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Blu-ray Review: Toy Story

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The Film

The first feature-length computer animated film to ever be released, Toy Story remains remarkable 15 years later for its technological innovation, canny storytelling, and the inspired synthesis of the two. Unquestionably a watershed film in the history of animation, the John Lasseter-directed Toy Story paved the way for a new kind of filmmaking and foreshadowed the exploits of a studio that would consistently hit it out of the park and remain far ahead of its peers in terms of creative vision.

Pixar Animation Studios has made a host of brilliant films (with its most recent two, Up and WALL·E probably its best), but Toy Story remains a singular work among its filmography — it’s funny and moving, clever and warmhearted.

What sets Toy Story apart from the get-go (and such is the case with most of Pixar’s work) is its commitment to a concept and a vision of an entirely different world. Pixar doesn’t just give words and attention to objects or people that wouldn’t normally get either — it takes the audience inside their environment, charging the viewer with a fresh perspective.

The internal life of children’s toys may seem trivial, but with Toy Story, it opens up a world of the nostalgia of childlike joy — and the fleeting nature that goes along with the territory. This idea would get built upon even further in the almost-as-good Toy Story 2, with the endless cycle of shifting commercial attention being explored.

There’s something very respectable about an ostensible children’s film aspiring to ideas that will cause an adult viewer to pause (and children viewers to grow into as they age with the film). Toy Story is that kind of movie — not the blatantly contrived animation crap that keeps the kiddies transfixed on bright colors and superfluous action while lobbing up a few pop culture jabs for the parents — but the kind that offers a moment, a character, an idea that speaks to everyone in different ways.

It also doesn’t hurt that the film gets both the comedy and the action spot on. Laughs are abundantly mined from the witty script and wonderful voice talents of Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger, Tom Hanks, and Tim Allen; the thrilling climax is a testament to the animation prowess of Pixar.

No matter what Pixar goes on to produce (and chances are it’ll be increasingly brilliant), Toy Story will always be held in high esteem among it all.

The Blu-ray Disc

Toy Story is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As the film has been transferred here from on digital medium to another, the result is a to-be-expected luminous presentation without the slightest hint of flaw or artifact. Colors pop and are thoroughly consistent, sharpness is ever-present and delineation between elements has never looked better. Fine detail is present in a way I’ve never noticed in the film before (even in its recent 3-D re-release in theaters) — slight crosshatching of the wallpaper in Andy’s bedroom reveals itself and textures of surfaces everywhere seem to gain a newfound level of detail. Compared to Pixar’s more recent work (and most contemporary computer animated films in general), Toy Story is a much simpler execution of many of the techniques. But that in no way makes it seem dated or unimpressive, and the Blu-ray will likely renew appreciation of the film’s visual merits all over again.

The audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD track that more than pulls its share of the weight, with a crisp and clean mix that serves Randy Newman’s score and the bevy of toy-sized sound effects very well. The well-rounded mix showcases frequent ambient sound in its fully realized environments.

Special Features

There’s not a lot of new bonus material here, but there are a few nice extras, and the special features from the DVD that are ported over are solid in their own right. The new features are presented in high def, while the old ones remain in standard def.

The most prominent of the new extras is a short promo on the upcoming Toy Story 3 with director Lee Unkrich. There’s not much information or footage here that can’t be found in the trailer though, although I know I’d rather not know too much now. Also new are a short piece on Buzz Lightyear’s trip into space via NASA, a featurette on the Buzz balloon featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and three animated stories telling amusing anecdotes from Pixar Headquarters, which seems like one of the coolest places to work in the world. Perhaps the most interesting of the new supplements is a look at how pressure from Disney and disputes over an early cut of the film almost shut the production down.

Carried over from the DVD release are a making-of featurette, a filmmakers’ discussion, deleted scenes, storyboards, galleries and promotional material.

The two-disc set also contains a DVD of the film, and it contains all of the same special features as the Blu-ray.

The Bottom Line

If you’re going to experience Buzz, Woody, and the gang over and over again — and why wouldn’t you want to? — the Blu-ray is the perfect way to do so.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • Chip

    As great as just about all the Pixar films have been (Cars is the weakest, but still good), I still think that Toy Story is Pixar’s best film (perhaps followed by Toy Story 2, but The Incredibles is brilliant as well). But Toy Story is just amazing. The script is brilliant, and definitely should have won the Oscar. The characters are all equally funny and well-developed, and the story is simple yet full of substance. It is very funny and full of heart, and has plenty of clever jokes, and there is never a dull moment, not for one second.