Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Reel 20: TOY STORY

“You are a TOY!”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of John Lasseter’s TOY STORY.

A computer-animated, buddy-comedy adventure film, TOY STORY was the first feature-length film from Pixar Animation Studios. Following the adventures of toys, specifically the relationship between a cowboy-doll named Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), and a space-ranger action-figure named Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), TOY STORY was a landmark film in not only computer-animation but the overall industry.

The road to TOY STORY began in the late 1980’s, when John Lasseter, then a young animator, was working for Walt Disney Feature Animation; a studio with a rich history of animated film from SNOW WHITE to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. An innovator, Lasseter was inspired by Disney’s own film TRON from 1982, which used computer-generated animation intermixed with live-action. Lasseter pitched the idea of a full feature-length film done completely by computers, which was seen as a threat by Disney, which had built an empire by producing traditional, hand-drawn animated films.

Lasseter was dismissed from Disney, and then went to work at Lucasfilm and later as a founding member of Pixar, which was purchased by Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs. Lasseter would produce a handful of animated short-films, and his TIN TOY, a short which told a story from the perspective of a toy, would become the first computer-animated short-film to win an Oscar in 1988. Disney then re-entered the picture and became a working partner with Lasseter and Pixar.

Inspired by TIN TOY, Lasseter, along with Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, would begin work on TOY STORY, which would become Pixar’s first full-length film. The screenplay went through many revisions, and would employ the talents of Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, and Joss Whedon to craft the script into a family adventure. After several starts and stops, TOY STORY finally went into production in early 1994. A team of 27 animators began work using clay models and Lasseter’s storyboards, with every shot in the film passing through eight different teams working on color, lighting, modeling, framing, and motion. To keep things cinematic, the animators decided to stay within the limits of what a traditional movie camera could do. This would give TOY STORY, despite its new stunning visuals, a very classic cinematic look and feel.

With a well-respected cast of Hanks, Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, and R. Lee Ermey, TOY STORY came together nicely. Randy Newman composed the score, and developed the film’s signature song, You’ve Got A Friend In Me. As suggested by Steve Jobs, TOY STORY was released in November; a break from the tradition of animated films being released in the summer months.

The results were spectacular. TOY STORY was the highest grossing film of the year, easily beating out BATMAN FOREVER and Ron Howard’s Oscar-darling APOLLO 13. Among the many awards it won, it was nominated for two Golden Globes and three Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay; the first animated film to be nominated in that category. John Lasseter would receive an Academy Special Achievement Award in 1996. The film would interest many other studios in computer-generated movies, and would sadly begin the end of the hand-drawn era. TOY STORY would begin an industry boom for animated films, which were now seen as legitimate cinema and not just for kids, and would prompt the eventual creation of the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars in 1991.

 The film’s success would put Pixar on the map of movie-making giants, and become the pillar of the now famed studio’s large catalog of films and characters. TOY STORY would live on in massive merchandising, two sequels, and various spinoffs…and Woody and Buzz would become instant pop-culture icons.


In the fall of 1995, this Blogger was only a few months out of college and into his professional career in broadcasting and the creative services. TOY STORY arrived in this Blogger’s life like a space-ranger landing from another galaxy, instantly inspiring and re-enforcing how wonderful the power of creativity can be. This Blogger may have been launched with STAR WARS, but it was TOY STORY which helped it along. It is a film which works with adults and kids; telling a familiar story in a new setting, and it explores themes that everyone can relate to. Its legacy is ongoing, and will for many years to come.

“To infinity, and beyond!”

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