Thursday, 27 August 2009
Spiral568's Greatest Movie Countdown: No#98: Toy Story
Pixar is certainly in an enviable position these days. No other studio perhaps of ever can claim such unwavering critical and popular acclaim. Each movie they release makes at least two hundred million and gets starstruck write-ups from every critic in existence, no matter how elitist or respected. They've allowed a generation to not have to resent going to the cinema with their kids, something the parents of the seventies and eighties will look on at with retrospective scorn, reminded of how they were forced to watch the succession of death rattle pictures from the house of mouse ( a particularly obnoxious label imbued upon Disney.) No, Pixar came and conquered instantaneously and maintained that state of conquering ever since, hitting the track running and never looking back. Sure some are better then others, but what is most admirable is how every film they make values a high standard of quality as much a it values making money and this could be the reason why they are the critical darlings that they are. Its that they elect the way of making good movies, making art almost, when they really don't have to. Pixar could make a film about a talking bucket, a bad film about a talking bucket, and it would make whoever knows how many millions, but the fact that they infuse each project with such attention and heart is testament to their creative nobility. Something every other major studio, to whom profit is the greatest capital and quality is something to be applied when and where it can, really does not live up to in the slightest.
It was a great experience to watch Toy Story again, where it all began for Pixar and arguably the first time a film for the whole family could actually be enjoyed by the whole family, rather then just a select few. Its a film that can remind you why you fell in love with cinema in the first place, or it can introduce you to the sheer potential of what cinema can do when it applies itself, or you can simply be a six year old in your living room enjoying eighty-three minutes of entertainment at its most sublime. Whether your viewing fits into any of these categories or not, its hard to imagine anyone seeing this film and disliking it because like the best children's films it brings out the best things about your inner child (the sense of wonder and the open mindedness) just as the weaker examples bring out the worst (The patronization and the powerlessness.) The narrative of the film is fairly simple, and at its heart its a buddy movie - this may seems like a trivialization of it but believe me its not, Fight Club, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, All The President's men and to some degree Pulp Fiction could also be called this. Its not just for bad movies starring Eddie Murphy anymore - the film is a cinematic riff on that age old hypothetical of hypotheticals 'Do toys come alive when we leave the room' and sees the favorite toy Cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks) act as a sheriff almost to the Toy community of Andy's room. Andy being the barely visible child whose property we send our time with. The first twenty minutes of the film are spent meticulously establishing this setting, from the various supporting characters including a slinky dog, a bo peep doll, a cowardly T-Rex creatively named Rex and a Mr Potato head, awesomely given the role of being the contrary asshole. Its part of what makes the film so great that it deems that Mr Potato Head is the right man to be the Dwayne T Robinson of this universe. The Utopian toy existence is rumbled however when Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear for his birthday, a state of the art spaceman action figure with features and gadgets to the hilt and the belief that he is in fact a spaceman and not a self-aware toy like everyone else. Naturally he displaces Woody as the favorite of both Andy and the toy townsfolk, and the jealous and abandoned Woody schemes to reclaim his crown and in turn starting a series of events that lead to both he and Buzz being lost in the big nothing of the outside world. Their journey home includes their capture by toy-killing neighbor Sid, the befriending of Sid's mutilated and Frankenstein-lite toy collection and the inevitable journey home.
The film's story reminded me a lot of the Defiant Ones, with the mutually loathing heroes forced to band together when the big bad world comes calling. Scenes toward the finale of Woody and Buzz chasing after Andy's car and refusing to abandon each other in the pursuit of it reminded me very directly of that film's climax, but believe me it is a favorable comparison. Its an unusual dynamic for a children's film, most of which serve the purpose of maintaining ignorance in regards to human confrontation, but here their banter and terrific exchange of insults (YOU..ARE..A..TOY!! and you are a sad, strange little man being the most iconic of which.) are as much of a joy as the film's heart-warming side. And its to its credit that it resists easy sentiment, Buzz and Woody's eventual friendship is earned the hard way making the heroic final act that much more sweet upon its arrival. It is also the first in the thankful step away from the musical aspect of children's films Disney perpetuated and took a step toward a higher standard of comedy. Almost every CGI animated film since owes this a huge debt, most notably the Shrek Franchise and even Pixar itself until recently, perhaps Ratatouille onwards, where its films have shifted into a slightly maturer tone. But part of what makes Toy Story such a lasting favorite is how well it manages to cater to both children and adults.
The voice talent, which I can't believe I'm just getting to now, is stellar with Tom Hanks' characterization of Woody perhaps being the most consistently hilarious, set to a permanent state of histrionics without ever getting annoying something that is no mean feat, and this is only one or two films off being my favorite Tom Hanks performance, animation or no. Tim Allen is terrificly oblivious yet condescending as Buzz and does plenty of awesome deadpan deliveries that I've never really seen Tim Allen do in a live action performance. Well except maybe for Galaxy Quest. The rest of the cast is made up of reliable television stars, from John Ratzenberger to Don Rickles all playing their roles awesomely. The animation of the characters also lends a great deal of anthropomorphic humanity to them, all more expressive and realistic then traditional disney animation would allow for, and this gives the audience a much greater bond to the characters. The CGI creation of environments is also fantastically and eagerly realized, from the hell of Sid's bedroom to the wonders of The Pizza Planet restaurant. Every setting is created with such enthusiasm and specificity, but perhaps more impressively, with a real sense of wonder. You really feel like a kid exploring the world for the first time when watching Toy Story and the fact that the film elicits this attitude from someone so cynical and impossible to impress as myself means that for a well adjusted person this film would be nothing short of magical.
To conclude, this is children's cinema at its most exuberant. It gets everything right and amidst that never forgets to entertain, and entertain in large quantities. Its a film that thrives on happiness and positivity but in a way that is intelligent and unique. I really could throw all the superlatives out there I wanted to, but it wouldn't do this film justice. Its something you really need to see if you love cinema.