|Toy Story / Toy Story 2 (The Ultimate Toy Box Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 17 October 2000|
"Ultimate" is the word all right. Another of a series of dazzling DVD packages, "The Ultimate Toy Box" includes not only the wonderful "Toy Story" and its even better sequel, but shorts produced by the same Pixar team, and an array of extras so long and detailed that it would take this entire review to list them all.
But unlike the extras on other "ultimate" DVD packages, even the best ones, the extras here are fun, usually hosted by Pixar's head artistic honcho, John Lasseter, a happy, outgoing guy with evidently huge collections of toys and Hawaiian shirts. Beaming, tossing off silly quips, he, Lee Unkrich and other Pixar pixies pop up again and again, even in the several Easter eggs hidden in the collection. There are three discs here; the first is, of course, "Toy Story" itself, the world's first feature-length computer-graphics animated movie, and that disc includes several extras. The next disc, naturally, features the sequel -- and more extras. The third disc is all extras.
Now, some of these are what you'd expect: commentary tracks for both features, highly listenable, funny and informative, just what you'd expect from this bunch. (After going through this disc, you might find yourself making plans to send Lasseter your resumé; he seems like a great person to work for.) Just how the films were made is carefully and thoroughly demonstrated, from early story concepts, through the changing designs for the lead characters, to animation that was almost completed, but deleted. There are TV spots, theatrical trailers, posters, a guide to hidden jokes (in "Toy Story 2"), song demos, music videos, and more.
There are even bogus extras -- such as an "on-set" interview with Buzz and Woody for "Toy Story," and "outtakes" from "Toy Story 2." There's also a long string of what look like blackout gags from "Toy Story," apparently included as bumpers for a Disney TV show, all funny, all bright, all worth watching. Disc 3 includes photos of all the (imaginary) Woody's Roundup paraphernalia, soberly viewed from front, side -- and even the back of the cardboard cutouts. The Pixar people make jokes everywhere.
The fact that "Toy Story" was the first CGI feature is historically interesting, and if that's all it had been, it would be only of historical interest. But the movie is simply wonderful, brilliantly written, perfect for adults and children, and with that great, great voice cast.
The basic format of "Toy Story" is a buddy movie; director Lasseter, who conceived the project, had his writers (the script is credited to Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow) and others of the production team watch buddy movies from "The Defiant Ones" to "Lethal Weapon" for inspiration. They realized that most of these films feature two guys who are each other's opposites, so Woody is a cowboy and Buzz a spaceman. And it does function as a buddy movie in the classic sense, but mostly as a fast-paced comedy with lots of twists and turns, and a heck of a climax.
No one anyone was expecting this first outing in the CGI field to be this good: "Toy Story" is distinctly superior to "Pocahontas" just on the level of entertainment. It's not a near-masterpiece like "Beauty and the Beast," nor is it quite up to the level of "The Little Mermaid" and "The Lion King." It lacks the emotional depth of all three of those, and is instead probably more comparable to "Aladdin." But it is wonderful light entertainment and was topped by "Toy Story 2," which finds even more heart in these plastic, cloth and metal playthings. The first movie took the viewpoint that the greatest desire of a toy, what they were literally built for, is to be played with by a happy child. The second one expanded on this: what is it like for a toy when it's abandoned by a child? And is being a prized collectible better than being an inevitably-discarded plaything? "You never forget kids like Emily or Andy," sighs Jessie, brilliantly voiced by Joan Cusack, "but they forget you." So even if Woody returns home, Andy will eventually discard him; it's the way of the toy world. If he goes to Japan as a the collectible he is, he'll be revered forever, but no one will ever play with him again.
The movie was again directed by John Lasseter, co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon, and written by Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin & Chris Webb from a screen story by Lasseter, Brannon, Stanton and Pete Docter. The plot is clever, the dilemma actually complex, and the sad idea that a toy must eventually be discarded by the one it loves the most is beautifully touching.
But the real triumph of "Toy Story" and of the sequel as well is the utter reality of these characters. Like the best cartoon animation, we buy into this as a real world, not because of the great production design (here, by William Cone and Jim Pearson), not because of the comedy, not because of the story -- but because the voices and writing make these impossible characters seem completely real and alive for the duration of the film -- and, in your memory, long after as well.
Do yourself a favor and get "The Ultimate Toy Box."