Saturday, May 23, 2009

Toy Story

Almost a month ago now, I was trying to get my kids to watch a Pixar film with me. For some reason, (perhaps it's my own overbearing exuberance for Pixar, who knows) the kids have been reluctant to watch any Pixar with me. Instead they invariably choose the 1990 live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film or one of the Barbie direct-to-video crap-fests.

I wanted to sit down and watch a movie with the kids, but I didn't want to be stuck watching a kids movie. So I hatched a desperate plan. "How about this guys..." I said, "There are nine Pixar movies. What if we watch them all together over the next month, and then, at the end of the month, when Up comes out, we'll watch that together in the theater?"

The idea of going out to the theater as a family, and watching an exciting new movie that they'd never seen before, was enough to push them over the edge. They agreed to do the unthinkable and watch the movie that Dad chose. So we popped some popcorn, grabbed pillows and blankets, and piled onto the couch.

The first thing that jumped out at me was Joss Whedon's credit for the screenplay. I know Rish, the authority I turn to for Joss Whedon knowledge, has told me before that Joss had written at least part of the script. His name isn't the only one on the credit for screenplay, Andrew Stanton and Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow also get screenplay credit, and the Pixar big four, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, and Joe Ranft, get the story credit. So it makes me wonder just how much Joss actually did.

Also, considering his long history of getting screwed again and again, I wondered if, since there are so many names on the screenplay credit, he got screwed here too, and had the story ripped away from him before he could make it rightly his. I consulted Rish about this later, and he said that, as far as his knowledge went, Joss was not treated poorly in the making of Toy Story (I should have looked closely at the credits, because I think the SPCA requires that any movie with a Joss Whedon involved in it must have a disclaimer attesting to the fact that no Joss Whedons were injured in the making of the film, or maybe that was what the local Browncoats were pushing for, my memory's getting fuzzy as I get older).

Anyway, Joss Whedon's influence is felt all over this film, from the clever lines that I've come to expect from him, to the twists, turns, and emotional moments. It wasn't until 2001's Monsters Inc. that Pixar came close to matching the wit found in Toy Story, and that's probably due to the fact that they had two stand-up comedians as their two lead characters in that one.

The kids were surprised when I quoted Woody's first line, "Pull my string, the birthday party's today?" before he actually said it, but they would have been irritated beyond belief if I'd continued quoting all the lines I knew throughout the movie. Toy Story may be the film I can quote the most. I've grown up and acquired some kids, so a lot of the films I used to quote ad naseum have become inappropriate for the little ears lurking nearby. Also, when my son was about two years old, he loved Buzz Lightyear like the father he never had. We watched Toy Story and Toy Story 2 about ten times a week, each. There was a time when the little guy was sick and too drained to do anything but stare at the tube, that we watched the two movies back-to-back for an entire day. Fourteen hours straight of anything will make quoting it a lot easier.

Years later though, and the quotes haven't faded from memory. That's saying something, right? I mean the boy is nine years old now, but I can still quote the movie like I used to be able to quote Monty Python's Flying Circus. So there is definitely a proliferation of memorable lines in the film.

The entertainment value of Toy Story has not faded in the least over the years. The animation is still as impressive as ever. Yes, Andy, and the other human characters in the film aren't very convincing, but they never were. The toys, on the other hand, look as real as if I held them in my own hand, and some of the toys in the film I have held in my own hand at one time or another. (My favorite mention of a classic toy comes when the toys are trying to rescue Buzz, who has fallen out the window, by lowering a makeshift rope to him. One of the toys says, "we need more monkeys," to which Rex responds, "There aren't any more; that's the whole barrell." I was the proud owner of a barrell of monkeys growing up.)

Are there faults in Toy Story? I'm sure there's many, I mean nothing is perfect. I can only really come up with one. I never liked the fact that there was no consequences for breaking the rules of toy-hood. At the end, all the toys come to life in front of the dastardly Sid Phillips, causing him to have a mental breakdown and surely putting him in counseling for the rest of his sad, miserable life. There was no consequence to Woody or the other toys for breaking this rule. Similarly, throughout the film the toys are always on the verge of having someone see them out and about. They influence human affairs in a number of ways, and there is no consequence. If this was the way toys were, then very soon, humans everywhere would know that they were alive. It's a fault that only got worse in Toy Story 2.

When I was a kid, I saw a Jim Henson production called The Christmas Toy. (Eerily similar to Toy Story when you read IMDB's plot summary. I wonder if it was an inspiration to the creators of Toy Story, or just a coincidence.) In The Christmas Toy the toys have the rule that they must be back in their correct spot, the place where they were left, when the people come back, or they will be frozen forever (basically they die). It was a good ground rule to establish that explains why people never see toys out and about. I wish the creators of Toy Story had done some similar world building when they came up with the story for this film. It could have helped keep me from calling BS when, in Toy Story 2 the toys stole the Pizza Planet truck, then later stole a luggage train to get home from the airport. Then again, it would surely limit the story to do that. Perhaps it would have been boring if there had been rules like that. After all, Toy Story made hundreds of millions of dollars, and is the trademark franchise of the best computer animation studio in the world, and The Christmas Toy is a forgotten made-for-TV movie. I guess Toy Story got it right after all.

Rish has asked me to rank the Pixar films from greatest to least on more than one occasion, and I'm sure that I've placed Toy Story in the lower half at least once. After going back through and reviewing them again, I have to say that I was completely incorrect in that assessment. Toy Story is inspired. It's the kind of film that only comes along once in a while. However, with Pixar, that inspiration keeps striking again and again. Toy Story definitely fits in the top three, but it's still not their best. But that's okay, after all, it was their first. They were just getting started.

1 comment:

  1. I don't really know TOY STORY and TS2 all that well, but I was at the local electronics store the other day and one of them was playing on all their screens. My cousin was with me, and I pointed to the screens and said, "Wow, look how real the characters appear. They spent triple the first one's budget, but they sure went a long way in TOY STORY 2 from TOY STORY 1."

    A moment later, Buzz Lightyear does a spectacular stunt and pronounces "Can!" to which Woody says, "That wasn't flying, that was falling with style." So, turns out the first one looks a heck of a lot better in actuality than I remembered.

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