A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 118 – Toy Story

Toy Story – June 26th, 2010

The first thing that struck me after putting this in is that it’s a damn good thing the toys are the focus of the movie cause the humans are a wee bit too close to the uncanny valley for my taste. The toys, on the other hand, are wonderfully done, which is, of course, the whole point. This is the secret life of the toys we had as kids – and still have. I can count three action figures and twelve stuffed animals in our bedroom. Thirteen if you count the Weighted Companion Cube. And they’re not all mine. There are definitely more in the other rooms of our apartment. And while as a rational adult I’m rather certain that they’re not prancing around and tossing off Joss Whedonesque witticisms in our absence, when I was a kid? Yeah, I totally thought my toys were alive. I anguished over consigning dolls I’d been given but never much liked to the closet. I held on to toys I never touched out of a sense of loyalty to them.

So it’s kind of disturbing and bizarre to see Pixar take that and be all “See? Your toys DO give a damn!” AAAAAAAAH! There’s a part of me that feels like Sid at the end. Suddenly confronted with the eerie truth that these inanimate objects are quite decidedly animated. Thank goodness it’s just on screen, otherwise I’d have some truly T-Rexian guilt going on.

The toys we meet in the movie are certainly a lively bunch. Aside from the whole plot and all, the real charm of the movie comes from the toys themselves and the characters they’ve been given and the performances of their voice actors. It’s fun to see how Mr. Potato Head is a bit of a grump. T-Rex has some severe confidence issues. Bo Peep is a little more come hither than I’d remembered. And Woody is the confident and affable sheriff who leads them all in their daily routine of making sure their owner, Andy, is having a good time playing with them. To be honest, the plot is incidental to me. I just want to see more toys. The whole thing with Woody being Andy’s favorite and then getting replaced when Andy gets a brand new Buzz Lightyear (who has no idea he’s a toy and manages to provide a Wilhelm for us)? Yeah, I get it. Jealousy is an ugly thing, but who’s not familiar with it, right? As an emotional link for the viewer, it’s a tricky one. But it works okay because of their teamwork at the end, working together to get back to Andy after Woody “accidentally” knocks Buzz out the window and is then ejected himself when the other toys find out. Still, for me the whole movie is an excuse to hear the jokes made and see the toys up and about.

Of my two favorite scenes, only one really matters to the plot. The first is the whole thing with the little alien squeeze toys when Buzz and Woody get stuck in one of those impossible toy-grabber machines you see and avoid at arcades. I love that Woody describes the creepy little three-eyed aliens who worship The Claw as “zealots”. What kids’ movie uses the word “zealots”? This one. We desperately wanted one of those toys when this movie came out. They had them at Burger King or something, but we could never hit the right one on the right week and get the damn thing.

Anyhow, my other favorite bit is towards the end, during one of the darkest areas of the movie: Sid’s room. As part of the whole Get Back Home quest/buddy thing Woody and Buzz have going on for the majority of the movie, they end up in Andy’s neighbor’s house. Sid is sort of a younger Scut Farkus, but with more of a focus on explosions and no coon skin cap. Or yellow eyes. Same laugh, though, so I think my comparison stands. Sid is a nasty little piece of work who likes to destroy his (and his sister’s) toys. And in his room is the most fantastic collection of bizarre cobbled together toys ever. A doll head with mechanical spider legs, the bottom half of a Barbie with a winch on top, a jack-in-the-box with a hand that pops out. They’re the stuff of nightmares and the Twilight Zone and I always feel bad that they’re stuck there when Buzz and Woody escape, even if Sid is momentarily too frightened to touch them.

I guess I am glad I took care of my toys, even if I don’t play with them and many of the ones of my childhood have been packed up and given away. At least I know they won’t come after me in my sleep, and that’s a pleasant thought.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Toy Story

June 26, 2010

Toy Story

We needed something easy to watch tonight, and Toy Story 3 is in the theaters, so it’s a special treat! The first ever feature length computer animated movie, and the film that launched Pixar to fame and fortune. It’s cool looking back at this movie again. The cutting edge of computer generated effects from the early nineties have aged somewhat. There are some scenes where the backgrounds appear vast and empty (often intentionally – such as when Buzz and Woody are lost at the gas station.) But the plastic looking CG tech of the day was ideally suited to the look of the movie they set out to make.

I was caught up in this movie again tonight as if all those years had not passed in between. Right from the opening scene I was grabbed once again by Randy Newman’s folksey songs and the bright and brilliant palette of the film. It was like being welcomed again by an old friend.

I haven’t watched this movie in rather a long time, and it’s kind of a shock to see how darkly jealous Woody gets. I suppose I had glossed over that in my memory after his later heroism and the different arc of the second movie. A quick summary of the plot for the one or two of you who have been living in a cave for twenty years and for some reason haven’t seen this movie: Woody is a cowboy toy – favorite toy of young Andy and sort of de-facto leader of all the toys that inhabit Andy’s room. (As a quick aside – I always found it strange that the children in this movie are Andy and Molly – since that’s me and my sister. As far as I know nobody involved in the making of Toy Story ever knew us, so I assume it’s a strange coincidence. I’m not ruling out the Truman Show explanation though.) For his birthday Andy gets an incredible new Buzz Lightyear toy, and Woody begins to fear that he’s destined to play second fiddle to the newcomer. Things are not made easier by the fact that the Buzz toy is delusional, and believes that he really IS Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, and not a child’s plaything. Eventually Woody accidentally knocks Buzz out the window and into the yard of the sadistic toy-torturing neighbour Sid. The rest of the movie is a big adventure story, as Woody has to rescue Buzz and they need to find a way to get back to Andy before he and his family move away.

It’s a simple idea, but it’s the care and love with which the good people of Pixar realize the story that makes the movie so endearing and has provided such lasting devotion and created not just a fantastic film franchise but also an entire film studio. As I watched it tonight I was examining every little detail. Things like the books behind Woody as he leads the toys in Andy’s room through a meeting (many of the titles are from Pixar shorts – with Tin Toy prominently displayed in the middle.) Things like the cool effect they used for Buzz’s glow-in-the-dark detailing. Things like all the cool space-themed games and drink dispensers at the Pizza Planet that Buzz and Woody visit.

The movie is packed with jokes that poke loving fun at the toys we all grew up with. (Mr. Potatohead particularly gets about twenty great gags about his removable appendages.) It’s also a celebration of the joy of play. Like all kids Andy has a huge mish-mash of different toys all of different scales and different manufacture, and the opening scene of him playing with them all is exactly the kind of imaginative flight of fancy that kids playing with their toys have to take. I love the over-sized popgun taped to Mr. Potatohead’s outstretched hand, and the piggy bank being the bank he’s robbing. I love all the cardboard boxes used as buildings. You see these toys, and Andy playing with them, and you want to play with them too.

When you think about Pixar (or when I do anyhow) there are names that come to mind. Lasseter, Docter and Stanton primary amongst them. (Bird didn’t come on the Pixar scene until later.) And there all three of them are in the story credit at the start of the movie. And look at the writing credits! Joss Whedon and Joel Cohen working on the same film? How could it NOT be pure genius? And that’s not even acknowledging the great vocal performances given by everybody on the project, and the amazing animation from the Pixar team. (I grin a little just thinking, for example, of Woody’s disjointed ambling ragdoll run.) I think Andrew, John, Joe and Pete created this world, made it real in a way through their own vivid imaginations and then shared it with some friends so that they could all play along in it. Then they opened it up and let us play in it too. It’s a wonderful thing. No wonder the joy of it hasn’t worn off at all in the fifteen years since this movie first came out.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment