Judge Ryan Keefer wonders when Barbie and Ken will finally write their tell-all books, since we're talking about Toy Story and everything.
The film that started the revolution of computer-animated feature films, Toy Story returns to store shelves for its 10th Anniversary (wow, it's been a decade already, that's sad). The unfortunate thing is that the film is being brought back in its third DVD lifecycle, after the monstrous 2000 Ultimate Toy Box and a 2003 standalone, fairly barren disc. Does this new anniversary edition pass the smell test?
Facts of the Case
For all intents and purposes, the animated film genre was a pretty flat area for quite awhile in the '80s and early '90s. Even with Disney's hold on the market, their results had been less than stellar during this time, save for The Lion King. Then a funny thing happened while 1994 transformed into 1995. Aside from the obvious boom of independent cinema, major studios started to embrace the computer technology available to them in the post-production process. Aside from Forest Gump blowing everyone away with "How'd They Do That?" precision, the next major step in computer technology was creating a short or even a feature-length film with computer-animated characters.
As it happened, a group of technology gurus in California were already hard at work on this very concept. Using a sophisticated combination of replicating human dynamics and interactions with rendering software, the folks at Pixar had created two groundbreaking short films in "Luxo Jr." and "Tin Toy." With the rendering programs and other various animation departments, Ed Catmull and gang managed to complete the impossible; a feature-length film done entirely with computers. The result was a masterpiece. The plot is pretty basic at the roots, a buddy film where the main characters are separated and later reunited. But that discredits the quality of the story which oh by the way, was nominated for an Oscar, along with Randy Newman's score. But the main and supporting characters, who are all toys, some familiar, some not, have just the right mix of detail, emotional depth (if that's possible), that the film gained universal appeal with humor that reaches both kids and adults. The impact since has been enormous. Toy Story was such a hit; there was talk of it almost cracking the major Oscar categories. An iMac being nominated for a Best Supporting Actor would have been nice to see (and an interesting change of pace), but did not happen. Instead, the Academy decided to create a new category for animated films, recognizing the strides that they made not only in technology, but in storytelling. Pixar creative head John Lasseter was given an Oscar for his work for the film. "To Infinity and Beyond!" was a catchphrase for many people. Subsequently, Pixar films have been automatic box office giants (the smallest worldwide gross for a Pixar film that I could find was Monsters, Inc., which made a paltry $525 million). And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Toy Story has received high praise, good (Shrek), bad (Madagascar) and otherwise.
In Woody (Tom Hanks, Philadelphia) and Buzz (Tim Allen, The Santa Clause), the two embody the characters in so many ways. You can assume the animators created the characters around the actors. And there's a treasure trove of stars that provided their voices to the project too, and they're all appropriate. Can you not see Don Rickles (Casino) as Mr. Potato Head? Or R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) as the leader of the Army men? Along with established talents like Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride) and John Ratzenberger (Cheers) turning in quality contributions, it's clear why Toy Story has remained such a desired favorite after so long. And after a couple of previous versions that quickly went out of print, Toy Story comes back to celebrate a decade of entertainment.
The film is being touted as having the highest bitrate ever for a Pixar film, which at first glance, may not be saying all that much. Pixar films (and other films done via computer animation) have the luxury of going from digital source material to digital disc, giving it a stellar image, worthy of placing on the largest of television screens. So what does a higher bitrate entail?
Well, having looked at what I thought was an excellent transfer on the Ultimate Toy Box; the new transfer looks significantly improved. The picture is sharper, the toys (notably Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, and the dinosaur) have more detail that can be seen on them in any scene. If one was to play the visual snob, it looks like the whites appear a little blown out from time to time, but like it or not for owners of the Ultimate Toy Box, the picture has been improved for the better. And if this was not enough, there's even a DTS 5.1 Surround audio track that is a significant upgrade over the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. There is far more subwoofer activity through the film, and some of the scenes near the end where Buzz and Woody try to get back to the moving truck are reference quality. Buzz' time under "the claw" is one of several examples of near-immersive sound through the feature too. As one who's got the silver box of love, I can tell you that the presentation in both aspects is noticeably improved.
The examination of the extras is being compared with the Ultimate Toy Box, which many readers currently have. Disc One starts with a new introduction from Lasseter about this new edition, specifically the hard sell on the new transfer. As far as intros go, it's OK. The commentary that was on the first version of the film is included here, containing Lasseter, producers Bonnie Arnold and Ralph Guggenheim, writers Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton, art director Ralph Eggleston and modeler Bill Reeves. Most of the participants are in the room, and Arnold and (I think) Guggenheim are recorded separately. The group shares their thoughts on the film, along with occasionally pointing out some of the tributes to other films too. Aside from the obvious Star Wars nods, there was an inspiration from Commando or Predator? OK. All in all, the group seems to enjoy the look at the feature. A separate look at the film's legacy within the industry, both in and out of the genre, can be played also. In it, Allen, Hanks, Lasseter and other filmmakers like Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and a newly svelte, almost unrecognizable Peter Jackson talk about how great the film is, even after all these years. Trailers for Robots, Toy Story 2 and Cinderella round out the first disc.
Disc Two kicks things off with a mostly new, however dated, 20-minute documentary on the making of the film. It features interviews with most of the filmmakers, and Hanks shares how he came onto the project, which is nice. Lasseter recalls what could carry a feature-length animated film, and some of the older Pixar film shorts are included too. There are various incarnations of Buzz and Woody in the preconception phase which are a little kitschy, and it discusses the supporting characters in the film, and some of the research the staff did on how the toys would move and act. Next is a smaller, 15 minute retrospective by the filmmakers where Lasseter and some of the crew recall all the research they did during the production, and some of the stress relief methods they employed during. It's a very informal conversation that doesn't bring much new info to the table, but any retrospective by the key figures of any film is nice. Next are almost 20 minutes of deleted scenes, but most of the scenes are actually storyboarded sequences with a soundtrack, and the few animated scenes are in various work stages, nothing is finished. The behind the scenes material is similar also, there's a six-minute look at the design of the film and the details put into it. The character animation section with galleries and three dimensional looks appears to be pulled from the Box and the storyboard section with the boards and separate film comparison are the same too. The production section include the multi-language and multi-angle looks, and the music and sound section with the sound design demo, and the early Randy Newman music is pretty nice. The publicity section includes trailers, TV spots, posters and merchandising photos. For the other new extras, there's a set-top game with a claw that allows you to pull a toy from a vending machine, which is kind of fun to tinker with.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While having a circulated, in-print copy of Toy Story is nice to see for those who didn't take advantage of the Ultimate Toy Box several years ago, it seems like this two-disc set is a bit of a cash grab. And considering that there are heavy rumors of a Toy Story 3, along with the ending of the Disney/Pixar partnership, this can leave a bitter taste in one's mouth.
If you paid over $100 for the Ultimate Toy Box on eBay, or even picked up the cheap two-pack of both movies in 2003, you may kick yourself now with this sparkling new release. If you want the best possible presentation, then by all means pick this up. Those of you who have the set, you're only spending money on the transfer, so it's up to you.
The court finds Buzz, Woody, and the gang not guilty on all counts. Disney is found guilty of performing an authorized double-dip, but is sentenced time served for the film's "highest digital 'bit rate' ever for a Disney/Pixar film." Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• "Legacy of Toy Story"
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