WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
In terms of elevating an art form to new heights, Pixar is the modern equivalent of the young Walt Disney. Both brought something totally new to film: Whereas Walt amazed audiences by marrying music and dialog to gorgeously flowing animation, Pixar has married 3D computer modeling to the form, producing an animated image of unprecedented clarity and depth. But Pixar, led by the boyishly enthusiastic John Lasseter, has accomplished so much more than that. Most important, Pixar has created a magical world inhabited by warm, real characters and a profound sense of humanity. Pixar's computers and mouse devices, it turns out, are the equal of any artist's paintbrush and any writer's pen.
When I first saw the original Toy Story, I stared at the screen with childlike wonder. I've always had a particular fondness for animation, but the Disney template-movies of the late '80s and early '90s had been leaving me increasingly cold. Toy Story ushered in a new era of animated storytelling. So many animated films, aimed directly at kids, tend to talk down to them. In contrast, Toy Story is truly appropriate for all ages, dealing with complex emotion and human behavior. The story of Buzz Lightyear and Woody Pride, fighting for Andy's affection, strikes very deep chords, and therein lies the power of the film. The stunning computer animation is the delicious icing on the cake.
When Toy Story 2 came along, I had meager hopes. After all, I'd heard taht Disney intended the film as a direct-to-video spin-off. Having caught glimpses of craptacular VHS-only sequels to films such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, I had faith that Disney would similarly destroy the good name of Toy Story. I shouldn't have doubted the Pixar team. Impossibly, Toy Story 2 is a better film than its predecessor, tossing the characters we love outside Andy's room and into the world. The ensuing adventure is breathtaking in its humor and passion, and the film's computer animation is even richer and more beautiful than that of the first film.
And yet, even after viewing the plethora of supplemental features in this amazing new three-disc set, you'll come away with the satisfying conclusion that, after all is said and done, the Pixar team truly values the characters it has created and given to the world.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
When Pixar's A Bug's Life debuted as a special-edition DVD, we all embraced its eye-popping digital-to-digital transfer. Movie buffs everywhere had a new disc with which to show off their home theaters. The image leapt off the screen, signaling a new era in home video—even beyond what we'd seen so far on DVD! It was only natural to start immediately drooling about Toy Story possibilities. After all, A Bug's Life is a fun flick, but let's be frank: It ain't Toy Story.
I'm happy to say that this incredible Ultimate Toybox lives up to all that drool. I simply can't imagine a more satisfying package for these modern classics. Each movie is presented in its original 1.77:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for widescreen TVs. The digital transfer is stunning. The colors are vivid and lifelike, not a hint of grain or artifacts can be found, and the characters look so three-dimensional they seem to bend out of the screen. Make no mistake: These discs—particularly Toy Story 2—will become your new reference-quality DVDs.
When judging the value of a DVD set, the quality of the film presentation is always most important. All I can say is that this DVD boasts the most astonishing film presentation I've ever encountered.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The sound is equally exceptional. Each film sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and Toy Story 2 gives you a blissful surround EX channel that necessitates investing in a receiver with 6.1 channels and extra surround speakers for directly behind you. Hint: The investment is worth it even for this one disc.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The sheer volume of this set's supplements is daunting. I assumed the Supplement Disc would contain all of the Ultimate Toybox's special features, but even the movie discs contain some enticing extras. Chief among the special features on the movie discs are absolutely wonderful screen-specific commentaries from the Pixar production team. These "party atmosphere" commentaries are full of laughter, and the participants are plainly excited about pointing out hidden jokes and talking about inspirations behind characters and plot devices.
Each movie disc also contains a Bonus Material section. The Toy Story disc features the early Pixar short Tin Toy, which was obviously an influence on Toy Story. Its toy characters are lovingly crafted, but its human character, an infant, is somewhat horrifying in its appearance—clearly, Pixar hadn't yet gotten a handle on human features and movement. Next up is a documentary called "The Story Behind Toy Story," which starts out like a short piece of promotional fluff but ends up as a very informative half-hour history of Pixar. Next, you get about 50 Toy Story Treats, "interstitial" cartoons that served as filler material between Saturday morning cartoons on ABC. Most of them are amusing, but they suffer from the absence of key voice talent—namely, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Two on-set interviews with Buzz and Woody suffer even more glaringly from the same problem, which brings home the fact that Hanks and Allen truly are Buzz and Woody. The remainder of the extras on this disc are a Buzz Lightyear TV commercial (only glimpsed in the film) and an entertaining multilanguage reel.
The Bonus Material section of the Toy Story 2 disc is lighter on the extras. First, you'll find the outtakes that accompanied the end credits in the theatrical run. Interestingly, you don't get to watch these terrific "bloopers" over the end credits on this disc. (If you must own a version that shows the outtakes over the end credits, you'll need to pick up the two-DVD set, which has the added bonus of a reformatted full-frame version of Toy Story 2.) Next is the short Pixar film Luxo, Jr., followed by a sneak peek at Pixar's next film, Monsters, Inc. This preview was enough to get me excited about the project, which features the voice talents of Billy Crystal and John Goodman. There's also a trailer for the recent cartoon Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, but this looks suspiciously like those other direct-to-video sequels.
One of my very favorite special features on the two movie discs is an alternate audio track that isolates the films' sound effects. I watched both films with this feature enabled, and I have a newfound respect for sound mixers.
The Supplement Disc is a treasure trove of information. It's essentially a computer-animation primer. When you pop it in, you're treated to an introduction from Lasseter—in which he somewhat gratingly boasts and shouts. All is well after that, however, as a nicely animated main menu lets you choose whether you want to view Toy Story supplements or Toy Story 2 supplements. Whichever film you choose, its special features are organized into seven major categories: History, Design, Story, Computer Animation, Music & Sound, Deleted Animation, and Publicity (plus an extra category called The Toy Box on the Toy Story 2 side).
Because a thorough overview of each category's contents would take thousands of words, I'll stick to the highlights. Besides, you simply need to pick up this incredible set and experience its supplemental material for yourself.
On the Toy Story side, I particularly enjoyed the History section, in which I learned about Toy Story's origins in the film TRON. The section also features early test footage of Woody as a physically larger wise-ass. Under Design, you'll find a wonderful subcategory called Character Design, in which you can view comprehensive details about each character's development. For many of the primary characters, you can view early animation tests, complete with animator commentary. Under the subcategory Art Design, I laughed when I learned that the evil Sid's room is "stuck in 1972," from the textured carpet to the blacklight posters. Under the subcategory Environmental Design, you can take location tours of several key settings, also with animator commentary. The Story category features a subcategory called Abandoned Sequences, which contains seven storyboarded scenes, one of which—"Sid's Comeuppance"—is a brilliant extension of a scene from the finished film. Under Computer Animation, I found the Layout Tricks to be enlightening, especially the way the animators dealt with the height difference between Woody and Buzz. Under the subcategory Character Animation, I went bug-eyed when I learned that Pixar utilizes 110 Sun Microsystem machines working 24 × 7. Under Music & Sound, you get several Randy Newman demos, including a nice piano rendition of "You've Got a Friend in Me." The final highlight of the Toy Story section is the Deleted Animation category, which contains finished animation that didn't make the final cut.
On the Toy Story 2 side, I was gratified to hear—under the History category—Lasseter say that "we had to make (the sequel) great." The Disney approach might have been to throw out some half-assed direct-to-video garbage to make a buck, but Pixar's motivation was to make a film that surpassed the original in all respects. One of the first things I learned under the History category is that many of the sequel's best ideas—the obsessive collector, the Buzz Lightyear cartoon, the yard sale, Woody's nightmare—were originally intended for the first film. "A good idea," as Lasseter would say, "always finds a home." Under Character Design, I particularly enjoyed watching Bullseye's speaking tests and learning that toy collector Al was modeled after Danny DeVito. The location tours in the Environmental Design subcategory contain some superb surprises that I won't reveal here. Under Story, you can watch the "Jessie's Song" scene with accompanying storyboards—oh, and watch out for a hilarious easter egg lurking in this section! Under Music & Sound, I got a kick out of the mixing demo, which lets you view the elevator-shaft scene with dialog only, special effects only, or music only. The Toy Box category provides a lot of laughs, including an entertaining featurette in which cast and crew debate about who's the coolest toy, as well as a special section detailing the film's hidden jokes.
Many of the subcategories on the Supplemental Disc let you view thumbnail pictures that you can click to enlarge. This capability points out a limitation of the Supplement Disc—namely, that it is almost completely interactive. Don't plan on just starting this baby and watching everything flow by. You're gonna do a lot of clicking. (After ingesting all this material, my fingers had deformed into a rectangular shape the exact dimensions of my DVD player's remote.) Additionally, at about your fifth hour of viewing and clicking, you'll come to the realization that The Ultimate Toybox is so comprehensive that it's redundant. Not to mention that the commentaries, while great fun, basically repeat most of the information available on the third disc. I'm not sure I'd call these quibbles complaints, but rather inevitabilities.
The bottom line is that the universally fascinating special features on The Ultimate Toybox provide all you'll ever need to know about two of the greatest animated films in movie history.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
On the wings of the brilliant Pixar team, Disney has produced two instant classics and a DVD set that stands at the pinnacle of the medium. Quite simply, the virtually flawless Ultimate Toybox will be the finest DVD set in your collection—probably until The Ultimate Star Wars Saga DVD set finally arrives.
1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1
Surround EX (Toy Story 2 only)
Isolated sound-effects track
Introduction by the filmmakers
Screen-specific audio commentaries
"The Making Of Toy Story" documentary
Toy Story "Treats"
On-set interviews with Buzz and Woody
"History": Pixar history, original treatment, early test footage, production notes
"Design": character animations, location designs, concept art
"Story": storyboards, pitches, abandoned concepts, story reel
"Computer Animation": production and animation tours, layout tricks, character animations, production progressions, special-effects demos
"Music & Sound": sound-design featurettes, song demos, mixing demo
"Publicity": trailers, TV spots, ad campaign, merchandising, autograph galleries
"Toy Box": featurette, hidden joke guide, Woody merchandising, international-version segment
"Buzz Lightyear" commercial
"Monsters, Inc." sneak peek
"Tin Toy" Pixar short
"Luxo, Jr." Pixar short