Toy Story

(1995) **** G
81 min. Walt Disney Studios Distribution. Director: John Lasseter. Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn.

/content/films/3731/1.jpgInventing a singular pop culture character that demonstrates staying power is no mean feat. When was the last time a "classic" character debuted that had maximum penetration with the American viewing public? In the age of remakes and reimaginings, the big superheroes and super-spies and cartoon characters are mostly long in the tooth (okay, 2001 saw the rise of Jack Bauer). One of the many remarkable achievements of 1995's Toy Story is that it introduced not one but two indelible characters to the pop culture pantheon: cowboy rag-doll Woody (Tom Hanks) and plastic space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen).

Toy Story was also a seminal picture in animation history as the first feature from Pixar Animation Studios (under the aegis of the Disney corporation), and the first animated feature to employ solely CGI. Director John Lasseter is now the unofficial dean of American animation. Amid a team of writers that included Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, and genre whiz Joss Whedon  (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), two went on to collect Oscars for directing their own Pixar features: Wall•e's Andrew Stanton and Up's Pete Docter. Toy Story nabbed three Oscar nominations, two for the music of Randy Newman (Newman contributed the score and three songs: "You've Got a Friend in Me," "Strange Things" and "I Will Go Sailing No More").

Operating from the premise that toys come to life when left alone, Toy Story imbues familiar toy archetypes (and many brand-name products) with tons of personality, most of it in the form of anxieties: jealousy and fear of rejection. In the world of toys, an owner's birthday is a cause for alarm: "in with the new" roommates and, worse, a threat of "out with the old" toys. Though he loves his pull-string talking Woody ("There's a snake in my boot!"), young Andy (John Morris) is thrilled to receive a tricked-out Buzz Lightyear ("To infinity—and beyond!"), complete with space suit, laser, karate-chop action and retractable wings. Adding pressure is the family's impending move, leading the toys to wonder who'll become "garage sale fodder." Panic makes matters worse, when a trip to theme restaurant Pizza Planet ends up with Woody and Buzz stranded miles from home. Though the two are anything but friends, Woody and Buzz must join forces to survive.

For a film of only eighty-one minutes, Toy Story brims to overflowing with character and incident. The toys include plenty of old classics: Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), a piggy bank named Hamm (John Ratzenberger), little green army men (led by R. Lee Ermey), Rex the T. Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Woody's de facto girlfriend Little Bo Peep (Annie Potts), as well as an Etch-a-Sketch, a remote control car, and others. And then there's a freaky coterie of misfit toys living in the shadows since being tortured and disfigured by Andy's sadistic bad-boy neighbor Sid (Erik van Detten). Elegant "camera work," Gary Rydstrom's brilliant sound design,  endless keenly timed clever sight gags, and expertly designed action sequences keep the energy cooking.

With Woody and Buzz (as well as a '50s skewing style created in modern supercomputers), Toy Story nicely engages nostalgia for retro stylings along with the appeal of the latest technology. But its most audacious stroke is to allow Buzz to think he's the one and only Buzz, only to come face to faces with a wall of dopplegangers and the existential realization he was "Made in Taiwan." For all this clever noodling, the film's charm always boils down to character. By the time Buzz levels against Woody the withering line "You are a sad, strange little man," we know we're in buddy-comedy heaven.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/1/2011

Distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Not surprisingly, Toy Story is reference-quality A/V material on Disney Blu-ray, especially in its new Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack. Though Toy Story succumbs to ghosting on occasion, its Blu-ray 3D imagery is surprisingly impressive for a film from 1995: some of the action seems expressly intended for 3D exhibition (though, obviously, it wasn't): all in all, it's a fine conversion of source material that, while never before shown in a 3D format, originally took three dimensions in a computer. That 3D transfer expands upon the beautiful 2D transfer, losing none of its bright color and crisp detail; both transfers complement a rollicking DTS-HD Master 5.1 mix that ideally renders Rydstrom's complex sonic landscape and Newman's Oscar-nominated music. Of course, the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack is a feature-laden Special Edition with brand-new hi-def bonuses as well as a ton of archival extras.

Returning is the pleasingly warm and information-packed audio commentary by director John Lasseter, co-writer Andrew Stanton, supervising animator Pete Docter, art director Ralph Eggleston, supervising technical director Bill Reeves and producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold.

New bonuses include "Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: 'The Story'" (2:07, HD) with director Lee Unkrich; "Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off" (3:28, HD), which finds an actual Buzz in actual outer space; studio staff profile "Paths to Pixar - Artists" (4:47, HD) with digital painter Tia Kratter, lighting TD Bill Wise, animation scientist Sharon Calahan, and Eggleston; "Buzz Takes Manhattan" (2:12, HD), with Lasseter and Pixar creative director for theme parks Roger Gould explaining Buzz's role in the Thanksgiving Day Parade; a trio of simply animated "Studio Stories": "John's Car" (1:27, HD), "Baby AJ" (1:40, HD) and "Scooter Races" (2:18, HD), narrated by various staffers.

Chief among the new features is the historically significant "Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw" (7:36, HD), which not only recounts the turning point in the film's development, but unveils an early reel that Lasseter now finds embarrassing. Participants include Lasseter, president of Pixar & Disney Animation Ed Catmull, Docter, Cars co-director Joe Ranft, former president of Disney Animation Thomas Schumacher, and Stanton.

The bonuses roll on with great archival features that will be familiar to owners of previous editions: "Filmmakers Reflect" (16:35, SD) with Lasseter, Stanton, Docter, and Ranft; "Making Toy Story" (20:17, SD), "The Legacy of Toy Story" (11:42, SD), "Designing Toy Story" (6:12, SD), ten Deleted Scenes (9:50, SD), and sections devoted to Design, Story, Production, Music & Sound, and Publicity that branch out to featurettes, galleries, early production footage, character interviews, music videos, and more.

This is definitely the way to see Toy Story on home video—until the 3D Blu-ray rolls around, anyway...

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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