The 1995 film focuses on Woody (Tom Hanks) who is the favorite toy of Andy (John Morris). At Andy’s birthday party, he receives a Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) toy and immediately becomes fond of it. Buzz, after all, is made of plastic, has buttons that play recorded phrases, a laser, and wings that fold out. Wouldn’t that be the coolest toy ever? Woody begins to feel unloved and becomes jealous of Buzz. When Andy’s family goes out to Pizza Planet, Woody and Buzz become separated thanks to Buzz thinking he is actually a space hero, only to be taken by the vicious Sid (Erik von Detten), who mutilates and tortures toys. Meanwhile the two toys have to find a way to get back home before Andy’s family moves.
Toy Story was the first animated film to made entirely with CGI, shattering conventions of animation that would eventually result in almost every animated film eventually being made with CGI. If you compare the animation of Toy Story to Ratatouille, the animation isn’t nearly as breathtaking, particularly with the creation of the humans and their expressiveness and hair. But considering that it was the first film to be completely computer animated, it is incredibly impressive. It’s even more impressive if you compare the animation in this to the animation in Meet the Robinsons or Chicken Little, both of which were made by Disney. There is an immense amount of detail in things such as asphalt on a road, a battered up car or toy, or the residence of the film’s antagonist. Between the hideous wallpaper and carpet and the dim lighting in every scene that occurs in Sid’s bedroom, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me now that I was unable to sit through all scenes with Sid when the film came out in theaters because of how terrified I was.
Yet the entire film feels like something fresh from 90s animation. All of the major characters are complex, Woody being a seemingly confident yet insecure toy while Buzz is the hot shot who suffers disappointment when he comes to terms with reality. These don’t merely feel like plot devices, they feel like genuine emotions coming from toys. The script also shows a maturity that seems abnormal in comparison to other films of that time period, such as dealing with character’s fears and making adult comments that aren’t crass, such as Rex (Wallace Shawn) telling Buzz, “And I’m from Mattel. Well, I’m not really from Mattel. I’m actually from a smaller company that was purchased in a leverage buyout.” Among those things is Sid’s treatment of toys, a stark contrast to that of Andy who loves all of his, but usually finds a favorite. Sid, on the other hand, mutilates toys for fun, using large tools one would find in a workspace. He straps toys to explosive devices, also for fun. Simply because of what he does, Sid is easily one of the most terrifying villans from an animated film released in the 90s, without considering his menacing looking braces.
Furthermore, the film did something else that seemed abnormal for major animated films of that time period: it tossed aside the formula. While Randy Newman’s songs, including the now well-known “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” are there, they provide more of a feel for a scene—there are also only three songs performed by Newman, unlike the five songs written and performed by Phil Collins for Tarzan with mostly the same effect. And absent in this film is the cute funny sidekick. Buzz and Woody are more like a comedy duo, Woody being the straight man. As far as I can tell, this would be the first major film to do that, Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and Warner Brothers’ The Iron Giant to later do the same.
When I wrote about The Prince of Egypt, I had questioned whether or not Dreamworks would be as successful as they with animation had that film been so good. The same can be asked about Pixar. Their debut full-length film shattered the conventions of animation utilizing something that would eventually become seemingly standard in American animated films. The film manages to have a sweet story with just enough of a darkness to make it realistic without overpowering the film. Somehow, this simple yet strong and clever film manages to hold up with time and remind a viewer why Pixar is one of the best known animation studios out there.