It was less than fifteen years ago that Toy Story debuted for the Holiday season of 1995. At the time Disney was taking a chance with an entirely computer animated film, especially after their amazing resurgence and recent run of cel animated films – they were only a year off of The Lion King. Now, Pixar essentially runs Disney animation and cel animation is the experiment – completely out of fashion in part due to Disney ruining the brand name (and to some extent DreamWorks making equally mediocre films). But you can’t blame Pixar for being good, and it was the wild success of the Toy Story films that helped cement their legacy. They tell the story of Woody (Tom Hanks), a cowboy doll who is ousted from his position as the sole favorite toy by Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and how the two go on an adventure in the real world. The sequel has the duo facing a toy kidnapper (Wayne Knight), who wants to send Woody to Japan with the toy line he originally came from while Woody confronts his own mortality. My review of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on Blu-ray after the jump.
Let’s get this out of the way: Is this reference quality? Yes. These films were made for this format, and if you like these films (why wouldn’t you) they are a must have. The only downside is that digital copies aren’t included if that’s your thing. There are new supplements, and it looks like almost everything is here.
In the first film, Woody (Hanks) has been Andy’s favorite toy since forever, and runs his room when Andy’s away. Andy’s family is about to move, and all the toys are stressed out, but they’re more worried about the surprise birthday party and what new toys it might bring. Though Woody tries to calm the group, he’s the one in trouble, as Woody’s place is usurped by the new toy Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). Conflating the differences between the two, Buzz doesn’t know he’s a toy, nor that he can’t do all the things his package suggests (like flying), but bluffs well. Woody plots to knock Buzz behind a desk, but accidentally knocks him outside, and so Woody has to go a rescue Buzz – especially before Sid (Erik von Detten) gets a hold of Buzz. Sid is an older next door neighbor and loves to destroy things, especially toys. Woody has to rescue Buzz before the family moves, and it wouldn’t be worth setting up Sid if the two didn’t end up in his lair.
In the second film Woody gets a rip in his arm, and so Andy leaves him at home right before going to cowboy camp. Such sends Woody into a fit of panic, as he must face his own mortality. After going to rescue another toy from a yard sale, toy collector Al (Wayne Knight) sees Woody and steals him. Al’s been on the hunt for a Woody doll for years, and Woody completes his collection. This leads Buzz to wrangle up Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), and Slinky Dog (Jim Varney) to go to Al’s Toy Barn on a rescue mission. Woody, however, finds out where he came from, and meets the other characters from the show he came from (a Howdy Doody-esque puppet cowboy show) including Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl (Joan Cusack) and Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammar) along with Woody’s horse Bullseye. Al wants to send them all to Japan where they will be put in a museum, and Al restores Woody to mint condition. At first Woody wants to go home to Andy, but Jessie tells him how she was once owned but then forgotten, and eventually left for charity, leaving Woody vulnerable to the idea of immortality.
It will be interesting to see Toy Story 3 when it comes out in the summer, if only to see if Pixar can go three for three with this franchise. If these films suffer at all from the passage of time, it’s only in that Pixar had not yet mastered humans or fur to the degree they got to with – say – Up or Monsters Inc. and Toy Story is especially rough in spots if you know the limitations of what they were working against. The sequence in the gas station feels like they were hitting against the walls and the worlds of Pixar became more detailed and nuanced with each new film. But the film knows its limitations, and though if you know how CG animation progressed you can see where those limitations are, it never interferes with the film.
And that’s because Pixar – unlike Disney (and this is what led to their downfall) – generally make movies with tightly structured scripts that have heart. On the first point, there is a level of invention and discovery with the first film. It does a brilliant job of setting up obstacles, and having the characters defeat them without cheating the events, or the audience, When it heads into the third act – where Woody has to recruit a series of freakish dismembered toys to rescue Buzz and then has to get them to the moving truck – it’s a model of efficiency, but also keeps the boys from finding the easy way out. Even more amazing is the third act of Toy Story 2, which is such a pleasurable act of stake-raising that it outdoes the last two Indiana Jones films for sheer breathless excitement.
It’s also interesting to see that in both these films (though it gets reduced in the second film), there seems to be the imprint of Jeffery Katzenberg as the first film opens with a string of pop-cultural references, with the most obvious being Don Rickles’s Potato Head making a “Hockey Puck” joke. And it’s almost like they open the film with these and get it out of the way. The second film is more assured, and though there are silly gags and one-liners, they are much more nuanced (my favorite of these is when at the airport, Buzz gets a Butte, Montana sticker stuck to his backside). But it’s also really smart how it’s all structured, and the second film is so, so winning. One of the best parts of the film is Rex finding a game guide for the Buzz Lightyear game, which comes into handy when the boys meet another Buzz Ligthyear (Allen) and also his arch-nemesis, the evil Zurg. The way that sub-plot plays out is pitch perfect.
If I had to pick one over the other, I have to say that Toy Story 2 is the stronger picture, it’s more layered, it’s one of the greatest sequels ever made, and it’s about mortality and the passage of time in a subtle way so it never oversteps into pretentiousness. But both deserve their place in the roster of films for kids that are great, and films that parents can watch and enjoy as much – if not more – than their kids.
And if you like these films – holy god – the supplements. Both films are presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. These are films you buy Blu-ray players to watch.
Toy Story comes with a commentary by director John Lasseter, co-writer Andrew Stanton, Supervising Animator Pete Docter, art director Ralph Eggleston, supervising technical director Bill Reeves, and producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold. Some of the commentators are dropped in but it’s a solid track that covers the making of it, and how they went about crafting the story and characters. The first film also comes with a two minute sneak preview of the third film. New for Blu-ray are these supplements: “Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off” (3 min.) is a NASA tie-in where Buzz walks through some of how NASA works, and how a toy of Buzz was taken into space. “Path to Pixar: Artists” (5 min.) talks to some of the supporting players on how they ended up working for Lasseter, and there’s three “Studio Stories” (5 min.), which offers anecdotes about some of the weirdest events from making the first film. “Buzz Takes Manhattan” (2 min.) is about the Macy’s balloon of Buzz, while “Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw” (8 min.) is about how the first film was almost ruined by studio notes. It’s worth noting they blame quite specifically Jeffery Katzenberg, and suggest what would come with the Shrek films.
Then comes the DVD supplements. “Filmmakers Reflect” (17 min.) offers Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter and Joe Ranft reflecting on the making of the film, while there’s also a making of (21 min.) – between the old and new and the commentary there is some overlap, but it’s all pretty interesting. “The Legacy of Toy Story” (12 min.) gets people like Chris Wedge (director of Robots), George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Hayao Miyazaki, Brad Bird and Leonard Maltin (and many, many more) to talk about the film and how it was a game changer. Then there’s “Designing Toy Story” (6 min.) on the look and then eight deleted scenes and story-reels (19 min.) with introductions. There’s character and location galleries (14 min.), 3-D visualizations (5 min.), and a color gallery (8 min.) showing artwork used to establish the look of the film. The section “Story” (14 min.) shows a pitch for a scene, a story-reel and a story-reel to film comparison. “Production” (14 min.) gives a production and animation tour, “Layout trick” on how they get the right angles for shooting, and then there’s a multi-language reel that shows the dub work done for other countries. It’s followed a music video for “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and a sound design featurette (7 min.) along with Randy Newman demos for the songs in the film (18 min.). It’s rounded out by promotional material (25 min.) including character interviews, two trailers, TV spots and posters, and what looks to be brief bits done to be shown between other animated programming. There are also bonus trailers. That’s over five hours of bonus material if you include the bonus trailers and the commentary.
Toy Story 2 has a commentary with Lasseter, co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon, and co-writer Andrew Stanton. It’s an all-in-one commentary and they are very good about talking about their process and the development of the material. For new material there’s a Toy Story 3 promo (4 min.), another “Buzz Lightyear Mission Log” (4 min.) and another “Paths to Pixar,” this one about the technical artists (4 min.). There’s also three Studio stories (7 min.), which are crazy anecdotes about making the movie, “Pixar’s Zoetrope” (2 min.) about the Zoetrope they made to compete with Miyazaki’s, while “Celebrating our Friend Joe Ranft” (13 min.) is a tribute to one of the key Pixar contributors (he died in a car accident).
Then there’s the classic DVD material, which kicks off with a making of (8 min.) and a profile of John Lasseter (3 min.), and a profile of the cast (4 min.). “Toy Box” (14 min.) offers outtakes, a gag shot, a Q&A of the cast on who’s the best toy, a Riders in the Sky Musical medley, and autographed pictures of the toys. There are deleted scenes (4 min.) with an intro, and then another gallery section for design (17 min.), 3-D visualizations (11 min.), and color design (5 min.). “Production” (14 min.) offers a look at Woody’s round up and a production tour, early tests, special effects, and a piece on how one scene was changed for international markets. “Music and Sound” (14 min.) starts with Gary Rydstrom talking about the sound design, then there’s a piece on the making of the music, a music video and a Randy Newman song demo. Then there’s publicity (9 min.) which offers interviews, two trailers, TV spots, and posters. There’s also a sneak-peak section. So there’s over four hours of supplements here. It’s exhaustive in its way, and definitely fun to go through.