MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #99. Toy Story (1995)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
Toy Story is 20 years old. That blows my mind. I still think of computer animated movies as the new thing. But if Toy Story is two entire decades old, that means there are adults today, who only know a world of computer animated movies, and probably think cell animation is archaic and old fashioned. Toy Story can’t just take credit for that because it was the first, it can take credit for that because it’s an amazing movie that would have been amazing in any format. It just so happens, it got to revolutionise the very concept of animation at the same time.

Woody the Cowboy (Tom Hanks) is the leader of a bunch of toys who come to life whenever their owner, Andy, leaves the room. When kids loaded up with presents start to arrive for Andy’s birthday party, all of his current toys worry about being usurped by whatever new fad that may be under all of that bright wrapping paper. A fear that is justified when Andy opens his new Buzz Lightyear doll.

Voiced by Tim Allen, Buzz has no idea he’s just a toy and is convinced he’s an actual space ranger. His bells and whistles make him Andy’s new favourite, as well as Woody’s biggest rival for the admiration of the other toys. Then, because this is what Pixar does so well, Toy Story manages to find real heart and genuine emotion in this story of jealousy, loyalty and friendship… Told through a toy cowboy and a toy space man.

I can’t think of another movie in my lifetime that has had as a big an influence on film making as Toy Story. It literally redefined how animated movies are made, and how they’re regarded by the audience at large. Before Toy Story, Disney was already making prestige animated movies, like The Lion King, but they were still ultimately seen as kids’ movies. All of a sudden, Toy Story made cartoons legit for an adult audience. Legit enough to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.

It also brought animated movies to the attention of big name movie stars. Tom Hanks was in the middle of his run of winning Oscars every second year, Tim Allen was a big deal at the time with a hugely successful sitcom and movie career that would surprise people today. But they didn’t stop there, even the supporting characters were voiced by character actors, comedians and sitcom stars who, if not mega stars, were all immediately recognisable.

Which is also one of the downsides of Toy Story. Because they did it so well, got it so right, it changed the way animated movies are cast now, and not necessarily for the better. There are a lot of amazing professional voice actors out there who don’t even get a look in for these movies anymore, because Toy Story cast its two mega stars so perfectly. But for every right choice, like Albert Brooks in Finding Nemo, or Patton Oswalt in Ratatouilles, there’s a lazy cash grab like Owen Wilson in Cars.

I knew Toy Story was good, but seeing it for the first time in more than a decade, what surprised me was how well it holds up. Disney and Pixar were taking a big chance on Toy Story. If audiences didn’t like it, it could have turned the world against computer animation before it ever had a chance. But they pulled it off. They made a movie that immediately changed the concept of animation and what these movies can be.

Toy Story
Directed By – John Lasseter
Written By – Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow

Academy Awards
Special Achievement Award – John Lasseter

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