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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pixargust: Toy Story (1995)

Seems appropriate to start Pixargust with the world's very first computer-animated film. Back in a time when computer animation was considered a gimmick (though it works for the special effects of Jurassic Park among others), Toy Story was definitely one of a kind when it was first released. And I can still remember when this movie was all the rage. Growing up, every single kid that didn't live under a rock adored this film. I know I did. Hell, at age 6 this was one of my favorite movies ever! I remember having a lot of the toys from back then (Makes sense. It is a movie about toys, ya know?) and enjoying my own adventures with them. Seventeen years after it's release, I still love it. It's one of the few films to have a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it made well over $350 million  at the box office worldwide, and managed to get a hold of three Oscars. I'd say that's not a bad start for a small computer-animation. Well, time to look at what makes the film so good with the Pixar film that started it all.

The film begins in the room of a boy named Andy, where his toys come to life when there isn't anyone to see. Andy's favorite toy is a cowboy doll named Woody (Tom Hanks) and he's the one the other toys look up to  when there's an issue at hand. In this case, today is Andy's birthday party and the other toys are worried about being replaced by any new toy Andy receives every birthday or Christmas. Woody finds out the hard way that a new spaceman toy called Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) who thinks he really is a space ranger has become a new favorite of Andy. Adversity begins to take over Woody as the other toys start looking up to Buzz more. So Woody tries to get rid o Buzz one day by making him fall behind a shelf but this backfires when Buzz is instead accidentally pushed out of the window. On route to Pizza Planet, Andy takes Woody instead after the other toys ostracize him for "murdering" Buzz. However, Buzz catches up with them and after a fight with Woody, both of them are now jettisoned out of the house. They hitch a ride on a Pizza Planet truck and manage to get inside, but are found by Andy's rotten kid neighbor, Sid. They're now in deep trouble because he breaks toys for fun and Andy is moving in a few days. So now time is of the essence for Woody and Buzz to escape and for Woody to redeem himself for Andy's other toys.

For starters, the plot is simple but flowing with a good twist on the old "toys come to life when no one looks" formula. Given how often the same mix of animation, wit, jokes and kids humor has been used since Toy Story, it's easy to forget how refreshing it was when it first came out. Watching it again, it's dating a little in comparison to more recent twists on its formula and computer animation. But it is still very entertaining and remember: it's still the start of a new animation medium, so not everything is going to look 100% perfect. It was impressive back then and it the details still have merit today.

The main story is fun but the degree of character development is what really shores it up. The conflict between Buzz and Woody is genuine and it does make some good comedy (When you think about, it's q buddy comedy). You know, watching it again Woody's kind of a bastard in this movie. He can be jealous, selfish, and conniving despite being known for his leadership skills, levelheadedness, and friendly disposition by the other toys. But even so, he's not the bad guy. We still feel for him because it's a just cause: he's afraid of losing his best friend to a new toy. It's Woody's flaws that make him compelling. Buzz is also a great character. He believes he really is a space ranger and this makes for a lot of funny moments in the first half of the movie. When confronted by the truth of his status as a toy, Buzz's turmoil surprisingly is very much real. Assuming you never saw this before, you'd never guess that these two would be friends in the end. Things like that are always cool.

Despite the two strong leads there is a real depth in the support cast. They may not actually have that many lines, but they have the funniest lines. Some of the film's wit comes from Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn), a piggy bank named Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Slinky Dog (Jim Varney). They're all memorable and aside from the designs, you can tell them apart because they all have different personalities.

Oh, and one of these voices will be in every film this month!
Care to guess?
The songs are Randy Newman songs and to be honest, they're not bad. What's odd though is that none of the characters sing. They sort of pull like what Phil Collins did in Tarzan and have Randy sing for us about what the characters feel. I couldn't get into this idea that much in Tarzan, but I thought it was okay in this film. Even if Randy has one of the goofiest singing voices ever, he doesn't ruin the film. I can tolerate him fine.

Even if computer animation was considered a gimmick back then, Toy Story took international audiences by storm and inspired an artistic revolution. Ever since, Pixar has never looked back, as they went on to produce other successful movies later on. Fortunately, they frequently work to ensure their products contain genuine heart, style and substance; reminding us that with a slick new look and presentation, computer animation can exhibit the same qualities that made Disney's hand-drawn efforts so memorable. So yeah, I like it a lot. It's somewhere at the top of my favorite Pixar films because it remains as timeless as something as The Wizard of Oz and many of Disney's hand-drawn films. Even if the animation is a little primitive by today's standards, the attention to details, especially on lighting and shading, is still remarkable. It captures the essence of childhood and it is interesting to hear from the viewpoint of the toys. The dialogue and story appeals to both kids and adults, has creative scenarios, and I really did feel like I was a kid again watching it. Give it a watch again. It's one of my favorites. 

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