Lately there has been a glut of 3-D films. While none in the live-action arena have given cause for hope, the cinematic gimmick of yesteryear now has legs to stand on. If we are to have hope for the future of 3-D animation, it lies in the hands of Pixar. While Up didn’t manage to inspire my faith, my hopes have been buoyed by their re-release of the original Toy Story films.
This isn’t saying Pixar is the only production company capable of producing fine 3-D films in either format. Simply put, live-action films have characters and props looking like they’re placed in front of cardboard cutout sets while CG animation manages to fully immerse the viewer with added depth and clarity.
When the decision was made to make Up Pixar’s first film to use the now standard 3-D effect, a lot of the money was allocated to the “depth budget.” This aspect of the production tackled the use of 3-D to enhance the viewing experience rather than to be used simply as a gimmick. Personally, I did not think the added use of 3-D made the film any more enjoyable. It made a few of the scenes a little more exciting but overall still didn’t fully immerse me in a world I had already seen a month earlier in standard 2-D. The fun and joy of watching a CG animated film is that these already have a 3-D quality to them when made by a major studio.
Surprisingly, all my early opinions were squashed by the use of 3-D in this re-release. Scenes that have been watched repeatedly now feel completely fresh. Originally released in 1995 and 1999, there was obviously never any intent by the filmmakers for an eventual 3-D release 10 years later but you’d never know. Objects fly at the audience and point of view shots feel more realistic than ever. If you thought the toys looked lifelike before, prepare to be amazed as you wait for one to leap off the screen and beg to be taken home and be played with.
Toy Story was directed by John Lasseter but written and storied with some very familiar names — Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft, and even Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon). It’s a simple story about toys that come to life when humans leave the room. They have an owner named Andy (voice of John Morris) who loves his Sheriff Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) more than the rest but still plays with all in elaborate set pieces. Along comes Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen) who inadvertently replaces Woody. Woody, sporting a case of “laser envy,” accidentally knocks Buzz out of the bedroom window prompting a rescue mission to bring Buzz home.
Never before has a song been as welcoming as when Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” begins to play over the opening credits. It’s as if he and everyone at Pixar is your grandpa giving you a great big bear hug (which makes even more sense if you’ve ever seen Randy Newman).
Toy Story 2 is the continued adventure where all the original toys are back and new faces are brought in to expand the journey. This was again directed by John Lasseter but co-directed with two new Pixar directors (Ash Brannon and future Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich) and written by a team of newly credited writers aside from repeated contributor Andrew Stanton. This time Woody is in the process of rescuing Wheezy the Penguin (voice of Pixar’s late Joe Ranft) when he is stolen from a yard sale. Al (voice of Wayne Knight) takes Woody to his “No Children Allowed” apartment complex where he meets the rest of the “Woody’s Roundup” crew: Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl (voice of Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete the Prospector (voice of Kelsey Grammer), and Bullseye, Woody’s sidekick horse. This time Buzz sets up a search and rescue mission leading them from Al’s Toy Barn to the apartment complex where lessons are learned and identities confronted.
One of the best things about watching this new version of the Toy Story films is that they have only converted the original content into 3-D so the animation is left untarnished. This particularly made the films fun to watch back-to-back in a theater. They may have been released four years apart but just so much as the rendering of the dogs Buster and Scud is incredible.
Lots of treasures are to be rediscovered such as spotting the starred bouncy ball, A Bug’s Life Dim toys in Al’s Toy Barn, Pixar short film clips on the television as Hamm (voice of John Ratzenberger) frantically flips channels, to seeing where the always strategically positioned A113 winds up. Everything old is new again and prettier than ever. They haven’t glossed things up so much as finally enhanced the viewing experience for a film to truly immerse the audience in a world already so beloved.
Previously available only on VHS and DVD, after seeing this presentation I simply cannot wait for the eventual Blu-ray releases. Applause all around on a fabulous job well done creating something so fresh from something probably considered dated by lesser fans of the medium. Run to see this anew at a theater near you before the exclusive two week engagement runs out!