From the beginning, the goal and dream of Pixar Animation Studios was to create the world’s first computer animated film. The journey began with making short films and commercials throughout the Eighties and into the early Nineties, in order to develop the software and other tools they needed to get there. Following their original short films, they initially conceived a half-hour Christmas special starring the character Tinny from their short “Tin Toy” before making a feature-length movie. However, the Disney Studio was so floored by this idea of toys coming to life that they gave Pixar the greenlit to achieve their dream.
Toy Story, released in November of 1995 to critical and commercial acclaim worldwide, was the culmination of art, computer science, and storytelling. With that in mind, story and characters came first to the technology. And while the latter was revolutionary in terms of character designs, lighting, sound, and so forth, the former gained emotional investment from audiences and critics, just as Walt Disney’s Snow White had done for them courtesy classic hand-drawn animation in 1937.
The story is a buddy picture, set in a modern and contemporary world where toys come to life when children aren’t looking. (Fitting that the filmmakers chose toys since, on computers at the time, plastic looked believable and life-like.) Favorite toy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), who has been comfortable in his position as room leader, experiences the angst of being replaced when child-owner Andy gets a new toy for his sixth birthday. The arrival of Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) creates jealousy and rivalry on Woody’s part—as well as annoyance, considering that Buzz really thinks he’s a “space ranger” and not a “child’s plaything”—and eventually makes him hated among the other toys when Buzz accidentally (and unintentionally) gets thrown out the bedroom window. Soon, the duo land inside the home of toy-torturing next-door neighbor Sid, every toy’s worst nightmare. It’s interesting that the story has a family move as juxtaposition with the lead character development of Woody and Buzz, and the stakes, really moving forward. The only way Woody and Buzz learn they can escape and get back home is together as a team.
As mentioned before, the film deals with the fear of being replaced; the consequences of jealousy, selfishness and rivalry; and the importance of teamwork and friendship. The film also deals with accepting our identities and characters as we really are, such as in the scene where Buzz is depressed over the fact that he’s “just a toy” and feels worthless. But it’s Woody who encourages him that being a toy is more meaningful that being something we’re not. “Over in that house,” says the toy sheriff, “is a kid who thinks you are the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a space ranger, it’s because . . . you are his toy.” Therefore, one could argue that this story is Buzz’s journey as well as Woody’s, in terms of coming to face with life outside their own little worlds or realities (e.g, Andy’s bedroom for Woody, and “space ranger” delusions for Buzz) and choosing to be the best they can be for the sake of not only each other and the other toys, but more specifically for the little boy they belong to.
As an entertaining piece of 90s nostalgia, Toy Story succeeds, with unforgettable characters as Mr. Potato Head, Hamm the piggy bank, Rex the timid dinosaur, Slinky Dog, Bo Peep, the green army men, and the little green aliens. And who could forget the site of Pizza Planet (including the truck, which has since made a cameo in just about every Pixar film), Sid’s room (which one critic described as Geppeto’s workshop modeled by Stephen King), and the climactic moving truck chase sequence? Like “Snow White,” the most incredible thing about “Toy Story” is how very good a movie it is. And it was only the beginning of something new, “to infinity and beyond.”