Monday, February 6, 2012

Toy Story (Lasseter. 1995)

"To infinity, and beyond!"

I remember when I was in kindergarten and all of my friends were talking about this movie that I had never seen. In the basic vernacular of a child, they all told me how it was the greatest movie in history. Everyone had t-shirts. lunchboxes and action figures while I was still without a clue.

If you fast-forward almost 20 years, the Toy Story franchise is still one of the biggest draws at the box office. Both of the sequels have gone on to gain unprecedented success for an animated feature, but nothing can touch the impact of the original. As the first movie to be completely computer animated, Toy Story is something that had a considerable cultural reaction. The universe was made primarily out of two bedrooms, but the journey takes place in the human imagination.

If you were to go back and watch some of the hand-drawn Disney classics - you may find that the world surrounding the characters is dull, uninhabited or stuffy. In Toy Story, almost everything is (literally) alive. There are scenes that twist, swoop and turn to show the audience that a new animation style has taken over. John Lasseter, a visionary in computer animation, deserves most of the credit. Lasseter is obviously a computer visionary and was able to make a movie where each frame required as much as 300 MBs of information.

Toy Story tells the story of a group of toys who come to life when their owner is out of the room. In this universe, all toys are alive. They have personalities that may not match their appearance, and have formed friendships with each other. The leader of the toys is their owner's (Andy) favorite - a draw-string cowboy named Woody. Voiced brilliantly by Tom Hanks, Woody's world is turned upside down when a state-of-the-art space ranger action figure named Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) enters the mix. What makes Buzz such a compelling character is that he, unlike the rest of the toys, is not in on the joke. He actually believes that he is a space ranger and scrambles to fix his ship (his cardboard packaging) in order to return home.

So we have a fancy new action figure and the jealous "favorite toy" battling for the affection of their peers - though Buzz seems to be unknowing. After a series of events, the two end up stranded at a gas station with no idea how to get home. Andy's horrible neighbor, Sid, finds Buzz and Woody and takes them to his demented bedroom that is littered with disfigured toys. You see, Sid is a psychopath who rips the heads off of his sister's dolls just so he can place them on other torn apart toys. If we as an audience are meant to give into the premise that toys are alive - that makes Sid's entire mythos horrifying. This kid is sick.

One thing that does stand out in an otherwise conventional "buddy-movie" is the scene where Buzz finds out that he is, in fact, just a toy. He looks up at the television screen and sees a commercial for his line of action figures. Hie face is dim with humiliation. He is not a space ranger. His life is a lie, and the audience feels for him. I may be digging here, but I think we all have that "just a toy" moment. It is a scene that thins that line between animated reality and deep, human self-reflection. It is more human than human.

Anyways, eventually the toys win in the end and Sid learns his lesson. But at the cost of how many killed toys? We are not supposed to look that deeply into it, I guess. The voice work is incredibly enjoyable, but the story may be unsophisticated and fluffy. It does offer enough gags to keep a child interested, and it is certainly entertaining enough for an adult audience. I feel weird even trying to say something original about Toy Story. This movie was a game-changer.

Toy Story: A

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