Twenty years ago a new film company with old roots released its first feature-length movie starring a jealous lawman embroiled in an attempted-murder case. Along the way the movie features torture, a mutant cult, and an off-screen execution. Now that may sound like another nightmare-inducing remake of The Hills Have Eyes but instead we are talking about one of the one of the most beloved children’s films of all time. Pixar had a long history before Toy Story‘s release to critical acclaim back in 1995 but its debut paved the way for the huge catalog of success for the company, right up through the recent release of Inside Out, and helped kick off a new genre of films.
From the opening scenes Toy Story introduces a surprisingly deep roster of characters: a wisecracking piggy bank, a loyal Slinky Dog, an insecure T.Rex, a dueling etchisketch and a host of others. Sheriff Woody stars as the favorite toy of beloved owner Andy and serves as the de facto leader of the group, leading staff meetings and celebrating the success of “Tuesday night’s plastic corrosion awareness meeting.” At the start of the film the toys are preparing for Andy’s impending birthday party and an upcoming move to a new house. In the world of the toys birthday parties lead to an especially frantic panic as they worry that a flashy newcomer will replace them and rob them of Andy’s love. Rex, already terrified that he’s not terrifying enough, clasps his tiny hands together and whimpers: “What if it’s another dinosaur? A mean one? I just don’t think I can take that kind of rejection!” Once the guests start to arrive only Woody remains confident and he does his best to calm the crowd.
After a daring reconnaissance mission led by toy soldiers we learn that the worst has come and a new toy is poised to join the group. Soon the eccentric but dashing action figure Buzz Lightyear bursts onto the scene and attempts to secure Andy’s room in the name of Star Command. Unlike the others, Buzz doesn’t understand the fact that he is a toy and sets out to fulfill his role as Space Ranger on a mission to return to his home planet.
Equipped with karate chop action, wrist mounted lasers and retractable wings, Buzz soon becomes Andy’s go-to toy and one of the most popular members in the community. Woody watches in horror as western themed blankets and posters are replaced with Space Command gear. Things spiral out of control for Woody when he tries to swap places with Buzz on an upcoming trip to the now famously Easter Egg-ed Pizza Planet. As his plan falls apart, Hamm and Mr. Potato Head accuse Woody of casting Buzz out in a jealous rage. With the support of his old friends lost and the attention of Andy slipping, Woody sets out to redeem himself and bring Buzz home. On their journey in the outside world, Woody and Buzz deal with a Crane Game Cult, a disfigured band of cannibals, and the sadistic antics of a potential future serial killer.
Like Pixar’s subsequent films, Toy Story wrestles with compelling themes and dresses them with witty humor and piggy bank jokes. Buzz grapples with his identity, Woody with jealousy and self-image, Rex with self-confidence, and Mr. Potato Head with the struggles of handling infants. None of these issues are unique to Toy Story or Pixar (Disney’s earlier animated films forced non-humans to deal with these same human emotions) but the film lays the groundwork for what would become a two decade long run of complex films dealing with relatively heavy issues for the genre. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Up and the rest make up one of the most remarkable filmographies for any studio going back all the way to the Golden Age majors. Over the next few weeks Flashback/Backslide will walk through the entire Pixar canon and review each of the movies in our second blogathon. We hope you enjoy!