I'm only 27, but it's been 15 years since Toy Story debuted in theaters, and that little fact makes me feel like I'm an ancient relic. But thankfully after all these years, watching Toy Story at home doesn't feel like an aged experience in the least. All the wit and charm that captivated me as a 12 year old is just as present today as it ever was, and I don't care if you've only seen this movie once or even a hundred times - With the film's first and seemingly definitive release on Blu-ray, you'll undoubtedly feel like you're watching it again for the very first time.
When I originally heard Disney and Pixar were teaming up to make a computer animated feature film, I was highly skeptical (yes, even as a 12 year old). After all, I grew up watching Disney effortlessly produce one magical masterpiece after another, during what I consider to this day to be their peak period (with such films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King). It was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a computer could even come close to capturing the same level of imagination that the classic animation styling could provide... but that thought was later met with quite a bit of irony. It's my humble opinion that every classically animated flick after The Lion King took a pretty drastic dip in quality. I might get a lot of hate mail for this, but I thought Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear were as dull and lifeless as an animated flip-book with stick figures. I did enjoy Hercules and even The Emperor's New Groove to some extent, but I certainly wouldn't go as far to say that these films were 'magical' in their own right, especially when compared to Disney's efforts prior to Toy Story's release in 1995. It's for these very reasons that Toy Story holds a special place in my heart, because not only did it surpass all of my expectations (granted, those expectations were somewhat low to begin with), it truly marked the beginning of a new era in cinematic animation.
Instead of sitting here and boring you to tears with a synopsis you don't really need to read (because I know you've already seen this movie), let me tell you why I feel Toy Story deserves to be labeled as a timeless classic, and then some. One of the first things I realized after seeing this film for the first time, was that it wasn't yet another Disney film that border lined being a gushy musical. Now, don't get me wrong. I've loved most of the musical numbers I've seen in their films over the years, but am I the only one that feels like the countless song and dance routines might make adults feel like they're not supposed to be part of the target audience? Some of my favorite movies of all time are unquestionably classics from Disney's vault, but now that I'm older, a catchy tune like 'One Jump Ahead' from Aladdin sort of feels like it was something that was merely thrown in to entertain the kiddies. Sure, I have fond memories of fun ditties such as 'Friend Like Me', but that doesn't mean everyone over the age of 12 in the 90's didn't deserve something that truly could have appealed to everyone. So, needless to say, the fact that Toy Story actually focused on plot and character development without using all the gimmicks to entice our children, was just what the doctor ordered. Without a good chunk of the movie being dedicated to musical montages and whatnot, I actually got to know the main characters inside and out, to the point where I actually feel like I know Buzz and Woody better than any other Disney character before them, and that's saying a lot. I can't give all the credit to the script writers however, because Tim Allen and Tom Hanks are just as responsible for bringing their characters to life in ways we've never seen before the release of this film, and arguably ever since. Without their vocal talents, this could have been a very different movie.
With that being said, I think the biggest reason why Toy Story has earned the right to be labeled as a classic, is the fact that it can tap into the imagination of everyone who watches it, young and old alike. As a child, I was intrigued by the 'world within a world' concept, and I couldn't help but think how cool it would have been if my toys were hangin' out and getting into crazy adventures while I was away. As an adult, this movie was able to dredge up a lot of nostalgic feelings in regards to my childhood and the toys that helped define that period of my life. We very well might lose sight of what it was like to be a kid as we get older, but I don't care if you're 20 or 75 - Every single one of us has a memory of what it was like to have a favorite toy, as well as a time where we were afraid we lost or misplaced that toy. Toy Story's biggest accomplishment is its ability to work on numerous levels with every age group, because no matter what age I was when I watched this film, I never felt like I was getting too old for it. Disney and Pixar have stuck with their all encompassing audience target ever since (with perhaps the exception of Cars), but no matter how many films these companies in harmony make together, or how many computer generated films other companies make, Toy Story will always be the monumental building block that inspired them all. Everyone that was involved behind the scenes with this film weren't afraid to think outside of the 'Disney box', and the end result was a film that was too important to be considered yet another outstanding achievement from Disney... it's a major milestone in cinematic history, period.
Is it any surprise that Toy Story's 1080p AVC encode (1.78:1) is reference quality? Every Disney/Pixar film up until this point are easily the best looking titles the Blu-ray format has had to offer, and Toy Story is no exception. However, I have to admit that I was somewhat skeptical of how this film would have looked after 15 years. I know, I know, "It's a digital source, how could it not have looked pristine?" Well, I was taking into consideration that this was the first computer generated movie for Disney/Pixar, so perhaps for whatever reason, Toy Story wouldn't have looked as good as its successors. I mean, I've seen this film so many times on VHS and DVD, that I had forgotten how impressive the original source had looked. I thought the digital lighting, textures, and three dimensional 'pop' wouldn't have been as impressive as what we've seen in the likes of Cars or Monsters Inc., but wow I was off base, because I was truly impressed!
The quality is as stunning as anyone would expect from a Disney/Pixar release, and as a matter of fact, Toy Story doesn't look like it could have been a film from 1995. Pop it in for yourself, and you'll see what I mean - This easily looks like it could have been a flick from 2009, it's that good. Colors are bold and leap off the screen, the textures are faithfully represented without any issue, black levels and contrast are the best they've ever looked, and depth and dimensionality are more impressive than I hoped they would have been. There were times I literally felt like I was watching real toys act out in front of me. The bottom line here, is that Toy Story is definitely demo material. Sure, you still might want to use a title that has more visual flare (like Wall-E) to showcase your home theater, but Toy Story is light years away from being a slouch in comparison. Before popping this into my Blu-ray player, I guestimated I'd give the video quality a 4.5 or perhaps even a 4, but after seeing this classic CG film in motion, I think it's unquestionably deserving of all 5 stars.
Yet again, Disney/Pixar have outdone themselves with a flawless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. As I've already mentioned with the video quality, the presentation doesn't make this film seem like it was from 15 years ago at all. The sound design is a little simpler than the likes of the last few Disney/Pixar films, but it's still an impressive experience from beginning to end. Every voice and sound effect is presented through the sound field with pinpoint precision, and I was surprised that this was the case throughout the entirety of the movie, and not just some of the major sequences that would demand such performance. The bass is impressive and never overbearing, and dialogue is always easily heard no matter what crazy shenanigans are happening on- screen. When all is said and done, much like the film itself, this is something that every viewer at home no matter what age they are, will be able to enjoy. The kids are never going to have a difficult time figuring out what their favorite action figure and pull string toy are saying, and the adults with a decent home theater setup are going to find themselves very pleased with the lossless audio track. There's really nothing to nitpick about here, because once again, this is well worth the upgrade when compared to the standard definition versions we've gotten used to over the years.
There are two separate menus for the special features, the first simply being labeled as Bonus Features:
Sneak Peak - Toy Story 3 "The Story" - This is a brief glimpse at what kind of story you and your family can expect when Toy Story 3 hits theaters this summer.
Audio Commentary - Director John Lasseter, Co-Writer Andrew Stanton, Supervising Animator Pete Docter, Art Director Ralph Eggleston, Supervising Technical Director Bill Reeves and Producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold - Having so many people in the recording room can either be a complete disaster, or a completely satisfying experience in obtaining all the information you could possibly ever want to know about a film. Thankfully, this commentary is the latter. It's never dull or dry, not even when we're getting geeked out with technical discussions. You'll also hear about how they came up with the story, what it was like to work with the vocal talent, and so much more. This is an 81 minute film, so even those who aren't typically fans of commentaries should find this to be a relatively easy pill to swallow.
Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off - This is a cute, albeit short, featurette with Buzz, Rex, and Hamm. These characters are utilized to make NASA and real space exploration interesting for the younger viewers at home. At 3 minutes in length, it doesn't really contain any important information about NASA's efforts to reach 'infinity and beyond', but our little scientists of tomorrow have to gain the interest somewhere, right?
Paths to Pixar: Artists - The artists that helped bring the world of Toy Story to life take the time to tell us what got them interested in animation to begin with, how they achieved finding their dream jobs in the field, and their experiences while working with such an infamous animation studio. Definitely give this a watch.
Studio Stories: John's Car, Baby AJ, Scooter Races - These animated shorts were inspired from near and dear experiences the crew had while working with Pixar, and even though these are less than 2 minutes each (with the exception of Scooter Races which is a little under 2 and a half minutes), they're highly entertaining and well worth a viewing.
Buzz Takes Manhattan - This short featurette is a brief discussion regarding the massive Buzz Lightyear Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. This may not be all that interesting to some, but how often do you see something like this on a home video release? It may be short, but it's refreshing. Give this one a whirl.
Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw - The Toy Story we all know and love could have been a drastically different film. This featurette details the Toy Story we might have seen if the powers that be didn't decide to transform their story into the final product we witnessed back in 1995.
The second supplement menu is titled Classic DVD Bonus Features, and I hope this is a practice that really takes off and becomes more common. Those that own previous home video releases of their favorite films will be able to tell what they might have seen before, and won't have to waste time figuring which supplemental features they really need to see, and which ones they don't. The bonus features included are: Filmmakers Reflect, Making Toy Story, The Legacy of Toy Story, Designing Toy Story, Deleted Scenes, Design, Story, Production, Music and Sound, and Publicity.
If you've never seen the classic DVD bonus features before, you can check out DVDTalk's standard definition reviews for the 10th Anniversary edition HERE (Scott Weinberg) and HERE (Randy Miller III).
A second disc is also included in this set, and as expected, it's a DVD copy of the film. This has pretty much become a standard practice for Disney, and I hope they never stop.
The entire supplemental package is fairly stunning, and I would expect nothing less from a Disney/Pixar release.
Now, as far as the missing special features are concerned, I have to say that I cannot personally answer what's missing and what's not. I've owned the Ultimate Toybox, as well as the 10th Anniversary Edition, but I no longer own them and cannot make comparisons on my own. Reports have varied wildly on the web as to what's been left out, but the (somewhat) concensus seems to be that there are quite a few features missing from the Ultimate Toybox set, but only minimal items are missing from the 10th Anniversary Edition. This unfortunately means that if you're absolutely fanatical about making sure you have every supplemental feature ever released, you're probably going to want to keep both of the previous DVD releases. Those who really enjoy their extras, but aren't fanatical about them however, should probably keep the Ultimate Toybox set and get rid of their 10th Anniversary DVD. The big question is, "Does this make the Blu-ray release lackluster in any way?" In my personal opinion, absolutely not. I was very pleased with the supplemental package and all the information it was able to provide on the film. I'm more than satisfied with what's on this release, and I certainly don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. That being said, it's definitely a shame that certain extras didn't make the transition from DVD to Blu-ray, and is the only real reason the extras got 4 out of 5 stars.
Toy Story is more than just another animated feature film - It's the milestone that every CG film made after the fact, be it from Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks, or whoever, draws their inspiration from. After all is said and done though, what's truly important is how well the film holds up with the audience at home no matter what their age, and how well the entire package still holds up after 15 years. Based on my personal 15 year history with the film, as I've grown from a 12 year old youngin', to a 27 year old having a kid of my own, the story is just as relevant for me today as it was when I first saw it in theaters. As far as the presentation is concerned, the video and audio on this release is so pristine, I think that every home theater buff out there is going to be hard pressed to find any flaws with the reference quality AVC encode, or the lossless audio track. The supplemental package is plentiful yet easy to digest, and those in charge of putting together the bonus package on this release were kind enough to separate both new and old features on to two distinct menus. Toy Story is a timeless classic, and needless to say, it got the high-def release it deserved. This might be labeled as a mere 'Special Edition', but it seems like they could have called this the 'Definitive Edition', and no one would have complained. This is one of the easiest ratings I've had to give out in a while, as this is 100% deserving of the DVDTalk Collector Series rating.