Director: John Lasseter
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Erik Von Detten
Plot: Woody (Hanks) is Andy’s prize toy, a position that is thrown into disarray when his owner buys a new Space Ranger action figure, Buzz Lightyear (Allen).
Pixar have a long list of successes to their name. While we are beginning to dive into an unfortunate sequel fascination which has definitely marred their record, for a long time, Pixar were one of the most consistent animation studios out there. The joy of Pixar’s work is seeing their quality scripts remain the forefront of their work, the visual pastiche, no matter how good, always coming second. Their USP is taking a subject we haven’t thought about before and sharing that viewpoint with us, so we get to see the world from another pair of eyes. For the younger audience the films are aimed at, this encourages empathy with the unknown and to view the world without unjustified prejudice.
This trend started with Toy Story. The question that will have movie-goers debating for hours is have Pixar ever managed to top their first movie? And this is nothing to do with a lack of success in their later years, their follow-ups impressive in their own way. Finding Nemo had beauty, Up had emotion and Coco had intelligence. All the films in between could be argued to be equally strong. It is just that Pixar really set the bar with that first entry. The thought of toys coming to life was absolutely genius, throwing the imagination of every child in the cinema in the air. Imagine watching this movie for the first time and coming home to your set of toys. The joy and creativity that must have come from that experience. But Pixar made this resounding success feel so easy. Ignore the fact that this was the first feature length digitally animated movie to hit the cinemas. Ignore the fact that Pixar were up against animation giants, Disney. They simply relaxed into an engaging tale. The characters burst into life without any build-up. Each toy is primarily characterised by their undying loyalty which, even when each character shows off unlikeable quirks, keeps them embedded into the audience’s hearts. We are as connected to them as we would be with our own toys. Woody is instantly charismatic. Mr Potato Head is loveably grouchy. And who doesn’t love the sheer joy constantly plastered on Rex’s face? The story simply spends its first few moments having fun with its set-up, poking harmless fun at childhood nostalgia. The plot really only kicks off when the toys’ owner buys a new action figure and begins cherishing it above the others. Irritated at new toy’s, the iconic Buzz Lightyear, refusal to admit he is just a toy and not a real space ranger, a boiling pot of bitter jealously soon begins to rise. While they are definitely real human emotions at play here, which allows moralistic children tales to come into play, the joy of Pixar is more of a ‘What if’ scenario. How can a toy protect itself from an owner that purposefully breaks them? Surely the relationship between a child and his toy can only be one-way? Pixar line up these questions and begin answering them in amusing and logical ways. They open up a universe and guide us through our own exploration of the rules of their brand new and exciting world.
The hard work done Pixar focus on creating strong moments. One would forgive Pixar for doing what many other animation movies do and coast through the rest of the work. But director Lasseter doesn’t slow down his momentum, creating more and more sequences that impress us. Animated movies are rarely remembered for their director, especially when working for a big production company, but Lasseter deserves to be recognised for a strong creative talent for his work on Toy Story. There is a wonderful shot in this movie where Buzz realises he is, after all, just a toy. The shot starts on a close-up but zooms out, slowly asserting just how big a world Buzz is in. It is a sobering scene that is usually reserved for live action OSCAR movies, rarely an animated children’s film. The action is strong too, threat coming in the form of a malicious teenage boy and his bull terrier Scud that likes to chew on unwary toys. That finale as the heroes race to catch up with a moving truck is the sort of sequence that has you tightening your grip on whatever object is close to you. And then there is the dialogue (thank you Joss Whedon!) that throws quip after quip at us, truly putting Toy Story into the realms of true classic.
Final Verdict: Toy Story is undeniably one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, animated movie we’ve had. An absolute masterpiece.