TOY STORY

(1995)
With the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts
Directed by John Lasseter
Style: Computer Generated
Reviewed by JB

To fastfood restaurant tie-ins and beyond!     It would be only a little exaggeration to say that Pixar's TOY STORY killed traditional 2D animation in the way THE JAZZ SINGER killed silent movies.  Certainly, traditional animation is not completely dead, but the most popular animated films since the release of TOY STORY have been almost exclusively computer-created.  And since TOY STORY, CG-animation has advanced by leaps and bounds - just look at THE INCREDIBLES for one prime example.

     Yet, a decade later, TOY STORY is still as delightful, charming and watchable as it was when it was first released.  The animation is near-perfect (more on that later) but what makes TOY STORY such a wonderful film are the characters.  The lead toys, Cowboy Woody and Buzz Lighytyear, as voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, are not only funny but recognizable.  We all know someone (or perhaps are someone) who fears losing somebody's affection as Woody is, or is as stubbornly self-deluded as Buzz Lightyear.  Woody and Buzz make for a comedy team as human as Laurel and Hardy, with their personalities playing against each other in ways that are not only funny but emotionally involving. Allen gets many of the best lines, while Hanks' gets most of his laughs from his sputtering reactions ("You --- are --- a ---- TOY!!!") to the thick-headed but good-hearted space cadet.  Both roles rank with the actors' best comedic work.

     The script relies on wit and sight gags rather than the self-aware topical reference humor that mars many an animated film these days.  Joss Whedon, a writer on Roseanne and later to become a cult figure as the creator of several genre-defying fantasy programs (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly), was one of the main screenwriters.  I'm not going to say that every good joke was his, because, really, who knows?  But his smart approach to dialogue and characterization is evident everywhere.  A line like "That wasn't flying - that was falling, with style" could have easily come from the mouth of Whedon's vampire-slaying Buffy Summers or one of the space-traveling crew members from his sci-fi - slash - western film SERENITY.  Other characters get their share of the laughs, especially Mr. Potato Head, played by Don Rickles.  Not only does he get to say "What are you looking at, you hockey puck?" to an actual hockey puck, but also scores with some of the best gags in the picture, none of which I am going to spoil here.

     As stated above, the animation of TOY STORY is near-perfect.  However, the movie might have worked even better had the human parts been live-action instead of animated.  Outstanding as the evil neighbor child Sid is as an animated creation, the story may have gained more poignancy had Andy, the child who owns both Woody and Buzz, been played by an actual child.  The problem (and I admit it is not a problem to millions of other fans of this movie) is that the animated human characters look too much like toys themselves to be completely effective. Certainly, Laurie Metcalfe, who voices the part of Andy's mother, would have been superb to play the same role in a live-action capacity. As putrid, evil and vomit-worthy as the film version of THE CAT IN THE HAT was, its style - real people interacting in a cartoony computer-animated world - may have worked for TOY STORY.  And I love Randy Newman, but he keeps writing the same sound-alike retro theme songs for every film he does.  With facial animation this excellent, we really don't need somebody singing on the soundtrack to inform us what these characters are thinking at any given moment.  Thankfully, he is limited to only three songs.

     Still, these are minor complaints.  TOY STORY is excellent anyway just as it is, and if it has been surpassed stylistically by films that came in its wake, so what?  SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, the grand-momma of all animated features, is still a pretty good little picture too, and like SNOW WHITE, TOY STORY will remain a popular film for years to come.  Perhaps, even, "to infinity and beyond!". 4 ½ - JB 

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