The first computer-generated feature film could have been any number of lackluster productions, but as luck would have it, the pioneering feat was accomplished by the most skilled storytellers in the animation business, the folks at Pixar. Toy Story was an intrinsic part of my childhood; with the exception of Hamm, Jessie, and Bullseye, I owned all of the main characters. Woody and Buzz Lightyear are among the most beloved animated characters ever created, and they were introduced at the perfect time in my youth for me to become attached to them as more than just throwaway kiddie entertainment.
The first Toy Story may look dated in its animation compared with Pixar’s more recent endeavors, but even if the humans are lacking, the CGI is ideal for the plastic residents of Andy’s room. With the unique look at suburbia from a toy’s perspective, it was the first glimpse of the immense imagination at work at Pixar, able to introduce an ensemble of characters and make everyone both lovable in their own way and wisely merchandisable. Almost everybody has owned a toy and can thus appreciate the characters’ obvious desire to be loved and valued by their owner. While this connection to the heart allows these inanimate objects to become as real as any animated human or talking animal, the sly humor keeps the entertainment value at a 10, thanks largely to the sterling voice cast. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were in their heyday in 1995, fresh from dual Oscar wins for Hanks and the success of “Home Improvement” and The Santa Clause for Allen, but, unlike some more recent celebrity voiceovers, both were undoubtedly the best choice. Their progression from rivals to buddies is both hilarious and convincing, supplemented by a host of golden supporting characters, like Wallace Shawn’s timid Rex, John Ratzenberger’s clever Hamm, and Don Rickles’ belligerent Mr. Potato Head. The film won a special Academy Award, predating the creation of the Best Animated Feature Oscar by six years.
As perfect as the original film is, Toy Story 2 is even better. The first film took its core concept (that toys come to life when we’re not looking) and ran with it, giving them real emotions of affection, envy, betrayal, and dejection; the sequel further explores the expansive possibilities of toydom: being broken, being forgotten and abandoned, being just one of countless doppelgangers, being valued as a collectible rather than a child’s plaything. The imagination keeps coming, with greater danger, more memorable characters (Joan Cusack’s Jessie, Kelsey Grammer’s Stinky Pete), and some unexpected laugh-out-loud references to Jurassic Park and Star Wars. Jessie’s backstory, in particular, still wets my eyes and instilled in me what I call “toy guilt,” a reluctance to give up old toys for fear of traumatizing them (I’ve since gotten over it, mostly). The fact that the film was essentially a rush job due to over-optimistic scheduling makes its achievement even more impressive. Since I consider it the best of the trilogy, it’s a shame it’s the only one that didn’t win an Oscar.
I was skeptical about Toy Story 3, a sequel released a full decade after its predecessor, but it delivered the Pixar goods against all odds. While it’s not quite on par with the first two, the improved animation is worlds away and the same unbridled imagination is at work in the creation of a prison camp day care ruled by a plush bear (a grandfatherly Ned Beatty). The film supposedly introduces at least 150 new characters, and I believe it; from the teeming playroom at Sunnyside, full of under-utilized voice talent, to Bonnie’s room (including a Totoro, courtesy of John Lasseter’s fascination with Miyazaki), the new faces are abundant and diverse, though not all quite as memorable. The film’s heart and action are plentiful, though the humor isn’t quite as generous (I didn’t find Buzz’s Spanish mode as funny as the filmmakers seemed to think it is). This threequel is a source of some contention between my VC and me. She was rather depressed at the loveless situation at the beginning and was left unsatisfied with Andy giving up his toys in the end, feeling that they should have awaited his children in the attic, like my Buzz and Woody currently are. Yet deep down, I think Andy knew that toys are meant to be played with, and children are their core happiness. As mentioned in Corinthians, he “put away childish things,” but not with the cold indifference of Emily in Toy Story 2; he took the time and effort to give them a fitting home and one last playtime to bid them goodbye. This was also important because he was able to pass on their names to Bonnie; without knowing the titles of Woody and Buzz, she might have called them Mrs. Nesbitt or some such moniker. As frighteningly dramatic as the dump sequence is, the final scenes are equally bittersweet, a near-perfect tear-inducing conclusion for these beloved characters. As much faith as I have in the creative minds at Pixar, I almost wish they would leave Toy Story 4 alone and avoid the potential stumble of fourth movies, which are even harder to pull off than threequels, as evidenced by the Pirates and Indiana Jones series.
Rotten Tomatoes indicates that the Toy Story films form the most acclaimed trilogy ever, with 100% for the first and second and a 99% for the third. I’ve enjoyed every one, as well as Buzz’s spinoff TV series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, a fun and imaginative sci-fi show from my youth. Though I’ve grown up parallel to Andy and outgrown my own childhood companions, at least I’ll never outgrow these beloved toy stories.Best line from Toy Story: (Woody) “YOU ARE A TOY! You aren’t the real Buzz Lightyear! You’re – you’re an action figure! You are a child’s plaything!” (Buzz) “You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity. Farewell.” Best line from Toy Story 2: (2nd Buzz, to Zurg) “I’ll never give in. You killed my father.” (Zurg) “No, Buzz, I am your father.” (2nd Buzz) “Noooooooo!” (a great line in any movie) Best line from Toy Story 3: (Jessie) “Woody, we were wrong to leave Andy. I—I was wrong….” (Mr. Potato Head) “Jessie’s right, Woody. She was wrong.” Rank: 60 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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