices Woody the cowboy in Pixar's Toy Story.
It's hard to imagine now, but Toy Story was actually a gamble when it was released. This was Pixar's first feature-length cartoon and was the first feature film released to use only computer-generated imagery. There was some question whether or not audiences would embrace computer generated characters and whether or not this small studio (owned by Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computer) could produce a hit. Any doubts were erased immediately when Toy Story opened at number one and went on to earn $191 million in the US and $356 million worldwide.
The greatest thing about Toy Story is that while it broke new ground technically, the real genius is in the writing. Partly written by Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the script is smart, filled with great characters, snappy dialogue, funny situations and fast-paced plot. Although the look would have been very different, it would have worked with the crudest animation. The fact that it also features fantastic (especially for the time) computer generated imagery, is really just a bonus.
What child hasn't imagined that their toys come to life when they're not around? That's the central plot element to the movie. The main characters are the toys owned by a young boy named Andy. Woody the cowboy is Andy's favorite toy when the movie opens, but he owns quite a few; a Mr. Potato-Head, a dinosaur, a slinky dog, a piggy bank, etc., and all of these and other toys come to life when people aren't around. The pecking order of the toys is thrown into disarray when Andy receives a new toy, a Buzz Lightyear, who quickly replaces Woody as Andy's favorite toy. The plot is complicated by the fact that Buzz doesn't realize that he's a toy. He thinks he really is a Space Ranger and it's up to Woody to restore order to the bedroom while dealing with Buzz's delusion and the psycho boy next door.
There are many classic moments in this movie, too many to mention all, but I have to single out just a couple of my favorites. At one point Woody and Buzz end up inside one of those arcade machines where you can try to grab prizes with a metallic claw. Inside the the machine are a group of three-eyed little green men who worship the claw. "The Claw is our master. The Claw chooses who will go and who will stay." My other favorite scene is when Buzz finally realizes that he is just a toy and ends up drunk on tea at a make-believe tea party dressed in an apron and a flowery hat, calling himself Mrs. Nesbitt. When Woody asks him what happened, he replies, "One minute you're defending the whole galaxy, and, suddenly, you find yourself sucking down Darjeeling with Marie Antoinette and her little sister."
Tom Hanks as Woody and Tim Allen as Buzz provide stalwart voice work in the lead roles and share a great chemistry together. The smaller parts though are also well done. Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn and John Ratzenberger all deliver some very funny lines as the supporting toys. For Ratzenberger this would be the beginning of his long association with Pixar as he is the only actor to do a voice in all of Pixar's feature films to date.
Now, almost 15 years since its release (and a year before Toy Story 3 is due to be released), Pixar is at the pinnacle of animation studios. All 10 of its releases have been huge hits. They've won Oscars and numerous other awards. They had a power struggle with Walt Disney and emerged hands-down the winner. And they've deserved their success and kept their animated output at a high level. The combination of Steve Jobs business acumen and John Lasseter's creative talents has created a true Hollywood powerhouse beyond anything they must have imagined fifteen years ago.
Toy Story is a great look at childhood. Andy is how we want to think of all children. He plays nicely with his toys. He uses his imagination. “I brought my dinosaur, he leaps forcefield dogs.” He gets excited over his birthday, and his birthday presents, well except for maybe the bed sheets, "Who invited that kid?" Everyone knew a Sid, or were a Sid themselves growing up. He breaks his toys and rebuilds them. “No-one has ever attempted a double bypass brain transplant before.” He likes to use his imagination as well. When it comes to small children, there is one simple rule about toys. In six months, if the toy is still in great shape, the child never cared for it. A damaged toy is a sure sign the child played with it.
Toy Story works on another level. Like a child whose mother just gave birth, Woody feels neglected as the new baby is getting all of the attention. Woody was the king of the toy box and went every where with Andy. He has to learn to share Andy with another toy, “Well, if you hadn't shown up with your stupid little cardboard spaceship and taken away everything that was important to me...” Like children growing up, the toys must learn to adapt to new situations. "What if Andy gets another dinosaur? A mean one? I don't think I can take that kind of rejection!"
The most unique aspect of Toy Story is that it reminds adults of those few briefs years where a mere toy could mean so much to them. My brothers and I only got toys on our birthday or Christmas. Those toys meant a lot to us. We used our imaginations. The little green Army men, that spy on Andy’s birthday party, remind me of when I use to play with my set of green Army men with a friend, in his sand box. I also recall finding some of my Mom’s old Barbie dolls and cutting their hair off. I guess we all have a some Andy and Sid in us.
Woody and Buzz in Toy Story.
The decade of the 1890s saw the birth of the art form known as the cinema. A century later the 1990s saw the birth of the computer generated image. With the exception of the transition from silent to talkie this has proved the greatest technological advance in the history of film. No longer are movies simply a series of photographed images. Today they are equally likely to have been created on a computer.
The motion picture industry is now forever changed. Although animated movies had made an unexpected comeback in the early 1990s (with Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King) after becoming nearly extinct in the 1970s and 80s, it is unlikely they would be the overwhelming box office juggernaut they are today without the invention of CGI.
As my brothers wrote, Toy Story is a wonderful movie about childhood innocence and imagination. It took familiar toys and turned them into iconic screen characters. The setting is perfect, the story simple yet affecting and the plot snappy. This is a nearly perfect movie.
As has been pointed out on this site many times, one test of a great movie is the dialogue. Did it create any oft-quoted lines that have stood the test of time? Toy Story certainly did. Its most famous line, of course, being Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase, “To infinity, and beyond!” But there are many other highly quotable bits from this movie.
How about this memorable exchange between Woody and Buzz? Woody: “You are a child's play thing!” Buzz: “You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.” Don Rickles, as Mr. Potato Head, says a variation on one of his most famous insults, “You uncultured swine! What're you lookin' at, ya hockey puck?” Buzz gets one of my favorite – and one of the movies’ most clever – lines, “I need to repair my turbo boosters. Are you still using fossil fuels, or have you discovered crystallic fusion?”
Toy Story was revolutionary as the very first feature length movie to be created entirely by computers. As such it isn’t merely a hugely entertaining movie, it ranks alongside The Jazz Singer as one of the most historically important and innovative movies in history.
Photos © Copyright Pixar Studios (1995)