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Great Movies Roundtable: Toy Story

Courtland and I are starting a monthly roundtable, discussing the films on AFI’s 100 years… 100 movies list.

Our second entry, #99 on the list, is Pixar’s first film, “Toy Story.” Released in 1995, it was the first film from Pixar, setting up a decade-long run of excellent movies that raised the bar for animated entertainment.  It was also the first movie made completely on computers.

Pixar started out as a visual effects department, first for George Lucas and then for Disney, and in their early shorts, you can see the ways they are showing off their recent innovations in computer animation.  But it was their commitment to characters with real emotional depth, with honest arcs and truly relatable problems and circumstances — that set them apart in the ’90s and ’00s – and continues to do so in films like “Inside Out,” though they’ve become a bit less consistent in recent years.  Ah well. Golden ages have to end some time.

I think that “Toy Story” is on the list as a stand-in for all 3 Toy Story movies — in the same way that “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” won all the Oscars for all three movies.  Having said that, which is your favorite Toy Story movie?  Which, if you had to pick just one, would you put on this list? 

WK: In my mind, they just get better and better.  “Toy Story 3” is my favorite. That ending scene at the garbage facility… how do you top that?

What is your favorite scene? 
CRH:  I love it when Woody says that Buzz should just flee and leave him so he can make it. He looks back and sees that Buzz is gone in the next shot Woody looks downcast, resigned to his fate and lo and behold to our surprise and Delight Woody and Buzz will now attempt to escape together!  Catastrophe  at its finest.
WK: Mrs. Nesbitt.

What works for you/what doesn’t work? 

CRH: The thing that is so fun to revisit about this movie is the sheer amount of craft the film which gives all the tiny moments a special poignancy. (Like Woody leveling with Buzz.) The voice acting is excellent and the writing is very good. (Joss Whedon and Joel Cohen did rewrites on them.)

WK: I think it’s a stroke of genius that Toy Story took what is the major liability of CGI animation and turned it into a strength.  CGI characters look plastic-y; that’s okay, they’re made of plastic. It’s that kind of creative problem-solving that made Pixar the dominant animation studio for more than a decade.

I had a really hard time with Buzz this time through.  It’s a major plot hole in my mind that he continues to think he’s not a toy even though Andy clearly plays with him regularly. Hey Buzz, if you’re not a toy, why do you go all stiff and blank every time a human walks in the room?  What’s that about?

For what it’s worth, that detail was added AFTER Tim Allen had done all the voice work, in response to the way he played the character.  Tim Allen’s career is a wasteland of bad ideas and terrible projects.  It’s somehow appropriate that he’s responsible for the worst part of the best thing he’s ever been in.  (In a related note… I just watched “Money Monster” and caught myself thinking, “man, George Clooney sounds a lot like Buzz Lightyear.”  Which makes me wonder – how would this whole franchise have been different with George Clooney instead of Tim Allen?  Mind blown.)

Also, I think Sid is a really interesting, though problematic, character.  He talks like a TV show — usually a late night TV show not for kids — but we never see him watching TV.  He’s clearly not at all supervised by his parents, but his room/workshop is equipped with so much fancy equipment that his parents MUST be paying attention somewhat.  If I remember right, I think Sid becomes a garbage man in future movies.  I’d love to see a short about the brilliant art he’s making out of garbage somewhere.  The kid has potential.

CRH: I agree with you that Sid is a bright and imaginative kid. I was myself a kind of mix between Andy and Sid as a child adoring certain toys and blowing others up with fireworks (which is really fun) burying them in the yard (Which I am sure they are still there) and overall playing with the toys in my own way. Sid is not the villain. I heard on the movies commentary actually that most of the makers of the movie where more likes it then Andy.

WK: I have a theory – one that I suspect John Lasseter and co. would laugh at – that all 3 Toy Story films are, in a way, about God’s love.  Andy represents God; he is the center of the toys’ universe, and their relationship to him is what gives meaning to their existence. Any thoughts on that? 

CRH: I think great stories have an, as Tolkien called it, ‘applicability’ to our lives and beliefs. A good story means something to everyone. Could it be about God? Yes is it atheist friendly? Yes. I think the Toy Story movies all deal with deep parts of the human experience and digest them in a way that a child and an adult can understand. Toy Story 2 deals with grief and loss as well as the inevitable pain of growing up. Toy Story 3 I think really flows nicely on the themes Toy Story 2 was building towards.

Like the Apostle Paul said, I have become an adult and no longer think like a child or act like a child. But we don’t become dour Scrooge-like adults; rather we learn what Andy learned and that is we never leave Wonder and joy behind. We don’t know how the future will end up but our virtue will carry us through. I think that’s why I loved that scene in Andy’s room so much is because finally at the end of their rope are two characters become vulnerable with each other. They share the truth of their worries insecurities and fear.

 In light of that, what are your other favorite Pixar films?  Where does Toy Story rank?  

CRH: Toy Story is probably my favorite Pixar film. Though I personally think “Wall-E” is a science fiction masterpiece. Toy Story has that wonderful story which moves me every time.

WK: Well, seeing as this is my third-favorite “Toy Story” movie, maybe it’s not surprising that it doesn’t crack my top 5.  Those would be:

  1. The Incredibles
  2. WALL – E
  3. Toy Story 3
  4. Inside Out
  5. A Bug’s Life

Buying or selling? 

WK: I think Toy Story is likely to rise on future lists — it’s just getting old enough to be considered a classic.  And I expect we’ll see a few other Pixar movies on the list in the future.

CRH: I agree that Toy Story is a modern classic that will evolve into a classic. It is a strong clever heartfelt story about friendship. I think a movie’s status as a classic is dependent on whether you can still elicit strong emotions long after it has been made. I am amazed that still how much reaction friends have when we get together to watch classic black-and-white movies like “Casablanca,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Night of the Hunter.” A good story is timeless and I think Toy Story has all the ingredients to be a timeless story. Because that’s what people really want to see they don’t want to see what’s necessarily in fashion they want to see a good story that arises into them good rich feelings and is able to help them process the events of their lives through the magic of storytelling. I am quite confident I will be showing this movie to my children. So instead of the kids complaining about black and white movies will be complaining about old style CGI!

Up Next Month: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, by Will Krischke, The Classic Movie Series.

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