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TOY STORY
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Annie Potts, Wallace Shawn
Director:  John Lasseter
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Disney/Pixar
Features:  See Review
Length:  80 Minutes
Release Date:  March 23, 2010

"YOU ARE A CHILD'S PLAYTHING!!"

"You are a sad, strange little man..."

Film ***1/2

Toy Story was an innovative breakthrough in technology and storytelling in the proudest Walt Disney tradition.  It was the first full length film completely animated by computer, and largely the result of the pioneering spirit of John Lasseter (though he certainly had a lot of help!), whose little computer animation studio Pixar produced a couple of Oscar winning shorts, and who was convinced that such an ambitious project would be worth the time and money spent.  Boy, was he right.

Toy Story is more than a technological triumph, however.  It was a perfect use of technique enhancing a good story, rather than dominating it.  Like all good animated films, this one boasts a perfect cast of voices, which brings out the humanity in the toys and help propel the tale along.

The premise is wonderful:  did you ever wonder as a child if your toys were really alive?  I used to think so, though I never imagined a world quite like Andy’s room in this film.  Andy, like most kids, has a room full of great toys…some of them staples of childhood, like the Etch-a-Sketch, the Mr. Potato Head, the green army guys, the barrel of monkeys, and so on.  And when Andy’s away, his toys come alive!  They walk, talk, interact, and otherwise carry on a ‘normal’ existence in the microcosm of a playroom.

The leader of the toys is Woody (Hanks), a cowboy figure with a pull string.  His friends include the aforementioned Mr. Potato Head (Rickles), a slinky dog (Varney), Bo Peep (Potts), a big green T-Rex (Shawn) and many others.  Right now, Woody is busy organizing the toys for Andy and his family’s moving day, and getting ready for one of the big events of the year:  Andy’s birthday.  What new toys will he receive?  Who will be joining them in the playroom?  Will anybody get replaced?  Woody insists not.  “This is ANDY we’re talking about!” he proclaims with all the loyalty of a favorite toy.

Andy’s birthday, however, means the arrival of a cool new space toy, a Buzz Lightyear action figure (Allen).  He’s the kind of toy every little kid would want.  He has wings, a retractable helmet, lots of buttons and a flashing laser light.  But there are two problems.  One, Buzz seems to be taking over Woody’s place in Andy’s life.  And two, Buzz…well, he has no clue he’s a toy, thinking instead he’s the REAL Buzz Lightyear.  His pomposity doesn’t make him any more endearing to Woody.

Woody, in a moment of desperation, tries to knock Buzz into the toys’ no-man’s-land, behind the dresser, but ends up instead with Buzz going out the window and into the yard of neighbor Sid.  Sid is the kind of kid we all knew.  His biggest pleasure is in destroying toys.  Now, it’s up to Woody to go after Buzz and bring him back safely, before the moving day and before the other toys can get their hands on Woody, whom they now consider a traitor!

This computer animated world makes possible visuals and imaginative worlds never before captured on screen, and brings them all to life through the eyes of two toys on an adventure.  The comedy is inspired and funny, and include lots of little touches (note, for example, the tool box bearing the Binford logo, in homage to Tim Allen’s show Home Improvement).  To call this film an instant landmark is entirely fair, though to be honest, the animation techniques still had a little further to go in making the human characters look human instead of like big toys themselves.

Overall, this picture is a delight for both kids, who will no doubt be caught up in the world of the toys, and adults, who will likely also enjoy the story, but also marvel at just how much work and talent it took to create such a picture.  The time and effort were well spent…Toy Story not only broke fresh new ground, it was a hugely popular hit.  One that cried out for at least TWO sequels!

Video ****

What a treat to go back and re-visit such a groundbreaking film in animation history in glorious high definition.  As you might expect, the results are quite flawless; transferring a purely digital medium to a purely digital source maintains every image, color and detail of the studio's original vision.  One can say that computer animation has come a long way since this original offering, and certainly more modern ones may benefit from the ever-increasing technology available, but viewing this is sheer joy.

Audio ****

Lasseter instinctively knew the importance of sound when crafting a film like this, and Toy Story's DTS HD soundtrack delivers the goods in fully expansive and discreet glory.  Dynamic range is strong, the music from Randy Newman is terrific, and there are plenty of wonderfully big and comically tuned scenes to keep all areas of your home theatre in business.

Features ****

Disney has earned a high reputation for their thoughtful releases of titles in Blu-ray and DVD combo packs; which is great for those who haven't yet made the leap to high definition, but plan to...you can enjoy the DVD now, and already be set when you add your inevitable Blu-ray player!

I'm going to focus on the Blu-ray disc, since it's the newest addition here.  The best part is that there is a separate menu for the original DVD features, which is very helpful.  There are so many extras to enjoy, and this means you won't have to review ones you've seen before if you don't want to.

Those original extras include a commentary track by Lasseter and his crew, the Oscar winning short film Tin Toy that would provide the inspiration for making Toy Story, a multi-language reel that demonstrates how the movie’s audio played for foreign audiences, ‘interviews’ with Buzz and Woody, a collection of all the ‘treats’ created for ABC Saturday morning television, the history of the project, the character design, location design, story development, movie making secrets, music and sound design, abandoned concepts (including the original looks for Woody and Buzz), deleted scenes, early tests, original treatments, the storyboard pitch, storyboard to film comparisons (including multi-angle presentations), animation production demos, trailers, TV spots, posters and artwork, music videos, original song demos, a guide to hidden jokes, and 3-D tours of the sets.

That's more than enough, but we haven't even gotten to the new goodies crafted just for the Blu-ray debut!  There is a sneak peak at the upcoming Toy Story 3, plus a look at how the young artists who crafted the movie got into Pixar in the first place.  There are featurettes on the making of the impressive Buzz Lightyear Macy's parade float, three Pixar animated shorts, and a look at NASA for the kids hosted by Buzz, Hamm and Rex.

Most interesting of all, though, is "Black Friday".  It's a look at the Toy Story that almost was before it became the endearing classic we know and love today!

Summary:

Toy Story paved the way for computer animated films, and the genre has been expanding and enchanting ever since.  It's a wonderful treat to go back and remember when sights like these were brand new, and thanks to this quality Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, it can feel exactly like that all over again. 

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