Way back in 1995, a seismic event went off in Hollywood that changed the face of cinema forever – instantly.
The fact that the face of this event took the form of a limp-limbed cowboy doll and a lantern jawed Space Ranger shouldn’t really suprise anyone with even a rudimentary interest in the world of animation.
I am, of course, referring to Toy Story; THE most influential modern animated film to exist ever since Walt Disney fancied tell the story of a pale chick with an apple allergy who shacked up with a group of short dudes. An experience literally targeted at all ages which utilised (then) cutting edge CGI to realise a concept so high, even Charlie Sheen would be worried for it’s health, fledgling studio Pixar changed the game virtually overnight, making traditional cell animation obsolete before it’s credits had even finished rolling.
News flash: toys are alive. In fact, they’re more than alive; they’re sentient as fuck and when you aren’t looking, they move around and laugh and live and have… stress related mental breakdowns?
It’s Andy’s birthday and for his collection of toys this proves to be a very stressful time of year as a new popular toy could mean that another toy could be forgotten and eventually thrown out. Trying to keep his colleagues panic to a dull whimper is Woody, a cowboy doll and Andy’s favorite toy who is sort of a leader to his group of neurotic playthings but his status is threatened by newest gift. Enter Buzz Lightyear, an unfeasibly cool new action figure who instantly takes Woody’s place in Andy’s fickle affections – but there’s a twist. Buzz doesn’t actually realise he’s a toy and actually believes he’s a laser shooting, jet pack flying, honest to god Space Ranger on a secret mission to uncharted space. Soon Woody finds himself completely (and accidently) usurped by his own community and in a fit of weakness, jealously devises a plan to get Buzz out of the way for a little while but after things go horribly wrong and the rest of Andy’s room believes that Woody’s in fact murdered Buzz (you know, for kids!), the hapless cowboy has to go on an adventure to locate Buzz and bring him back. And so a mismatched buddy trip ensues that takes in everything from the zealot alien prizes living in a grabber machine in a pizza parlour (“The claaaaaaaaw!”) to the toy obliterating psycho next door, Sid, that predictably, yet winningly, sees the two adversaries start to work together. But even with a newly minted friendship, can they possibly get back home before the day that Andy and his family move house?
I could bang on about the technical virtues of Toy Story all day but there really isn’t that much point as 1995 might as well be the Bronze Age in animation years; and inevitably some aspects HAVE aged admittedly hideously (Sid’s dog Scud looks HORRIBLY malformed these days) but while it was the CGI that got people’s attention, it was the script and characters that assured it’s irrefutable place in cinema history.
The script, which includes contributions from Joss Whedon among others, is phenomenal, never once forgetting to be fun for the little ones yet being smart enough to take I to account that it’s (reasonably) mature grownups who are taking their kids to see it. Thus the film spins a world suprisingly crammed full of a multitude of relatable emotions – and most of them gleefully negative.
Not even living in the dingy, death filled world of the future in a Terminator movie is as out and out stressful as the existence a toy has on a day to day basis! Constantly worrying whether or not this is the day that they’re gonna be thrown out, lost, or tortured by neighbourhood cherry-bomb flinger Sid, the sheer level of pressure on these little plastic plebs is stratospherically immense and brings out the worst in all of them in various hilarious ways. Be it Woody’s poisonous jealousy as he starts to fear he’s become no longer relevant, to Rex’s crippling social anxiety, to Buzz’s flat out ignorance, all of the main gaggle of lovable playthings are anything but sickly sweet and all are living, breathing, FEELING characters despite being cast out of plastic.
Another thing that also proves that Pixar instantly nailed the fact that it never talks down to it’s audience is how utterly dark shit truly gets. Woody’s paranoia takes him to a place so low that he’s willing to arrange an “accident” that will leave Buzz trapped down the back of a cupboard which obviously goes badly wrong. Think that’s dark? Then how about the scene where he’s brutalized by having a magnifying glass burn a hole between his eyes which holds up to The Marathon Man in cinema’s all time great torture scenes? Or how about where Buzz finally learns he’s a toy and has a full on hysterical breakdown? But it’s the moment where Woody and Buzz – trapped in Sid’s bedroom – come face to face with the mutilated AND STILL LIVING results of the bully’s questionable spare time as the malformed, mutant wretches pull themselves out of hiding in a moment that invokes everything from Frankenstein to The Thing.
Of course, heaping on layers of traumatic mental abuse does not an automatic animated classic make and what truly seals the deal is the staggering amount of genuine heart the film has. You fall completely and utterly in love with all these characters pretty much the second you meet them and not just the main players. Even the bit part characters get their time to shine with the devastatingly charming sequence where a legion of army figures launch a full scale incursion into Andy’s living room to spy on his present opening only hinting at the inventive wonders that Pixar would go on to achieve.
The voice cast is flawless with not a single inflection or vocal tremor out of place with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen forging an odd-couple, buddy for the ages while the score and original songs by Randy Newman are so perfect you can’t believe how good he’s making you feel by solely using his throat (steady now…).
So if by some quirk of horrific fate you haven’t ever seen one of the most important movies in modern cinema history; well you are indeed a sad, strange, little man…. and you have my pity.