Saturday, February 4, 2017

Stubs - Toy Story

Toy Story (1995) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts. Directed by John Lasseter. Screenplay by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow. Produced by Bonnie Arnold, Ralph Guggenheim. Run Time: 81 minutes. U.S.A. Color. Animated, Adventure

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a toy? Well, you need to look no further than Tin Toy (1988), a CGI short directed by John Lasseter to show off the Pixar Image Computer's capabilities. Despite why the film was originally made, it would go on to win the 1988 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

The short Tin Toy (1988) was the precursor to Toy Story.

Tin Toy got the attention of the Walt Disney company, known for its traditional hand-drawn animated classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Alice in Wonderland. Under the regime led by Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg tried to seduce Lasseter, a former mouse house animator, back into the fold. But Lasseter felt loyal to Steve Jobs, then owner of Pixar, and decided to stay and make history with Pixar.

Undeterred, Katzenberg set in motion plans for a production deal with Pixar. Disney had made all their films in-house up until Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). But negotiations were not easy between the two companies. Disney had a bad reputation for how they treated their animators, something those at Pixar already knew, some like Lasseter knew that first hand. The other problem was Katzenberg himself, who had a well-established reputation as a micro-managing tyrant, something he himself copped to in a meeting between the studios. But things between the two studios worked out.

Originally conceived as a Christmas TV Special, A Tin Toy Christmas, as a way to gain experience before making a feature film, that gave way, in 1991 to a Tin Toy movie with the working title Toy Story. Disney would own the property with an option to do Pixar’s next two films and to make sequels with or without Pixar involvement using the characters in the film. Pixar would receive 12.5 percent of the ticket revenues in return.

It was in the writing of the film that the story began to take shape. Originally, under Katzenberg’s supervision, the character of Woody was the main villain and Tinny, the musical toy from Tin Story, was paired with a ventriloquist dummy and the two set out on an Odyssey together. When Disney relinquished creative control to Pixar, the story began to more resemble what we know now.

Tinny, which Lasseter felt was not antiquated, went through a transformation ultimately becoming a space ranger named Lunar Larry on his way to becoming Buzz Lightyear. Woody also went through his own makeover as it were, starting out as a ventriloquist dummy and ending up as a pull-string toy. The name Woody was supposedly in homage to Woody Strode, a black football player turned actor who appeared in several John Ford westerns, including Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

Woody (Tom Hanks) holds court with the other toys, advising them to get a buddy for the pending move.

Inside six-year-old Andy Davis’(John Morris) room, his toys live in a world of their own when he’s not around. Their leader, and Andy’s favorite toy, is Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), an old-fashioned pull-string Cowboy doll. Woody, as he’s called, organizes the other toys, including Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles); Slinky Dog (Jim Varney); Rex (Wallace Shawn), a cowardly dinosaur; Hamm (John Ratzenberger), a piggy bank; and Bo Peep (Annie Potts), a porcelain doll who is in love with Woody.

The toys paying attention to Woody's announcement include Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato
Head (Don Rickles), Slinky Dog  (Jim Varney), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

Andy’s family, which includes his single mom (Laurie Metcalf) and a younger sister, are getting ready to move and Woody wants all the toys to find a moving buddy. During the session, Woody also announces that today is Andy’s birthday party, which causes anxiety amongst the toys. With the exception of Woody, they are all worried about being replaced. In order to keep an eye on the gifts,

The Army soldiers under Sarge's (R. Lee Ermey) command deploy to eavesdrop on Andy's Birthday party.

Woody sends a platoon of green Army men, led by Sarge (R. Lee Ermey), downstairs. Using a baby monitor, Sarge reports back to the other toys the presents as Andy opens them. When there is nothing to worry about, Sarge signs off, but quickly tries to get back online when Andy’s mom brings out a surprise gift. Again, the toys are anxious, causing Rex to knock the baby monitor to the floor, causing the batteries to fall out. While they are struggling to get them back in, Andy and his friends come running upstairs to his room. The toys become inanimate and fall to the floor; Woody takes his place on top of Andy’s bed.

Woody tries to figure out what to do after Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) lands on Andy's bed.

In the commotion, Woody slips off the bed as when the new present lands on the bed. When the boys run out of the room for cake and ice cream, the toys come back to life and wonder who has replaced Woody. It turns out to be an unaware Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who doesn’t know that he’s only a toy. He thinks he’s on a space mission and is trying to make friends with the indigenous species while he attempts to make repairs to his spaceship, the box he came in.

Buzz "proves" to the other toys that he can really fly.

The other toys are impressed by all of Buzz’s features and even think that he can fly once he demonstrates his prowess. Woody is unimpressed, saying that Buzz is merely "falling with style!" Andy is also impressed and begins to favor him over Woody. Even though the family is days away from moving, we see Andy’s room transform into a shrine to Buzz with new sheets on the bed.

Woody can’t help but notice his diminished role in Andy’s life. When the family is planning a trip to Pizza Planet, Woody tries to trap Buzz behind the desk, to keep him from being picked, but he accidentally knocks Buzz out the window. The other toys gang up against Woody, accusing him of killing Buzz out of jealousy. But before they can punish Woody, Andy takes him as a second choice.

Woody convinces Buzz that the Pizza Planet delivery truck is taking them to a spaceport.

Down in the car, Woody finds that Buzz has also found his way into the car. When they’re left alone, when the mother stops for gas, the two get into a fight and fall out and find themselves left behind when the mother drives away without them. Seeing a delivery truck for Pizza Planet, Woody convinces Buzz that it is a spaceship that will take them to Andy. When Woody climbs into the back, Buzz carefully takes his place in the front seat with seat belts on.

Once they get to Pizza Planet they sneak in as trash. Woody starts looking for Andy’s family, but Buzz starts to look for a rocket ship, thinking Pizza Planet is a spaceport. At about the time Woody spies the family, Buzz has discovered a rocket-shaped crane game and crawls in. The game is populated, these are sentient toys after all, by little green squeeze alien toys (Jeff Pidgeon and Debi Derryberry), who treat the game as a sort of purgatory. Being pulled up by the crane is the same as salvation.

Woody becomes the hero to the little green squeeze toys (Jeff Pidgeon and
 Debi Derryberry) who are waiting inside the crane game.

Woody climbs into the game hoping to pull Buzz out, but they both get trapped when Sid Phillips (Erik von Detten), a ten-year-old bully and Andy’s next door neighbor, grabs Buzz with the crane and starts to pull him out. In his attempt to pull Buzz free, Woody gets caught up and Sid thinks he’s hit the jackpot. But Sid isn’t like Andy, he doesn’t play nice with his toys.

Sid Phillips (Erik von Detten) doesn't play nicely with his toys.

When Woody and Buzz are left alone, they discover that Sid’s room is occupied by a bizarre group of mutant toys created by combining parts from unlike toys together. Woody is shocked and scared by what he sees. He is surprised to see them help repair Buzz rather than consume him like toy cannibals.

Sid's toys are mutant creations.

Sid’s plan is to strap Buzz on a rocket that has just arrived in the mail. But the launch is delayed by a thunderstorm. Woody tries to make an escape, but they get separated and Buzz ends up in a room with a TV blaring a commercial, narrated by Penn Jillette, about the toy Buzz Lightyear and all the wonderful things it can do. Hearing that, Buzz for the first time realizes that he, too, is a toy. This news sort of bums him out. He tries to escape by flying, but he can’t and falls to the floor, where he is found by Sid’s sister Hannah (Sarah Freeman), who takes him as compensation for the myriad of toys her brother has ruined of hers.

Despondent, Buzz, who had one of his arms pop out in the fall, is dressed up as a member of her tea party. Woody, who had been hiding in a closet to get away from the Phillips’ family dog rescues Buzz from the tea party. Back in Sid’s room, Woody finally convinces Buzz that as a toy, he can make Andy happy. The mutant toys fix Buzz and then help Woody work out an elaborate scheme to rescue Buzz when Sid straps him to the rocket and takes him outside to launch him. Before Sid can light the rocket that he’s strapped to Buzz’s back, Woody and the other toys come to life in front of Sid, scaring him into no longer abusing toys and allowing Buzz and Woody to make their escape.

Before he's stopped, Sid plans to light the rocket strapped to Buzz's back.

But they just miss the family car, because Buzz has gotten caught up in the fence. Buzz and Woody chase after the moving truck, but Sid’s dog, Scud, gives chase, capturing Buzz. Woody tries to save him using Andy’s remote controlled car, RC, but the other toys turn on him. Still believing he has eliminated Buzz, the others, led by Mr. Potato Head, throw Woody off the end, but not before Woody has grabbed RC.

Buzz and Woody are "falling with style," but together.

They succeed in rescuing Buzz and while the other toys see them together, there is nothing they can do as RC’s batteries begin to run out. Woody tries to use the match that Sid didn’t to light the rocket, but the wind from a passing car blows it out.  Using Buzz's helmet shield as a magnifying glass, Woody ignites the rocket with the sun's rays and the three of them take flight. They manage to throw RC, now missing his remote, into the back of the truck as they soar by. Then Buzz uses his wings to free himself from the rocket just before it explodes. Buzz and Woody then glide and drop through the open sunroof into the mother’s car and land in a box right next to an excited Andy.

In the end, Andy (John Morris) gets Buzz and Woody back.

Flash forward to Christmas Day and Sarge and his men are on another reconnaissance mission while the toys in his room listen keenly for what presents Andy receives. Just as Woody is joking with Buzz that there is nothing Andy could receive that would be worse than Buzz, they hear over the intercom that Andy’s new gift is a puppy.

Released after dual premieres by Disney in LA and Pixar in San Francisco, the film was released on November 22, 1995, and would go on to gross $350 million worldwide on a budget of $30 million. Toy Story would also go on to be nominated for three Academy Awards Best Music—Original Song, for "You've Got a Friend in Me", and Best Music—Original Musical or Comedy Score both for Randy Newman and Best Original Screenplay for Joel Cohen, Pete Docter, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Alec Sokolow, Andrew Stanton and Joss Whedon, the first animated film to be so nominated.

Unlike say a DreamWorks Animation film, there are no hip cultural references that will quickly age the film. The writing is solid, managing to engage both young and old without speaking down to kids or up to adults. A buddy film with toys had never been done before and really hasn’t been done better, despite the sequels.

While CGI pioneered by Pixar has come a long way in the twenty-plus years since its release, the film for the most part still holds up. What was bad about the film then was its depiction of humans. While Pixar excelled at everything else, human characters appeared to elude them. They have gotten much better over the years with that, as well as other innovations that have made Pixar the premiere animation house, even though it is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney. What was once cutting-edge animation now looks a little below the standards Pixar keeps setting.

Besides the Easter eggs that first appear in this film, like the ball with the star on it, there are other things that this film demonstrates Pixar does very well. One of them is to get the most out of their voice actors. While Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were both new to voice work, it is not really amazing that they were good at their parts. What is surprising is that Pixar could take someone like Jim Varney, who I would normally move across the street to avoid, into a likable character actor. They would do the same thing in such films like Cars and Cars 2, where they made Larry the Cable Guy a mainstream star.

In fact, Pixar has excelled over the years with ensembles made up of actors from a variety of backgrounds including film actors, TV actors and stand-up comics; accomplished and unaccomplished alike. Somehow they have always managed to make them work. Some of the selections like Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head and Wallace Shawn as Rex are perfect.

The film was also the debut of John Ratzenberger in a Pixar film. Best known for his portrayal of the annoying Cliff Clavin on the long-running TV series Cheers, Ratzenberger would go on to appear in all of Pixar’s films to date. With him as a good luck charm, Pixar would have a very successful run of hit films, marred by only a few misfires.

Toy Story made Randy Newman, best known for his politically charged and satirical songs, into a more mainstream songwriter. While no stranger to writing film scores, his first was Ragtime (1981), it was songs like “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” that seemed to be a different offering for the accomplished songwriter. I don’t think he had many children fans before this film was released. Now the singer who was once known for such songs as “Short People” and “I Love L.A.” is also remembered for his song about friendship.

There is much to like about Toy Story. For a production company new to feature films, there is a certain feeling of magic surrounding their initial offering. The studio would certainly prove that it was no fluke with their next film, A Bug’s Life (1998).

Innovative, Toy Story is an interesting blend of talents from the producing, the writing, the voice acting and of course the animation and rendering. It was the first of its kind and the heralding in a change of animation from hand-drawn, which had been the tradition since film animation was first done. It also passed the baton, as it were, from Disney to Pixar as the premier animation house.

Toy Story is fun for children; it does not speak down to them. At the same time, the film is fun for adults as well and might even be a little nostalgic for some. Who didn’t have a favorite toy growing up that, at least when you were around, interacted with you like a real person? This film takes that a step further and tells they not only interacted with you, but with each other when you weren’t around. This is a film you can see several times, I have, and never grow tired of.

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