With Toy Story 4 hitting theaters this weekend, we’re looking at the entire franchise. Today we begin with the original Toy Story.
Looking back at Toy Story, the biggest takeaway has got to be the way in which computer animation has grown over time and how well-made the original film was. This movie was beyond what anyone expected it to be. It was something with heart that told a simple, yet perfect, narrative and helped open up the potential for what we could create on screen. This wasn’t the first time computer animation was used heavily in a film, but it was the first time a film was made entirely with computer animation. It led to a revolution which would eventually see all hand drawn animation practically wiped out from the studio systems.
The decision to make a film centered around toys gave Pixar the ability to have more simplistic character designs. Looking at Buzz and Woody and Bo Peep in commercials and such for Toy Story 4 as opposed to the original Toy Story, there’s a very clear difference in their design. Now, the characters look more like real people, whereas in the original film, they were more restricted in movement and looked more like toys. These restricted movements were partially due to the limitations of the technology at the time, but they never look out of place. It’s easy for the audience to write off the restricted movements because the characters are toys, with inherent restricted movements.
Another highlight of the film is how it explores this world. Lines like “Pull my string, the birthday party’s today” or a comment on a plastic corrosion presentation are funny and give us a view into this silly little world. But the depth of the film relies on the idea of what toys are and what makes life important for them: their role in a child’s life. That’s what drives the story forward and makes us love Woody by the end of the film.
Woody has grown to become one of the most cherished Disney or Pixar characters of all time, but his introduction makes him seem like a bit of an asshole. He never seems to show any real heart and is simply the know-it-all leader of the group of toys. The way he treats Buzz doesn’t help his case either, still painting him as a sort of bad guy, when Buzz is an innocent who doesn’t understand his way of life as a toy. But when Woody begins to realize how far he’s fallen and that he needs to fix his mistakes, we begin to see the side of him that makes him the wonderful character we’ve grown to love over the past 24 years. He’s not being entitled when he acts out against Buzz, he’s simply scared to lose his one purpose in life: to be loved by a child.
The existential crisis that Woody experiences from the threat of Buzz is much more layered than it honestly needed to be for this film. But in doing so, and in adding the crisis Buzz begins to have in the third act of the film when he realizes he’s “just a toy,” the film becomes more than a film about toys. It becomes a story about who we are as people and what’s important to us. It’s about the idea that if we can be more than the sum of our parts, then we have meaning in this world. It’s a lesson that’s important, and something that’s good for kids and adults alike to remember.
Toy Story is truly a solid film that still holds up today. There’s a great story, lovable characters, a good message, fantastic songs, and some of the shots are still some of the most amazing and beautiful animation you could ever see. It’s a testament to the power of these films and how much potential lies in taking a chance on a new way of making films. The series would continue on, but the core elements of Toy Story would remain throughout the franchise.