Believing toys have this magical ability to awaken once the coast is clear of any human life is now plausible thanks to director John Lasseter and Pixar studios in their debut feature length film. In just one film, Pixar and Lasseter will convince mild mannered individuals to neurotically sneak up and spy on in-adamant objects to see if they are alive when no one’s looking. Not only will the idea of a child’s plaything waking up, having their own thoughts and feelings be intriguing to a viewer but the technology that made this world we never knew we needed before is revolutionary to how stories are told in an animated medium.
Enter Toy Story – a profoundly moving narrative that not only animates the characters but the living environment around them. The first of its kind that would go one to leave a lasting impact among children and adults – no matter the age. In the span of the 81-minute runtime that Toy Story boasts, a new perspective on a toy’s life span is explored. “We toy’s see everything” a line menacingly spoken by the hero cowboy Sherriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and favorite toy of Andy’s (voiced by John Morris). It’s a line with an infinite number of interpretations but for the scope in which the line is given, these toys are more aware than we make them out to be.
In 1 week, Andy, his younger sister Molly, and their single mother (voiced by Laurie Metcalf) are planning to move houses. Because of this, Andy’s birthday party is moved up a few days to celebrate. One by one panic sets in Andy and Molly’s room about being replaced, sent out to the horrifying garage sale never to be played with again by their favorite owner. Luckily, there’s a protocol set in place by Woody – the green army men will go on a reconnaissance mission and report back on any new presents Andy receives. On Molly’s baby monitor of all communication devices. The logistics alone sound like a nightmare for these toys – becoming lifeless at the sound of footsteps and sacrificing themselves for the good of all toy kind.
Some toys are purely added for the nostalgia of reliving a childhood of growing up – what little boy didn’t have a bucket of green army men that would be staged all over a room as if in the heat of a giant battle. Or an etch-a-sketch, barrel of monkeys and a speak and spell. The list goes on and on. Andy’s speak and spell is the politest toy in the room, maybe aside from Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn), championing their fellow toy when word of a Mrs. Potato Head is gifted to Molly on Christmas.
With something for everyone, screenwriters Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow inject enough humor and an absurd amount of charm throughout the runtime for the younger viewer while appealing to the adult who decides to watch too. Easily spotable are jokes that will surely go over the younger audiences’ heads – Mr. Potato Head (voiced by Don Rickles) undoing his lips and hitting his backside as Slinky Dog (voiced by Jim Varney) takes Woody’s side in an argument is only one of the many examples; or Rex having an understanding of a leveraged corporate buyout.
Said argument revolves around Woody’s arrogance and fear of being replaced as Andy’s favorite by the new toy in town; a Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) action figure.
It’s the magic of believing a toy could fly or feeling a sense of helplessness when both Woody and Buzz are presumed lost at a gas station with no resources on how to get home let alone know what direction to go in that sets Toy Story apart from past Disney released animated films. As humans we know the sadness of losing a toy, but Lasseter brilliantly puts the shoe on the other foot – how does the toy feel about being lost, never to see the comfort of a bedroom again nor the smile and imagination a kid has when playing.
While the toys are constantly moving locations, the misplacement always goes over Andy and his mom’s heads. Never once questioning the locations last seen. Once in the thick of their mission to return home to Andy, that aspect Is easy to excuse and overlook. It’s easy to get lost in the spectacle playing out that is truly a marvel in storytelling.
For an animated film, marketed toward families, heavy themes are laced throughout. A sense of purpose and belonging being the most pronounced. With a new shiny space ranger and his owners name written in permanent marker across the boot, a rivalry is born out of pure hatred and selfishness. In the vast universe that makes up Andy’s room, a Chuck-E-Cheese like establishment and a gas station, there is more to worry about than desiring who will be Andy’s favorite toy. There’s room enough for both.
Led by an outstanding voice cast, Tim Allen, and Tom Hanks command the screen the most. For 81 minutes that zoom by, it’s the Woody and Buzz show. On one hand Allen brings a charisma, charm, and confidence to Buzz that has a gravitational pull wherever he goes (fitting for a space toy). Fully believing he is the real Buzz Lightyear stranded in an unknown sector, looking for any way to get back on track to defeat the evil Zurg is what makes his self-actualization more heartbreaking. It’s not flying its falling with style, and it took a mental breakdown of being Miss. Nesbitt to realize this. On the other hand, is Tom Hanks, who is so likable as Woody that no matter what Woody does, malicious or otherwise, you can’t hate him.
Whether it’s the emotional beats of the toy’s perspective or the original music by Randy Newman, or just about any aspect of this masterpiece, Toy Story is a timeless narrative of friendship and acceptance. All of that plus a level of religious belief of a mechanical claw from green alien squeak toys and a subtle commentary on the shift from the love and appreciation of the western genre to a science fiction space race craze. What more could we ask of a magnificent film from start to finish?
Written By: Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow
Story By: John Lasseter, Pete Doctor, Andrew Stanton & Joe Ranft
Directed By: John Lasseter
Music By: Randy Newman
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris, Erik von Detten
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: November 22, 1995
Running Time: 1 Hour 21 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%