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Funny thing about film… it’s utterly subjective. No matter how bad a movie is, there’s always a handful of people who love it. No matter how good the flick, there’s always someone good and ready to jump up and hate it. Except that is, when it comes to Toy Story. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has an entire cult of people devoted to hating it, Alien VS Predator has it’s groups of devoted fanboys insistent on loving it. But ask anyone, no matter their age, sex, race, background, religious convictions… and they’ll all tell you: they like Toy Story. Its universal appeal is incredibly rare. Even the best Disney family films like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast have their determined detractors. So do Pixar’s later films like Monsters Inc. or (though I can’t understand it) The Incredibles. But the Toy Story movies stand tall as perhaps the two most universally beloved films of all time. If you don’t like Toy Story, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not right in the head.
When it shipped to theaters in 1995, Toy Story was already a landmark before anyone had even seen it. A co-operative venture between family filmmaking giant Walt Disney Company, and a bunch of upstart computer nerds at a company called Pixar, the film was the first ever, fully computer animated film. Today they’re a dime a dozen, but Toy Story was the trail blazer. Truth be told, they didn’t know what they were doing. Most of the people involved had never made a movie before, but under the direction of Pixar chief and Toy Story helmer John Lasseter they set out to do so anyway.
They could have of course, simply settled for making something that looked good and attached any old story to it. Since technologically, this was a filmmaking first, it would have been easy to key in on the new whiz bang high-tech stuff necessary to make this revolutionary style of animation work, and neglect the film’s story elements. And maybe that’s what would have happened had the thing been headed up by someone like George Lucas. But Lasseter and his team were determined to make something truly special, and in doing so created the footsteps that all other computer animated films would attempt to follow.
The premise is pretty simple. What if all your toys were secretly alive? Whenever we’re not in the room, they get up, start talking, walking, and living their own little lives. For a toy, the worst thing that can happen is to be forgotten. That’s the fear that an old fashioned cowboy toy named Woody (Voiced by Tom Hanks) faces when his owner gets a newer, flashier toy for his birthday: Buzz Lightyear (Voiced by Tim Allen). Of course a story about a bunch of toys walking and talking could be pretty childish. This could have turned into Veggie Tales or The Brave Little Toaster. But Lasseter and his team decided to develop the film as a buddy picture, focusing on the dynamic between their two lead characters, and filling in around them with a fantastic cast of funny, endearing, and surprisingly deep supporting characters.
The result is a film that connects with absolutely everyone, regardless of age. Part of that’s writing, part of it’s amazing voice acting, and part of it’s fantastic visuals. During some of the cast interviews on this 2-disc DVD set, Tim Allen remarks that some of his character’s most dramatic, emotional moments are the ones where he isn’t even talking. It’s true. Pixar used computer generated effects not only to make really realistic looking animated figures, but to convey volumes of emotion and deep feeling, subtle subtext. The performances come through the character’s eyes, their postures, their furtive expressions. The phenomenal voice work done by people like Hanks, Allen, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney, Don Rickles, and John Ratzenberger only compliments the already great animated performances on screen. The film is enhanced by them, it doesn’t depend on them.
Toy Story is simply put, a classic. Ten years after it’s release it has proven an enduring staple. Though animation technology marches onward, and though perhaps modern CGI animated films look a lot better, Toy Story holds up as a truly great film. It’ll continue to delight, amaze, entertain, and inspire kids and adults for decades and decades to come. Pixar is still making fantastic movies, but it is this one that defines them, and it is this one movie for which the studio’s pioneering artists will always be remembered.
This release is actually a little sad in light of the recent death of Joe Ranft. Joe was a prominent figure at Pixar, and one of the key components in getting Toy Story to the screen. Joe shows up several times in the featurettes and crew interviews put together for this disc. It’s just a coincidence that the 10th Anniversary Edition of Toy Story is being released so close to his sudden and untimely death., but it’s actually an appropriate homage to the talented, funny man that many people credit in large part for making Pixar’s films such a warm success. It’s fortunate that Disney has done such a great job with the disc, it pays real tribute not only to a great film, but to the great people like Joe who made it possible.
Let’s start by talking about the set’s menus, since the casing is pretty standard stuff. It’s a two disc set, and the first disc has the best menu setup. The menus there are simple, but clever, designed around the claw worshipping aliens from the film. The interface looks like a TV screen with your menu options displayed in really simple text. Below the TV is a group of aliens watching the set. When you click a button, the aliens change the channel in entertaining ways to take you wherever you want to go. It’s simple, but clever and ridiculously funny. I found myself clicking around the disc just for giggles. The menus on the second disc are less tricked up. But since the second disc is reserved purely for extras, that’s alright. Folks digging into disc two are probably the serious film types looking for info, clever menu animation isn’t needed.
Disc one, predictably, contains the movie. Watch it twice. The film really looks fantastic; Disney is presenting it in the highest quality format possible. The picture is crystal clear; it’s been completely remastered with a High Digital “Bit Rate”. The sound is in bright blaring Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. Wonderful job. It even comes with multiple language audio tracks. Included on this one disc is English, French, and Spanish. One disc fits all. The movie is however, looking a little dated. I’m not saying it looks bad, but the cutting edge look it once had has dulled in comparison to more recent CGI animated films like The Incredibles. I’m sure as the years pass this will become even truer. Technology moves on, and betters… but if the film is really great, it’ll stand the test of time and the artistry of it will hold up. Bambi for instance is positively stone age compared to modern 2D animation techniques, but the film is still a beautiful, amazing classic. Art. That hold true for Toy Story, and will no doubt continue to hold true long after the technology used to create it is in mothballs.
The rest of the set is nothing but special features. The second disc is entirely given over to them, but disc one has a few short ones as well as a really great commentary track with John Lasseter and at least a dozen other people. The track is packed with different voices, but they do a great job of keeping it straight. As commentary goes, it’s a good one. For the set’s individual features, I’m not going to waste your time by breaking them down one by one, but instead I’ll attempt an overview. There’s a good mix of features both old and new on here. This isn’t the first time Toy Story has come to DVD, so included on these two discs are a lot of the features found on some of the previous DVD releases. That includes interviews and such from way back in 1995 when the film first hit theaters. It also includes making of featurettes filmed during the time the movie was in production.
But it’s not just recycled features copied over from other sets. There’s a lot of new material here as well, including a sit down interview with Lasseter and his closest collaborators as they reflect on the film now ten years later. There’s a brand new “Making of” featurette as well, and a new look at the movie’s legacy, ten years out. And of course… there’s a DVD game. Usually… these suck. There’s no getting around it, I hate em. So does just about everyone. But you know what… this is first time I’ve ever actually enjoyed playing one. In fact, it may well be the best DVD game ever included on any disc. It’s pretty simple… the game is The Claw from the film. You drop the claw into a big stack of little green aliens, and try to fish out prizes. Every time you drop it, it pulls out a different character. Once the character comes out of the machine, a specially made animation plays… as if it’s an advertisement for the character. It’s gut busting funny. I played it for a good twenty or thirty minutes, trying to get a Dinosaur, just so I could see his advertisement. It’s a cool little bit of icing on a great DVD set. Also included with this set are things like deleted scenes, and the usual assortment of alternate scenes. A few of them are animated, most are drawings. Not my thing, but good to have included.
So look, everything on this DVD set isn’t entirely new. Some of it’s recycled, some of it isn’t. But if you don’t already have the film, this is probably the way to get it. The new material is fantastic, and the presentation of the film itself is absolutely at its highest quality. This is a good set, and it’d be a great set if this was the first time the film had hit DVD. There's already a three-disc Collector's Edition set of this film out there, but this one offers it's own unique, reflective take on the film. Though it’s technically a triple-dip, I’m really glad Disney created this edition. It’s worth it.
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