Cinematic Heaven: Toy Story

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Toy Story | John Lasseter, 1995

A few days ago, a few cousins came to my house with my uncle and aunt just to visit. They are 14, 13, and 9 years old. The 14 year old is the kind that just wants to hang out with his friends and is always glued to his cell phone. The 13 year old is one of those that only seem to talk about videogames. And the 9 year old is still figuring out what to do, but as of late he is the “too cool for school” type.  They said they were bored, and they had already seen Fantastic Mr. Fox, my latest to-go film for entertaining younger children. So I thought, “hey, Toy Story 3 is coming up soon, let’s watch the original.” They were like “whatev b” so I just put it on, and they went back to their texting and video gaming, and stuff. But once the Pixar logo came up and Andy is shown playing with Mr. Potato Head and Woody, they all looked at the screen and did not look away from the screen until the credits rolled. That right there is the power of good cinema, Toy Story, and Pixar.

If you think about it, the basic story should not be kind that would warrant this reaction. Sure, for a five year old (my age when the movie came out) the idea of toys coming to life is just about the coolest thing ever, but for an older kid, why would they care for that. The truth is that it is not about the story but what it is trying to tell.

Toy Story is about Woody (Tom Hanks), a cowboy doll and Andy’s favorite toy aa well the leader of the other toys. One day, for his birthday, Andy gets Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a space toy, with cool gadgets and movements. Naturally, it becomes Andy’s new favorite toy and that makes Woody mad. To make things worse, Buzz thinks he is the real Buzz Lightyear, which makes the other toys like him even more, and so that drives Woody to the edge. Buzz pushes him so far that he ends up throwing him out of a window. And through a series of events, they end up in Sid’s “the toy killer” house. Now, Woody must work with Buzz to get out of there before Andy and his family moves to a new home.

Like all the Pixar movies since, this takes on some rather mature subjects through a rather simple premise. While they were most definitely showing what they can do with computer, that took a back seat to the story about jealousy, its consequences, the importance of having a friend by your side, and identity crisis. And thank goodness it did, because 15 year later, the animation is starting to shot its age, but the story keeps it as fresh as it was, and fresher than about 90% of the animated movies that come out year after year.

One other thing that is important as the story and themes in keeping it fresh is the other aspects of the script. The dialogue is engaging and it never talks down to kids and or feels too childish for adults. Also, though it is filled with references to other movies, they are not the type that will age the movie (like Shrek in a few years). They reference things like Star Wars, Star Trek, Apocalypse Now, Alien, and many other movie that will be loved for years, so it won’t be aging (script wise) any time soon.

Also, there is the cast’s performance. This truly has got to be one of the finest ensemble performances ever in any medium. Tom Hanks was on a roll at that time, wining two Oscars in a row for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, and it definitely shows in this performance. Not only is he perfectly cast as Woody, but you can hear the rage and the jealousy in his work. It is a thing of beauty. For Buzz, I cannot see anyone alse playing him but Tim Allen. He in fact has yet to top this performance (Galaxy Quest would have been number one had it not been for Toy Story 2 that same year). There is also fine work from Don Rickles (Potato Head), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Jim Varney (Slinky Dog), and Wallace Shawn (Rex). I must also mention Randy Newman’s music. The songs are fantastic (“You’ve got a friend in me” is one of my favorites), and the score is one that I listen to in a regular basis.

Animation may keep getting better, but Toy Story will continue to be one of the movies that people of all ages continue to watch as time goes by. And as long as there are people, the problems tackled here will continue to be relevant, therefore keeping the story fresh. A masterpiece in every sense of the word.

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