Never Leave a Good Toy Behind

Toy Story

Toys get misplaced all the time. Kids will set them down and then return later only to find them out of place. Did somebody come into the room and move them, or is the misplacement just a figment of their imagination? Neither. Toys have their own magical abilities, allowing them to walk and talk. Only we humans aren’t privy to this, as it only occurs when nobody is around. This is what John Lasseter and Pixar would have us believe with the movie Toy Story.

Pixar took a simple “what if” scenario and made it into an animated reality. The film was Disney’s first computer-animated release and was a monster success. To this day it is widely considered one of the best animated films of all time. Last year it made an appearance on the American Film Institute’s famed 100 Years, 100 Movies list – just squeaking in at number ninety-nine. Four years after its release and with heightened expectations, a sequel was released, and it was every bit as enjoyable as the original.

So why has Disney decided to release both films in glorious 3-D for two weeks only? The rhyme or reason isn’t all too clear, since the third entry in the franchise doesn’t make its theater bow until June 2010. Regardless, the double bill is a great way for us to spend our entertainment dollar.

I saw both films in theaters when they were released originally, owned them on VHS, and currently have two copies of each on DVD. Still, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them both on the big screen again. The 3-D effect was an enticer, but to see Toy Story and Toy Story 2 with a new group of moviegoers was the real treat. Children who never got to see Sheriff Woody and space ranger Buzz Lightyear in theatres were able to take in the same experience that I first had in 1995.

A beautiful marriage of art and technology, Toy Story was a watershed moment in the history of animation. Computer-generated imagery for animation ushered in a new era of film-making: traditional, hand drawn animation would quietly fade into the background.

If you have never seen Toy Story, well, the tale is mapped out as a buddy picture. Woody, the pull-string cowboy doll, is the leader of Andy’s toy box. His leadership isn’t called into question until trouble arises in the form of Buzz Lightyear, an action figure Andy receives for his birthday. The shiny new plastic toy makes Woody Kermit-the-Frog green with envy. Is his time up as Andy’s favorite toy? Will Little Bo Peep ditch the sheriff in favor of the new arrival with impressive wingspan? Not wanting to find out the answer to either question, Woody knocks Buzz out the window, accidentally (?). This sets up a radically cool adventure with the Cowboy and Spaceman trying to get back to Andy’s bedroom. They put their differences aside and form an uneasy alliance as they encounter obstacles and detours – they even become prisoners of the next-door neighbor, a kid who just loves to maim defenseless toys.

The sequel was again another adventure flick, only this time it’s Buzz Lightyear and a small contingent of Andy’s toys are out to save Woody. Woody’s been kidnapped (make that toynapped) by an obsessive toy collector. Unbeknownst to Woody, he is a valued collectible from a short-lived 1950s TV show called Woody’s Roundup. In the possession of the toy collector, Woody meets other toys from that show – Jessie the Cowgirl, Bullseye the Horse and Stinky Pete the Prospector. As Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Rex (a dinosaur) and Slinky Dog set out to rescue Woody, Woody has a choice to make: does he stay with the rest of the Roundup gang, or does he go back to Andy, knowing that one day Andy will grow old of toys?

Toy Story 2 has the understated issue of abandonment and what it’s like to no longer be valued. Whereas its predecessor explored the value of friendship, no matter what your differences may be. Together the films are timeless reminders for those who remember playing with an Etch A Sketch or board games like Clue. You don’t have to be a certain age to enjoy them, either. Ages five, fifteen or fifty, it doesn’t matter.

Pixar, once a small animation studio, became a giant because of films like these. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are witty and endearing and have as many laughs as a barrel full of monkeys. Something I’ve always valued about Pixar is the hiring of actors who could create characters, and not just be a big name to sell movie tickets. The studio just sort of lucked out with Tom Hanks and his newfound fame, coming off two back-to-back Academy Award wins and Apollo 13. He provides the voice of Woody; stand-up comic turned TV dad, Tim Allen, is Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the cast includes the likes of Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Annie Potts, Jim Varney and Full Metal Jacket‘s R. Lee Ermey, playing the commanding officer of a bucket full of soldiers: the green plastic ones that moms always complain about after stepping on them.

Two old sayings you can count on with this return engagement: “what’s old is new again” and “a little something for everyone.” I hope the limited run is successful enough so that the rest of the Pixar library is reissued in 3-D, and entertain new audiences for years to come.

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