Summer Movie Showdown: "Toy Story" Review

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A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy's room.
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Summer Movie Showdown: "Toy Story" Review

-- Rating: G
Length: 81 minutes
Release date: Nov. 22, 1995
Directed by: John Lasseter 
Genre: Family, Comedy, Adventure, Animation, Fantasy

Toys have feelings. They can be jealous and competitive or suffer from wounded egos, according to the 1995 family film "Toy Story." The movie is told from the perspective of a group of toys owned by a young boy named Andy. Woody, an old-fashioned cowboy doll voiced by Tom Hanks, holds a position of respect because he is Andy's favorite plaything. The perilous adventures of plastic toys may seem like a juvenile concept, but "Toy Story" can turn the most jaded adults into youthful believers. Every character in this comedic bunch has an infectious personality, ranging from the eternally nervous tyrannosaurus to a Mr. Potato Head toy that constantly loses his detachable body parts.

The movie was released by Disney and was the first feature film created by the pioneering computer animation studio Pixar. "Toy Story" set the standard for every computer-animated feature that followed, bringing an unparalleled level of vivid graphics, lifelike movements, and realistic dimensions. Unsurprisingly, Disney's go-to animator John Lasseter directed "Toy Story" and received the elusive Special Achievement Academy Award in 1996.

Familiarity is the first thing that draws viewers in as timeless toys enjoyed by countless generations come to life as soon as the humans leave the room. At some point, most kids entertain the idea of toys coming to life. "Toy Story" flawlessly indulges that fantasy by showing a fresh perspective of every kid's playtime scenarios, such as making creative alterations to a toy's anatomy. The conflict begins when Andy's birthday approaches, leading to the arrival of Buzz Lightyear, a flashy space ranger toy who Woody fears will usurp his place. Set against the feel-good tunes of Randy Newman, the story serves up playful twists and turns as Buzz and Woody butt heads before learning to work as a team.

"Toy Story" touches upon the true meaning of a family film-enjoyment for all ages. The story is witty and thoughtful, and the characters wrestle with age-old flaws. Woody is consumed by pride and envy when a feature-rich, modernized toy threatens the antiquated values represented by the cowboy's pull-string operation and cloth construction. In addition to being charismatic and courageous, Buzz topples Woody's precious hierarchy by refusing to accept his place as a toy. Buzz, voiced by Tim Allen, is hilariously delusional and convinced that he's on a crucial intergalactic mission. Woody's resentment causes him to take drastic measures to get rid of the space ranger, and Buzz's naivety puts both toys in a series of risky situations.

This is still a children's film, though. In "Toy Story," danger and adventure amount to a wild escapade in a claw arcade machine loaded with a cult-like group of toy aliens. When "sacrificed" to The Claw, Buzz and Woody are toted off to the home of Andy's savage young neighbor, Sid. Sid is a master torturer of toys, performing mutative experiments on dolls and creating ghastly toy abominations that hide in dark corners and live in fear of their owner. Life lessons spill out of every scene. Woody learns to look beyond the grisly appearances of Sid's captive toys, and Buzz is forced to find value in being a simple, mass-produced children's toy.

Parent and teen viewers are sure to spot the darker undertones of the film, which explore the oddly sadistic nature of many young children. Whether it's burning ants on the sidewalk, holding cats by the tail, or snapping off toy parts, youthful pastimes often enter the realm of cruel and unusual. Andy and Sid stand out as obvious foils of each other, representing the two opposite sides of childhood. On one hand, Sid is unappreciative of his large toy collection and seeks entertainment from causing destruction. Andy exemplifies the innocent aspects of youth and treats his toys like real companions. He treasures the experience of creating make-believe scenarios and escaping into the countless fantasy worlds his toys come from. The thought of losing a favorite toy is devastating to Andy, and the idea of harming them never seems to occur to him.

Andy's toy collection is brought to life by veteran performers like Jim Varney, Don Rickles, Annie Pots, John Ratzenberger, and Wallace Shawn. A theme of loyalty and trust weaves these characters together as the suspicious group turns on Woody and accuses him of murdering Buzz. But ultimately, the movie travels full circle from the opening scenes when Woody artfully organizes the other toys for reconnaissance and lookout duties. The same teamwork mentality returns at the end of the movie when Woody overcomes his jealousy to welcome the newly disenchanted Buzz into the fold.

That team loyalty continues to fuel the toys' common goal throughout the film-making sure Andy's family never sees them come to life. Choosing not to reveal their true natures is what allows Andy to enjoy the simple pleasure of make-believe games. This is, undoubtedly, a toy story, but it's every viewer's childlike capacity to believe in imaginary beings that makes this movie an iconic gem.    

Rating: 4 out of 5