Toy Story (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Ever wonder how toys apparently get from one place to another with no human help? Toy Story, Disney's first feature-length foray into computer animation, postulates that they do it all by themselves. Toys have their own magical world which comes to life any time the lights are out or people aren't around. Any who doubt this should take a look at Toy Story. You'll never again feel quite the same way about Mr. Potato Head, Monkeys in a Barrel, or Slinkies.

Of course, the visual aspect is the centerpiece of Toy Story. The computer-generated effects are a marvel. Rich in unexpected detail (the grain of a wood floor, fingerprints and chipped paint on a door, reflections in polished surfaces, and so on...), this colorful and brilliantly-rendered aspect of the film would alone be worth the price of admission. It's something of a bonus that the characters, dialogue, and story provide entertainment value of their own.

Toy Story is a buddy movie/adventure tale with an understated lesson about the value of friendship. Parents might also be able to use some of what transpires to encourage their offspring to put away toys after playtime. While the screenplay isn't a marvel of originality, it is capable of holding the attention - light, undemanding fun that never gets too immature or syrupy. There's also quite a bit of intelligent wit that will go above the heads of younger viewers - that stuff's for Mom and Dad.

The two main characters are toys: cowboy Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), the old-time favorite, and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen), the battery-operated newcomer. The supporting cast includes a dinosaur (voice of Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato Head (voice of Don Rickles), a piggy bank (voice of John Ratzenberger), a slinkie (voice of Jim Varney), Little Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts), and an army of tiny plastic soldiers who scout out the new arrivals on birthdays and Christmas. The humans who appear in Toy Story are intentionally rendered to look artificial. In this movie, people are "unreal"; all the vividness and multi-dimensionality is saved for the toys. But that's a typical convention of animation.

Toy Story opens with Buzz's arrival. Woody is upset that this high-tech neophyte has usurped his rightful place on the bedspread and in his six-year old owner's play time. The disgruntled cowboy comes up with a plan to eliminate Buzz, but it backfires, and soon the two rivals are out in the real world, forced to help each other in their struggle to escape the clutches of a toy-torturing juvenile delinquent.

How does Toy Story compare to Disney's more conventional animated features? They're really very different types of productions. This film is less artistic and more technologically impressive. Despite a few Randy Newman songs, it's not really a musical. Of course, the target audience is the same, and everything from Disney embraces "family values", but it's difficult - and unfair - to make an effective contrast of the two film making styles.

The one big negative about Toy Story involves Disney's overcommercialization. Already, Woody and Buzz dolls line store shelves. Burger King is coming out with figurines. It won't be long before the movie is drowned in hype. So, from the perspective of pure entertainment, it's a good idea to see Toy Story before the deluge of promotions becomes so excessive that it turns off every adult. Frankly, the movie deserves a less ignominious fate than the marketing overkill which will surely overcome it.

Toy Story (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 1:21
U.S. Release Date: 1995-11-22
MPAA Rating: "G" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1