Toy Story 1995
In the mid 90s, traditional Disney animated films had more or less run the course with audiences. Children who were the primary demographic for movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin had outgrown the same familiar tale. It was time for something new. Disney approached the small studio Pixar to produce something audiences had never seen before. It was a strategic gamble by Disney, but one that paid off handsomely.
Toy Story director John Lasseter actually worked for Disney but was fired for supporting computer generated imaging. It’s only fitting he would helm the first full length feature film to be completely computer animated. Much of the movie’s charm comes from the script, penned in part by Joss Whedon. His particular brand of charm has served him well from Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the way through the Avengers and helped bridge the gap between older and younger audiences.
The juxtaposition of the hot new Buzz Lightyear toy and Woody, the old rickety cowboy didn’t just provide an odd couple buddy comedy platform. The iconography of the future and past clashing, but ultimately working in parallel to one another was a subtle but poignant subtext throughout the film. The trepidation of Woody and his fellow old toys represented old cartoon animation while the flashy new Buzz Lightyear served as the totem for computer generated imaging and his catch phrase “To infinity and beyond!” couldn’t have been more apropos.
The quality of the film is almost universally unquestioned. Critics and audiences both loved it. Not only was it the first movie of its kind, but it also revitalized Tim Allen’s career. The Home Improvement comedy star had some success on the big screen with The Santa Claus which sparked its own franchise but was thin on critical acclaim. Tom Hanks was already an Academy Award winner at the time, and taking the lead role in an unproven animated format was risky for his brand. His attachment to the project brought a certain level of clout and faith that it could succeed. That it did. It won the box office battle in its opening weekend and would eventually gross more than $300M.
With success in every metric of measure, a franchise was born. Toy Story 4 is currently in production on schedule for a 2018 release. Not only did it spawn an incredibly lucrative franchise for itself, it did so for several other computer animated titles. It was innovative from a technological and production standpoint. The quality of the film set the bar so high that any subsequent efforts in the genre have an incredibly high floor. It laid the groundwork for and helped perfect the style of animation that is now the standard. I don’t know if there is enough good that can be said about this movie. As we live in the era of computer animated films being released seemingly every month and continuing to gross more and more at the box office and through additional revenue, it’s important to take a look back every now and again to see how it all started. On a personal note, I’m still waiting on The Incredibles 2 but I’ll probably wait a while longer.
Make sure to check back as we get into the final four.