Toy Story (1995)    2 Stars

“Guts of steel”


Toy Story (1995)

Director: John Lasseter

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles

Synopsis: A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.

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As a kid I always had a sneaking suspicion that my toys had a secret life when I was out of the room; sometimes action man seemed to have ever-so-slightly changed position while I was gone (until, that is, he broke in two and I had to pretend he was forever trapped up to his waist in quicksand…), and it seems that I wasn’t the only one; it looks as though John Lasseter and his mates at some point realised that they too had all fallen victim to the same incipient childhood paranoia. Had they not been employed by Disney and Pixar, it’s quite conceivable that they might have built a horror picture around the idea, but they chose instead to follow a more family-friendly path which would set a new standard in movie animation.

Young Andy has a lot of toys, and when he’s otherwise pre-occupied they fill their time attending plastic corrosion awareness meetings and fretting over whether their young owner is getting a new toy that might replace one of them. Birthdays and Christmases are particularly stressful times, and Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), the leader of this community by virtue of the fact that he has long been Andy’s favourite, employs the plastic soldiers in Andy’s collection to launch a recon mission to spy on him whenever he opens a new present. One day, the unthinkable happens and Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) action figure for his birthday. Buzz has cool lasers and wings and a range of snappy one-liners (‘to infinity and beyond!’) which pretty much put Woody’s pull-cord messages in the shade, and it’s not long before Buzz is competing with him to be Andy’s favourite toy. Understandably threatened by the popularity of this new addition to the group, Woody lets jealousy get the better of him, but when his attempt to ‘lose’ Buzz under Andy’s bed goes awry and the space explorer gets jettisoned out of the bedroom window, the other toys, believing Woody intentionally tried to break Buzz, turn against him.

Pixar tapped into a rich vein with Toy Story. We never forget the toys we had as a child, and how important they were to us, and it’s this enduring attachment to them that gives Toy Story a massive head start from the outset. As we watch the story unfold the continual reminders of our own beloved childhood toys bathe us in a warm glow of nostalgia and, as stupid as it might sound, we find ourselves, on some near-subconscious level, hoping our own toys were as devoted to us as Andy’s are to him. When Buzz and Woody find themselves stranded at a gas station — ‘I’m a lost toy!’ wails Woody with an anguish that touches home — they can think of nothing other than getting back home to be reunited with their owner.

To be fair, Buzz is a more exciting toy than Woody, whom most kids would have virtually ignored as soon as they unwrapped their new toy (our real attachment to our toys usually only manifests itself in adulthood), and the fact that he truly believes he is a space adventurer rather than a plastic toy means we sympathise more with him than we do with Woody, which perhaps wasn’t their creators original intention, seeing as Woody is the lead character. The other toys are an endearing bunch even though they are strictly supports with few acts of any significance to perform. Of these characters, it’s probably Mr. Potato Head (voiced by Don Rickles) who makes the biggest impression. Also memorable are the Frankenstein toys who live beneath the bed of the truly fearsome Sid, the destructive kid next door who likes nothing more than blowing up his toys or taking them apart and re-assembling them in ways they were never meant to be. These characters, although good guys, are undeniably creepy, and in fact, the one-eyed baby doll would be returned to in a fashion in the third instalment of the franchise.

It’s difficult to believe that, at the time of writing, the first Toy Story movie is nearly 20 years old. It holds a place in history as the first fully computer generated animated feature, and still looks pretty good today. It’s true that the fur of Sid’s dog doesn’t look too realistic, and the humans are still fairly cartoonish, but its surfaces have a texture that you want to reach out and touch, and while the visual look of computer-animated movies like Toy Story loses some of its charm, the strength and excitement of the storytelling more than make up for any shortcomings, most of which have since been ironed out in subsequent attempts, both by Pixar and other animation houses.

(Reviewed 15th April 2013)