While the purist in me knows that 2-D cel animation will never die, it's easy to watch films like this and realize that they're much more than a visual fad. Pixar's films have real heart, style and substance, lovingly handcrafted by talented artists and writers that love to have fun. Toy Story reminds us that even with a slick new look and presentation, CGI can exhibit the same life that made Disney's best modern films (including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King) so memorable. It's a buddy comedy, an adventure film and a road trip rolled up in one. It's a film about loss, rejection, acceptance, loyalty and action figures.
More than anything else, it's a whole lot of fun. Luckily for us, everyone involved knew it.
From the cast of voice talent (including Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, the late Jim Varney, R. Lee Ermey and more) to the amazingly good animation, character design, music and sound, there's not much about Toy Story that lags. Sure, the artwork isn't quite as polished as Pixar's more recent work, but it was a visual breakthrough at the time and still stands tall today. Though I didn't get a chance to see it in theaters---after all, I was smack in the middle of high school and had turned my back on toys temporarily----a lifelong interest in art led me back to Toy Story, but this was a rare example where the visuals were matched by a clever script. Sure, it owes a tip of the hat to earlier films like Jim Henson's made-for-TV holiday classic The Christmas Toy (1986), but Toy Story story bucked the trend of most "kid's fare" before and during its time: it didn't rely on musical numbers to carry the story, favoring non-stop character interaction and adventure instead.
The resulting effort was a visually dynamic film that played out more like live action than traditional animation. Despite travelling some rough road during production---including Disney's attempts to pull the plug midway through---Toy Story couldn't be stopped on its way to theaters. Critics and audiences ate it up, establishing the film as a runaway hit and Pixar as a force to be reckoned with. The studio's follow-up efforts---including A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2 (a rare sequel that actually surpasses the original)---only hammered home the point that animation will never die, no matter if it's hand-drawn or computer rendered. Their hot streak shows no signs of cooling off, so here's hoping that Pixar can keep raising the bar for the animation industry. They're done a fantastic job so far.
Though it focuses mostly on the film at hand, this 10th Anniversary Edition of Toy Story is every bit a milestone for the studio itself. It's been assembled from bits and pieces of The Ultimate Toy Box, a 3-disc set containing both films and a slew of extras, as well as a collection of new retrospective featurettes and interviews. To top it all off, the film has been given a technical upgrade not unlike the "Superbit" line of DVDs, as Toy Story boasts an improved transfer (yes, improved) and a pair of newly-created Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS-ES mixes. All in all, it's a surprisingly solid package that really celebrates Pixar's history quite well. Below, you'll find a partial comparison review: though no screen comparisons or ratings are given, it's been written with owners of each release in mind.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: owners of the first releases know just how amazing the image quality is. The original 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer absolutely sparkles with clarity---hardly surprising, since it was taken directly from the digital source. As it stands, the main difference here is an increased bitrate---averaging around 7.5Mbps---but many improvements won't be easily noticed by those without fancy setups or progressive scan capability (hence the lack of screen comparisons). Rest assured though, this is an improvement: the image is more detailed overall, making the 10th Anniversary Edition a true reference-quality disc (again). Ladies and gents, this is as good as transfers get on DVD, so it's no surprise that this one earns a perfect rating.
Equally perfect is a pair of brand new reference-quality sound mixes, including Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and a brand new DTS-ES mix (both remixed by sound designer Gary Rydstrom). Each mix exhibits an impressive atmosphere, highlighted by crystal-clear dialogue, punchy sound effects and an incredible dynamic range. The DTS offers a slightly smoother audio experience, easily helping this disc rank among the best sounding in any genre. Either way, you'll certainly be impressed. English, Spanish and French subtitles (as well as Closed Captioning) are included for the deaf and hearing impaired. English, Spanish and French 2.0 Surround mixes are also included for the 5.1 impaired.
First up on Disc One, there's a new Introduction by John Lasseter (1 minute, above left) where he hypes the new technical improvements and bonus features. The film itself is also paired with the orignal Audio Commentary (from the "Toy Box") featuring Lasseter, produers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold, screenwriter Andrew Stanton, supervising animator Pete Docter, art director Ralph Eggleston and supervising technical director Bill Reeves (whew!). Chock full of interesting anecdotes and plenty of laughs, this is a great commentary that's just as good the second time around. Also here on the first disc is the all-new Legacy of Toy Story (12 minutes, above right), a short featurette filled with testimonials from George Lucas, Hayao Miyazaki, Brad Bird, Leonard Maltin, Roy Disney, a slim Peter Jackson and many more! It's fairly promotional for the most part, but there's some nice history scattered throughout. Next up are Sneak Peeks of a few upcoming Disney/Pixar films and DVDs, including Cars, Toy Story 2, Cinderella: Platinum Edition and Lady and the Tramp.
The party continues on Disc Two, kicked off by the same Making of Documentary (21 minutes) as seen on the first release. It's a trip to see some of the cast and crew with larger glasses and more hair, so those who've never seen it are in for a treat. A new arrival is up next: Filmmakers Reflect (17 minutes, below left), a roundtable discussion with Lasseter, Docter, Stanton and (sadly) the late, great Joe Ranft, who served as story supervisor on the film. This chat was filmed in the main lobby/atrium at Pixar, and it's as loose, candid and fun as the company itself. There's also some discussion about Disney's attempts to close down the film's production midway, making this piece a bit more interesting that your average "pat on the back" featurette. Also returning are a selection of eight Deleted Scenes (19 minutes total), the bulk of which remain in rough story reel form.
Up next is the Behind the Scenes department (the bulk of which is ported over from the Toy Box), though it's fronted by a new featurette entitled Designing Toy Story (7 minutes) that briefly discusses the film's early technical achievments. Design Galleries is the first vintage section, which includes characters, sets, color roughs and 3-D turnarounds (above right), followed by a Story section that includes comparisons, story reels and more. Next up is the Production section, including a production tour, a multi-angle presentation, a multi-language track and other notables. Music and Sound is up next, including a new video for "You've Got a Friend in Me" (3 minutes, assembled from studio footage and finished art), a featurette about the film's sound design (7 minutes) and an assortment of Randy Newman demos. Last but not least is the Publicity archive, including the film's trailer, TV spots, an interview with Woody and Buzz, and a look at some of the film's merchandise.
Outside of the archives, there's another new feature in the Claw Game, a fun little distraction that yields a few clever goodies (if you're lucky, that is). Finally, there's a healthy dose of Easter Eggs to be found, though the "Index" section holds the entire Easter basket. As a sidenote, all of the bonus features have been anamorphically enhanced---yes, even the fullscreen ones, similar to The Incredibles---and even include optional English subtitles! This is a major plus for the overall presentation, so here's hoping that more studios follow suit in the future. All things considered, it's a nice assortment of goodies: those who already own the Toy Box should hang on to both for the complete experience, while those unfamiliar with the vintage extras should be satisfied.
Is this a fine release? You bet. Was it absolutely necessary? Well, maybe not…but that shouldn't stop any fans of Toy Story from picking up this excellent 2-disc set. There's a handful of brand new goodies here, combined with a slightly improved transfer and Pixar's first DTS track---and let's face it, only the most ardent fans of the film were able to snag The Ultimate Toy Box. If you've already got "The Box", you'll certainly enjoy the technical improvements and retrospective material found here. If you've only got the original release, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't make the upgrade. This landmark film isn't quite a landmark double dip, but it's still a well-rounded release that just oozes fun and creativity…just like the studio that created it. Very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.