When it comes to animated classics, few have been as influential as Toy Story. When it was released on November 22 1995, Toy Story was not only Pixar’s first feature film, but the very first full-length computer animated film in history. Considering that the great majority of animation comes from computers these days, its technical influence is obvious. But more importantly, Toy Story also marked a shift in animated storytelling as well, one that has pushed emotion and character development to greater levels in animation. Suffice to say Toy Story was one hell of a start for Pixar.
The plot of course centers around Woody (Tom Hanks), a pull-string cowboy doll, and the favorite toy of a boy named Andy. Woody and the rest of the toys come to life whenever humans aren’t around, and try to remain organized amidst Andy’s upcoming birthday party. They fear that new toys could become replacements, leaving them to be unplayed with on a shelf, or worse, thrown out.
With Andy’s family ready to move to a new house, his mother throws him an early birthday party. It’s then that Andy receives Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the coolest action figure around, as a present. When Buzz rapidly becomes Andy’s favorite toy, Woody quickly grows jealous of the space-themed action figure, which is intensified by the fact that Buzz doesn’t even realize he’s a toy, believing himself to be a real space ranger.
Woody’s jealousy goes too far, however, and he inadvertently causes Buzz and, subsequently, himself, to get lost. Woody and Buzz must then set aside their differences and work together if they are to survive a trip to an arcade, a toy-destroying neighbor kid named Sid, and find a way back to Andy before his family moves.
It really is a simple enough plot, but what makes Toy Story endure is that it gives its characters such strong, likable personalities. And structurally speaking, the film flows at a near perfect pace.
It’s true, Woody may seem quick to resort to jealousy. But he still remains a very much likable lead character due to the reasons behind his actions. He isn’t simply being petty that Buzz is more popular than he is with Andy and the other toys. He has an underlying fear of abandonment. Bringing joy to Andy’s life is Woody’s purpose, so when Buzz seemingly takes his place, his fears begin to bubble to the surface. Woody is actually given very adult motives in this sense, which allows him to show a much greater range of emotion than most other animated leads at the time ever could (Disney were making great movies of their own at the time, but their main characters remained vanilla archetypes).
Buzz Lightyear is a similarly likable personality, and can be seen as the source that kickstarted Pixar’s unique brand of quirky characters. On one hand, he’s like a super hero. But he’s mostly a super hero in his own mind, which makes him an unique source for comedy. Though Buzz Lightyear is more than just delusional comic relief, and he too gets some strong character development throughout the film. The scene in which Buzz finally faces reality can be considered the very first tear-inducing moment in Pixar’s filmography.
Toy Story also has a smart script, with good dialogue and a fun sense of humor that both hold up very well. It’s a constantly entertaining movie, without a single scene feeling like it drags on or overstays its welcome. There aren’t many movies, animated or otherwise, where the story flows so smoothly.
The voice acting is also top notch. It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voicing the leads. Both were simply perfect casting for the heroes, and the secondary characters – such as Mr. Potato-Head (Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm the piggy bank (Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger) – are also given a sense of liveliness from their voice actors.
Being the first computer animated film in history means that Toy Story was quite a revelation in its day, and it can be easy to take for granted how groundbreaking it really was. The then-new frontier for animation lead for new ways to animated characters and new methods for scenes to play out, with each angle being set up in a way closer to a live-action film.
Of course, being the very first computer animated film also means that the animation may show a bit of age. Granted, Pixar’s preference for more exaggerated character designs means that their films always hold up better than animation that aims to make their characters look more “real,” and the toy characters still look just fine (even if the sequels obviously improved their character models). But it shouldn’t be surprising when you revisit Toy Story and notice the humans characters are rarely the focus, as Pixar knew they weren’t ready at the time to emphasize animated humans. Similarly, Sid’s dog Scud lacks definition in his fur and moves mechanically.
The aged visual elements are forgivable, however, considering that this was the pioneer of a new method of filmmaking. And the movie itself is charming and enjoyable enough that you probably won’t even care.
Naturally, seeing as Toy Story has now spawned multiple sequels, comparisons to them are now unavoidable. It should be satisfying to know that all three of the existing Toy Story films are terrific movies in their own right, and there might not be a more consistent film series out there. In another pleasant surprise, all three Toy Story films can be enjoyed both on their own and as pieces of a series. But it must be said that Toy Story may fall ever so slightly short of the second installment, which builds on the thematics and character depth that the original started.
Again, these are all very minor notes. It’s hard to judge an excellent movie for having an even more excellent sequel. And it’s hard to hold a few aged visuals against it knowing how influential they continue to be, not to mention that, for the most part, they’re still nice to look at.
Simply put, Toy Story is one of the all-time classics of the medium. It may seem somewhat simple compared to some of Pixar’s later movies. But for a movie this great to be the very first film from its studio is very telling of the great things that were to come from Pixar. Toy Story will remain a timeless delight to infinity, and beyond.