Debuts Blogathon: John Lasseter – Toy Story (1995)

To kick off the ‘Debuts’ blogathon, co-hosted by myself and Mark at Three Rows Back, we have Thomas from Video as Life who is looking at Toy Story, the directorial debut of John Lasseter. Thomas is relatively new to the world of blogging, but he’s got some really eclectic reviews on his site. Head over and check it out. Now then, Toy Story really is a true classic; here’s what Thomas has to say about it…

JOHN LASSETER

Toy Story (1995)

It’s a great feeling to know that a movie is still as great, if not better, as when you first saw it. When I was young and when my family would go on vacation, we would take a small TV and wedge it between the driver and passenger seats. Part of my preparation was to pick out the tapes we would watch. Toy Story was the one of the few tapes that would stay in our travel library; in fact, we only watched it on road trips. When it was time for freshman orientation a few years ago, our theme was “To Infinity and Beyond!” It was especially fitting as I met with fellow computer animation majors (back when that was my major before switching to film). Long story short, this film has stayed with me for as long as I can remember. Of course, watching this today immediately after seeing something like Monsters University is a bit of a shock to the eyes because it’s a noticeable step back in terms of aesthetics and technical execution. Still, it holds up and continues to entertain and enchant.

I’d hate to presume that everyone has seen Toy Story but for the sake of this special review, I’ll go over the plot and much more.

We begin with Andy playing with his toys. It’s child’s play as a make-believe session set in a western town includes a Slinky dog with force fields and a dinosaur who eats them just because they can. Woody comes in and saves the day, stopping a bad potato from robbing everyone. Good clean wholesome fun. It’s no ordinary day, as Andy is having his birthday party early before they move to a new house. As soon as Andy puts Woody on his bed, that’s when the toys really come to life.

Woody is the leader of the pack as they come together for a staff meeting. The toys are adults and treat each other as such, most of the time. The whole set-up is like an organization, with each member dedicated to making this one kid happy just by being toys. Things are going well until kids start showing up for the party with presents. Woody sends out army men to scope the scene for new additions to the crew. After hearing about same rather lame presents, Andy’s mom pulls out a surprise that’s really something. The toys don’t figure it out yet as a tornado of children storm up to Andy’s room and leave it in some disarray. Woody comes out from under the bed as the toys wonder why Andy would do something like that. Woody climbs up and then we see the fancy new toy: a Buzz Lightyear. Oh. My. Gosh. A Buzz Lightyear? Must want! Sorry. Well, after his introduction, Buzz doesn’t seem to make a good impression on Woody. Andy spends his time playing with Buzz as we see a change of his interests as Buzz is in drawings, posters, and bed sheets. It goes to the point of near ultimate shame as Woody is put in the toy box instead of Andy’s arms when he sleeps.

One afternoon, Andy goes to Pizza Planet. But before that, his mom calls him for some reason and leaves the room learning that he can only bring one toy. Fueled by jealousy, Woody knocks Buzz out of the window. Before the other toys have the chance to lynch him, Andy returns and takes Woody, disappointed that he can’t find Buzz. They stop at a gas station as Buzz and Woody fight and are out of the van as Andy leaves. They have an argument that leads to Woody screaming at Buzz “YOU ARE A TOY!!!!!!!!” They then hitch a ride on a Pizza Planet delivery car and try to make their way to Andy. That all fails when Sid, the evil neighbor next door, takes them after winning them in a claw game.

From there, it’s a matter of survival as they try to get back to Andy before the move. Sid’s house is far from paradise, with friendly mutant toys, a vicious dog, and Sid himself. How much worse can it get? Well, if you look at the carpet in the hallway from the top of the stairs, it’s a variation of the carpet from the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Frankly, I’d like to have the carpet in my house but that’s a whole other story. They escape and scare the living daylights out of Sid. It’s then a race to the moving truck as the toys have to dodge traffic. All’s well in the end as Woody and Buzz fall with style into the van and celebrate their first Christmas together in the new house.

As a kid, I liked it because the toys could talk and that was about it. Now, it’s about the way the story works. The story was written by four people, two of them being Joel Coen of the Coen brothers and Joss Whedon. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. While there are musical numbers in the movie, none of them are performed by the characters, something Joss and John Lasseter agreed on. Could you imagine these toys breaking out into song in a film like this? Neither can I.

Toy Story debuted as the first ever full-length computer animated film and marked the start of John Lasseter’s directorial position in 1995. This film set the mark for what computer animated films can do. Computer animated features can be successful when they have a combination of a good story, characters we can relate and emote with, and a good style. Sadly, that’s not always the case as there are bombs like Dougal, Hoodwinked Too!: Hood vs. Evil, and Mars Needs Moms just to name a few. Computer animation is not cheap and when a film made in that medium fails, it’s a hard loss to write off.

Now, what else has John Lasseter directed? A Bug’s Life, the next Pixar film which set the stage for the Dreamworks vs. Pixar movies after Antz was released two months before Pixar released their bug-themed film, Toy Story 2, Cars, and Cars 2. Each film helped establish Pixar as the then-dominant computer animated movie house; now, it’s a fierce competition between Pixar, Dreamworks, Illumination Entertainment, and Blue Sky Studios. While each film grew better in visual quality, most people say Cars was when people realized that even the mighty can fall. I wasn’t a fan of the first installment mainly because of the characters. Sure, the cars looked great in different lighting situations but I couldn’t find a reason to care about why Lightning McQueen needed to race and leave Radiator Springs. The second one, well, click on the link. I guess I wasn’t the intended audience for that franchise.

This is one film that won’t vanish into obscurity. Whether it’s with kids, a bunch of college friends (especially animation majors), or even just by yourself because you feel like it, Toy Story remains as the benchmark for storytelling through computer animation and is one that will be enjoyed no matter how old you are. It was the first of many things and will be studied and enjoyed from now until infinity and beyond.

Over at Three Rows Back today, Beatrice from Big Screen Small Worlds is tackling Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket. Head over there right now to check it out if you haven’t already.

Check back tomorrow to see Isaac from The IPC look at Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate.

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16 thoughts on “Debuts Blogathon: John Lasseter – Toy Story (1995)

  1. Thanks so much for getting involved Thomas, great way to kick the blogathon off!

  2. table9mutant says:

    Excellent review of one of the all-time greatest films (in my opinion). 🙂 This is going to be a fun blogathon – may have to join in if you do it again! Speaking of The Shining carpet, have you seen the pictures of the two films combined? Toy Shining – they’re great! I blogged about it & included a link to the artist’s site.

    Good work here – I’ll be sure to check all of these out!

  3. Reblogged this on Video As Life and commented:
    I’ll go back over and re-link things tomorrow or so but in the meantime, check it out!

  4. Excellent work Thomas. A great way to jointly launch the Blogathon!

  5. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I remember when I first saw this the animation really blew me away.

  6. Mark Walker says:

    Excellent review Thomas. Toy Story will always remain a real treat. It doesn’t matter what age you are, there’s just no denying the abundance of enjoyment to be had.

  7. Nice write up! What a classic.

  8. armanddc says:

    Great review of one the greatest animation films! Wonderful job, Thomas! Can’t believe I never got the chance to read your stuff. I’m following. 🙂

  9. Wonderful review. Just a quick note: One of the screenwriters was Joel Cohen, who’s written such films as Money Talks, Cheaper By the Dozen, the live action Garfield movies, and Daddy Day Camp. Bill Murray made the same mistake with the name (which was the reason he signed on to do Garfield in the first place; he didn’t find out the truth until it was too late).

  10. Nick Powell says:

    Oh Lassester, if he’d only kept up with Toy Story quality stories and not bail on us with Cars, all for the sake of cash. Great review, though. Made me very nostalgic Might have to open up my toy chest and watch it again.

  11. ruth says:

    Woo hoo!! Great blogathon Chris and I LOVE Toy Story! I forgot this was Lasseter’s first film, WOW, what a debut indeed. He certainly puts Pixar on the map and went on to create one of THE best trilogy of all time, too. I love all the characters in this movie, it’s amazing how animated characters could be so much emotional gratification, better than some live-action films. That alone is quite a feat. Great choice!

  12. Great review! I’ve always loved Toy Story and reading your review just makes me want to see it again!

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