Toy Story was a film of firsts, which set the bar so high that it may be some time before we see its like again. Some may argue that more relevant Pixar releases, such as Up or Inside Out, have managed to match it, but I will admit to not being one of them. Neither of those releases, despite Up‘s excellence, have been able to come anywhere near to the quality that permeates every aspect of Toy Story‘s production. Simply consider how it birthed a genre and visual style without resting on those laurels. Today it would be enough that it was some great visual step for mankind, not feeling any obligation to enhance that with consistently hilarious humour, memorable characters, sympathetic themes and the depth of an ocean.
All of these things simply cannot be denied when it comes to Toy Story, and there’s a reason it enjoys a legendary status. What can’t be holistically expressed is how it felt to be a five-year-old, perched in a cinema seat on some fateful day in 1995 – the year of its release. I feel profoundly lucky to have been that age, when the film was the exact opposite of dated and filling cinema screens day after day with children who actually wanted to shut up for once and watch. Even at that early stage of development, a time in which I was an undoubtedly airheaded rascal, it was clear that something special and important was happening in front of me. Perhaps I couldn’t even comprehend it at that level at the time, but I can at least say that receiving my own VHS tape of the movie was my grandest dream for that year’s Christmas.
I’m sure we all know the story, but for posterity I think it’s worth covering the plot regardless (as I usually do). Working on the assumption that all toys are, in fact, alive and have rich lives of their own that kickstart in the absence of their owners, Toy Story introduces us to Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) – a Cowboy doll with one of those old-school ring-pull voice boxes and young Andy’s most prized possession. That status carries over when Andy leaves, making Woody the de-facto leader of a vibrant and nostalgic collection of toys. Beloved, well-natured and respected, our protagonist lives a blissful and unchallenged existence of play – until one of Andy’s birthdays brings with it an unexpected surprise.
Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is a far more modern trinket than Woody with, as stated in the film itself, more gadgets on him than a Swiss Army knife. This naturally excites Andy, who can’t believe his luck at being granted the very latest in action figure artistry. Of course, this leaves Woody somewhat undermined – especially when the rest of the toys begin to fawn over this new addition to their rogues gallery. The only problem is, Lightyear is deluded and misled, believing he’s a genuine “Space Ranger” who has landed on a strange and potentially hostile planet. Eventually leading to an odd-couple journey of self and discovery, as Woody and Lightyear find themselves separated from Andy, the few recognisable and pedestrian elements of the plot dynamics quickly dissolve. What’s ever more noticeable is just how good everything about Toy Story is.
Toy Story is one of the very few films I consider to be near perfect (if we take as a truism that perfection itself is unattainable). It is, indeed, clear from watching it today in 2016 just how much computer animation has advanced since its release. Having said that, I can’t state enough just how huge of a step it was at the time, so i’m not sure even that can work as a criticism of it. The movie is consistently and solidly funny, beautifully animated (in its time), colourfully written and sounds magnificent thanks to appropriate ditties from Randy Newman and AAA voice acting.
None of that even comes close to mentioning the depth I previously mentioned, which is throughout in every corner of the work. Depth, of course, is the more subjective side that should be left to viewer interpretation and emotion. What almost every child who saw it simply must have taken from it though, is some new wonder and madcap philosophy; the kind of which every kid would be lost without. What if the world really did work like that? What if my wrestling figures actually got up and played on my Super Nintendo and talked amongst themselves while I was at school? Perhaps it even made you take it further, until you’re older and have come to the conclusion that all fictional characters probably have some kind of life somewhere, simply by virtue of the strength of our imaginations.
All of this, I think, is deliberate in Toy Story which, let’s not forget, was made in large part for a juvenile audience. What gives it a God-like status amongst its kind is that its depth is so inherent and clearly communicated that it never feels pretentious or overwrought. Instead, it drives the seeds of incredibly meaningful considerations into your mind with the warm embrace of next-to-flawless production values and pure comfortable enjoyment. It is surely the finest “kids film” of all time. Having thought on it at this length for the first time in my entire twenty-one years since initially seeing it, i’m beginning to wonder if it might be the greatest film of all time.
It’s not. Blade Runner is.