100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 89: TOY STORY

by Daniel Suddes

Toy Story (1995)  –  Director: John Lasseter   Screenplay:  Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow   Starring:  Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, R.Lee Erney, Laurie Metcalf

One has to wonder what the creators of Toy Story ultimately intended. Did they know that they were ushering in a new era when they released the film? I am not sure. I know that the objective in making the film was not to revolutionize the world. Usually, such films fail, as they are too caught up in their own gimmick.

Ultimately, Toy Story’s strength is not solely in its visuals. It is also in its embrace of the medium. Animation is meant to create world that could never exist, but still feels familiar. Toy Story is one of the most original animated films ever created. Even after only 15 years, the influence of Toy Story is far and wide.

Now, I could talk about the animation. If time has been unkind to any part of Toy Story, it is this part. Every single animated film is now animated on computers, even when it is not necessary. Toy Story started a revolution, and I am not sure it even knew it was doing so.

This has become one of those films that everyone knows. The catchphrase “Too Infinity and Beyond” entered the common lexicon for a time in the mid-nineties. Besides, the film was clever enough to incorporate real toys into the film. Normally, I would call this shallow product placement, but here I find it a nice touch. There is a reason for this (as I will describe below) but right now a problem has become apparent with the film. Namely, no one gives it as much credit as they used to. Toy Story now looks like every other animated film. In that regard, no one views the animation as particularly special.

But then, Toy Story does something with its animation that a film like Shrek does not. It makes sure that there is a point. Toy Story is meant to take place in our reality, but with items that cannot happen. The 3D was entirely necessary, as it gives a connection to our world. In addition, the toys actually look like children’s toys, rather than facsimiles of the toys. It makes the world seem more…realistic would be the wrong word, but it does feel that way.

But what is incredible is how dedicated the film is to the world it has created. Most of the tension in the film, of course, evolves from the typical feelings of jealousy when someone new outshines your accomplishments. But the toys never forget they are toys. That is important. If the toys had treated each other as, say, people, then the film may have failed. Audiences are constantly reminded that the characters are all made of plastic, and the characters all act in that manner. Buzz Lightyear, for example, does not think of himself as human. He thinks of himself as a generic space ranger. Woody knows what his role is, and seems happy with it.

Those are the greatest scenes in the film – Buzz and Woody arguing with each other about their nature. It is here that the script shines, that the animation allows for the creation of emotional beings – it is all something  very special.  

That is why the film is one of the greatest of all time. Not only is it one of the most influential films of all time, it is a film that stays convicted to the world that it has created. I know of few films that were willing to be this brave. Star Wars is one. The Wizard of Oz is another. Other Pixar films  come close, but never quite get there. Take Monster’s Inc. Again, the world has the potential to exist on its own terms. But it does not go far enough with the premise – we know that the film is trying to exist with our world, and any rational person can recognize the fact that these people do not exist. Toy Story manages to be self-contained, and thus becomes more believable.

What Toy Story managed to do was unbelievable. It managed to help move western animation forward. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not another great leap like this can happen again. The fact that every single film is copying Toy Story is a problem. But then, maybe that means the time is right for another revolution.

 Did You Know: The film is based on Pixar’s earlier short film Tin Toy. During the “staff meeting” scene, a book  behind Woody reads Tin Toy a reference to the short.

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