TOY STORY - DVD review

Toy Story is long on sentiment and short on story; but has anyone ever complained? Surely not when the characters are so appealing and the visuals so extraordinary.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

According to DVD Town's database, this 10th Anniversary Special Edition of "Toy Story" is the fifth separate packaging of the 1995 release. It's a darned good thing the movie is worth all the fuss, or some viewers might be getting a little flustered by all the new editions.

"Toy Story" was the first full-length animated feature to be made entirely on computers in digital graphics. The film, produced by the Pixar Animation Studios, created quite a sensation at the time, not only because it offered amazing visuals, but because it told a sweet fable, too. It was followed in 1999 by "Toy Story 2," a splendid sequel that I've always thought improved on its predecessor's story line. Disney's 10th Anniversary issue comes with many of the extras found in the three-disc "Ultimate Toy Box," but it adds even more supplementary material and, amazingly, an improved picture quality.

Let's start at the beginning with the plot and premise of "Toy Story." The idea is simple: When kids aren't around, their toys come alive and enjoy an existence of their own. More than that, however, "Toy Story" is a tale of friendship and the importance of love in everyone's life. The toys are important to Andy, the young boy who owns them, because they're his pals. Andy is important to the toys because he gives them a feeling of being needed. And the toys are important to each another because without interpersonal relationships, life is pretty much meaningless, even to plastic playthings. In the story Woody, an old cowboy doll, is Andy's favorite toy. But things get dicey when Andy is given a new toy for his birthday, a Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger. No sooner does the new toy arrive on the scene than a rivalry flares up between Woody and Buzz. Fortunately, in true comic-book style the two heroes unite to fight a common foe--a mean, sadistic, little brat who lives next door--and become bosom buddies in the process.

"Toy Story" is fairly confined in its activities, centering on Andy's house and yard and the house next door. The mean kid, Sid, is not really in the action much at all, and the film's conflict development suffers somewhat from the film's lack of any extended menace. But the story is saved by its winning moral, its happy demeanor, its engaging voice characterizations, and its delightful music. Tom Hanks does the voice of Woody; Tim Allen is Buzz; Don Rickles plays Mr. Potato Head; Jim Varney is the Slinky Dog; Wallace Shawn is Rex; John Ratzenberger is Hamm; R. Lee Ermey is the Sarge; and Annie Potts plays Bo Peep. Randy Newman's music is catchy, and everyone by now will recognize the title song, "You've Got a Friend in Me."

Sure, "Toy Story" is long on sentiment and short on story; but has anyone ever complained? Surely not when the characters are so appealing and the visuals so extraordinary. This newest edition does up the cartoon proud.

You're probably wondering more than anything else about how the folks at Disney/Pixar/Buena Vista transferred the movie to DVD this time around, especially since the last transfer was so good I called it "fantastic, incredible, marvelous, phenomenal, fabulous, stupendous, astonishing," and "wondrous." Well, all things are relative, and what was all those things a few years ago is taken for granted as merely the standard today. So, to do ever greater justice to the film's visuals, short of high definition, the studio engineers this time afforded the movie the highest possible bit rate, higher than before, meaning that there is very little compression of the picture involved and that there is maximum definition, clarity, and color depth, with fewer shimmering lines. By comparison, the older edition now looks a little soft and faded. OK, younger kids won't probably notice the difference or care, but adults with high-definition televisions, line doubling, progression-scan players, and the like will appreciate the improvement.

Again presented in a 16x9 ratio, anamorphic widescreen, the image quality surpasses its predecessor in every department. The computer graphics look more astounding than ever, and they're rendered here as accurately and precisely as they probably will be until HD arrives. So where does that leave my 10/10 rating for the previous edition? Let's just say the older transfer is still almost as good as it gets, and that this new edition IS as good as it gets. For the moment.

Anyway, give the new picture quality a 10+. When the movie comes out in high-def, we'll give it a 10++.

In addition to Dolby Digital 5.1, the new edition sports a DTS 5.1 track as well. In DD 5.1 the audio remains every bit as spectacular as the video. Both the picture and the sound are again THX certified, and the results are impressive, indeed. The sonics continue to be as full, wide, dynamic, and deep as before, with things flying overhead and around through all five channels. But one can appreciate the little things, too, like voices that move across the sound stage as needed, rather than remaining stationary in the center speaker. Let it suffice to say that both the picture and the sound are state-of-the-art. Heck, I was even impressed by the new THX introduction that precedes the movie.

The "Ultimate Toy Box" gave us an extra disc full of supplements for both "Toy Story" movies; this 10th Anniversary edition of "Toy Story" alone goes it one better by presenting most of the same related material and more in a two-disc set. Disc one contains the widescreen presentation of the movie; Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. It also contains a brief introduction to the film by Pixar writer and director John Lasseter; an audio commentary as before with Lasseter and his creative team of Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Bill Reeves, Ralph Eggleston, and producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold; an all-new, eleven-minute featurette, "Legacy of Toy Story"; thirty scene selections, with newly animated menu screens; and Sneak Peeks at eight other Buena Vista titles, including Pixar's next animated feature, "Cars."

Disc two contains a lot of things from the "Ultimate Toy Box" plus a few new attractions. The most important new item is a featurette called "Making Toy Story." It's twenty minutes long and contains most everything you'd want to know about the production. Then, there's "Filmmakers Reflect," sixteen minutes of the filmmakers looking back over the past ten years since the movie's première and talking about what it's meant to them. A series of deleted scenes follow, the first few fully animated--an introduction, "Sid Tortures Toys," and "Rain"--and the next few in story reels only: an alternate opening Buzz Lightyear cartoon, an alternate opening Western shoot-out, "Woody's Nightmare," "Eastern Gate," "Shakes the Rattle," and "Sid's Comeuppance"; and some early animation tests of Woody, Buzz, Andy, Sid, Mom, and Molly.

In the "Behind-the-Scenes" segment of the disc, you'll find an all-new, six-minute documentary short, "Designing Toy Story"; and the documentary feature, "Designing Color." After that are quite a number of things that seemed familiar to me: Character design (art galleries and character "turn arounds"), set design (art galleries and rendered set tour), and color and lighting design (video and art gallery); several story highlight featurettes: "Storyboard Pitch" and "Story Reel"; a lot of production materials, including a production tour, production progression (chase sequence), layout tricks, an animation tour (Ash and Pete), early animation tests, shading and lighting, render bugs, and a Buzz Lightyear commercial. And, of course, there's all the usual publicity materials, including character interviews, a teaser, a trailer, four TV spots, ad print campaign (auto play gallery), and toys (auto play gallery).

Finally, in the "Music and Sound" department, there's an all-new music video from Lyle Lovett and Academy Award-winner Randy Newman singing "You've Got A Friend In Me"; a new sound-design documentary short; and Randy Newman singing demos (audio tracks with stills) of "You've Got a Friend In Me," "Strange Things," "Plastic Spaceman #1, #2," "The Fool," and "I Will Go Sailing No More."

The two discs are housed in a slim-line keep case, which is further enclosed in a cardboard slipcover whose artwork duplicates the front and back of the keep case. Inside, in addition to the DVDs, you'll find a chapter insert and a navigational guide to all the various features on the two discs. As usual, it's easy enough for a four-year-old child to understand. "Run out and find me a four-year-old child; I can't make heads or tails of it." --Groucho Marx

Parting Thoughts:
Disney's new 10th Anniversary Edition of "Toy Story" may be a hard sell for anyone who already has the three-disc "Ultimate Toy Box," but if you don't already own the movie, this is the way to go. It's also a must-buy for anyone who is even remotely interested in the art of modern computer-generated moviemaking or anyone who wants to have the best possible picture quality.

Although I liked "Toy Story 2" slightly better than I liked the original, Pixar's "Toy Story" is still a great animated feature, and it deserves to stand proudly beside classics like "Snow White," "Pinocchio," and "Fantasia" as one of the best cartoons of all time.


Film Value