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Revisit:

Toy Story

Dir: John Lasseter

1995

Revisit is a series of reviews highlighting past releases that now deserve a second look.

It is hard to believe that it has almost been 15 years since Pixar made a name for itself with Toy Story. After a succession of 10 well-received films, some of which are bona fide classics, Pixar has upped the ante on animated films exponentially in that short time frame. See, they took the novel idea of utilizing intelligent scripts, fused humor that appeals to children and adults and steadfastly refused to dumb down their movies to create characters as indelible as those from the Disney heyday. It is a formula that other studios scrambled to emulate, but in most cases could not re-create. So what is it about Pixar films that have people already calling them “new classics?”

In the wake of the upcoming Toy Story 3, Disney is re-releasing Toy Story (along with Toy Story 2) in 3-D to promote the upcoming sequel and also push its new found love of the technology it employed for the most recent Pixar film Up. But underneath the marketing and newfangled headgear, Toy Story remains the humanistic, vital film that created the mold for such classics as Finding Nemo and WALL-E.

The plot is fairly simple: the toys in young Andy’s room can talk. However, these toys mainly discuss their neuroses. Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) worries about keeping his face together and pines for a Mrs. Potato Head companion. Rex (Wallace Shawn) is a green plastic dinosaur who is constantly insecure about his lack of toughness. Slinky Dog (the late Jim Varney) ties himself in knots to appease top toy Woody (Tom Hanks). But the biggest fear that hangs over all the toys in Andy’s room is the idea of becoming passé, that someday they will no longer be de rigueur and replaced by bigger and better toys.

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This is a very heady subject for a children’s movie, the passage of time and the eventuality of obsolesce. Woody struts and frets as top plaything but it doesn’t take long for the rest of toy box to turn on him when newcomer Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) usurps that status. Rather than go gracefully, Woody conspires to gain back his position and his craven machinations are not only observed by the other toys, they are condemned as well. When Woody finally uses a remote control car to banish Buzz (who is convinced he is the Buzz Lightyear) out the window of Andy’s room, it will take both the toys being absconded by evil neighbor Sid for Woody to recognize his own mortality (in a toy sense) and give way to the ascension of Buzz. But Woody isn’t the only one with issues. Buzz must learn to accept his existence as not a superman, but only a “toy.” It is this understanding, peace with the mundane and the stripping away of the ego that both Woody and Buzz must accept before finding peace not only between them but within them.

Credit cannot be given to Lasseter alone as four screenwriters helped develop the script including Joss Whedon (of “Firefly” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame) and Pixar big wig Andrew Stanton. It is a masterful script, filled with nuance and humor that was unseen in most children’s movies. Seriously, how many kids’ movies can make jokes about penis envy?

The re-release of Toy Story comes at an interesting time for the movies. Much like the toys in Andy’s room, it seems that the studios are afraid that they too will become obsolete. With the invention of cheaper, better home theater equipment, less people want to spend $10 to feel besieged by stupid commercials, overpriced junk food and audiences that have less and less awareness of movie etiquette as they chatter away on cell phones or bring children to adult films. For the price of two tickets, one could wait and buy the DVD for less. So, execs are trying to bring something to theater that you cannot do at home: 3-D.

While some directors like Robert Zemeckis have completely sold out and make movies aimed specifically for the 3-D format complete with things that jump out of the screen, Pixar introduced the technology this summer with Up. But rather than ram the technology down our throats with fingers, noses and guns bulging from the screen, the 3-D in Up added nothing more than a nice texture to the film’s rich palette.

Though there may some ethical issues of re-releasing Toy Story in a format it was not intended for, the opportunity to see the film on the big screen again is a delight. Like the toys in the film, the studios need to realize that nothing is immutable and that instead of resisting sea change with cheap tricks, they should take a lesson from Woody and Buzz. I guess we all should. Once they stopped worrying about the garage sale and pecking order, this dysfunctional family appeared to work out its kinks. Oh well, it’s just a kids’ movie.

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