Chief Justice Michael Stailey wobbles but he don't fall down.
"Extremely dangerous. Keep out of reach of children. Cool!"—Sid
Cool is right! Who would have ever thought that a small tech group cast off by George Lucas would be salvaged by Apple's Steve Jobs, revolutionize the animation industry, and give the Walt Disney Company its third golden age in less than 60 years? John Lasseter (unceremoniously dismissed by Disney Feature Animation) and Ed Catmull (an under-appreciated computer whiz) shepherded a rag tag team of Cal Arts grads and tech-heads into becoming a legendary storytelling juggernaut, and it all came together with a little under-the-radar picture called Toy Story.
Facts of the Case
Sheriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks, Angels and Demons) is the respected leader of Andy's toys. He makes sure everyone is safe, well maintained, and educated on every benefit and hazard there is to living there. But the inevitable lurks around every corner. Birthdays, holidays, and generous family members mean new toys are always a possibility, and with them comes the threat of Woody being replaced as Andy's favorite. God forbid a toy should be banished to the box or lost beneath the bed. So it is with great consternation that the arrival of Buzz Lightyear: Space Ranger (Tim Allen, The Santa Clause) signals a changing of the guard and the realization of Woody's greatest fear. When Woody's jealousy accidentally sends Buzz careening out the bedroom window, these toys are thrust into the adventure of their lives and learn more than a few valuable lessons along the way.
Retired Chief Justice Mike Jackson, did an excellent job reviewing the original Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box on DVD, so I encourage you to give it a read. In the meantime, let's focus our attention on the film's journey into high definition.
Fifteen years down the road and the adventures of Woody, Buzz, Hamm, Rex, Slinky, Bo, and Mr. Potato Head have not lost one iota of their original power and charm. In fact, every time I see Toy Story—whether it be a quick glimpse while flipping channels, or stopping to catch a scene while my nieces and nephew are watching it—I'm instantly transported back to a time and place where living passionately for each and every moment was our entire world. The Pixar team achieved the impossible: they captured the pure innocence of childhood and imagination, preserving it for all time as a reminder that we've never truly lost our unstoppable inner youth. To do so with such lasting imagery, makes the feat even more impressive.
The often replicated but never duplicated Pixar has since surpassed their Disney mentors. While the technology and artistry of CG animation has travelled light years from the exhilaratingly exhaustive development days of Toy Story, the core storytelling values of John, Pete Docter (Up), Andrew Stanton (WALL-E), Joss Whedon (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog), and the late Joe Ranft (Cars) are infused in every frame of this film. Given life by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, the late Jim Varney, Annie Potts, Don Rickles, a small army of brilliant artists and technical wizards, and underscored by the brilliant Randy Newman; these characters are now a part of our worldwide cultural zeitgeist, as much as Mickey Mouse has been since Steamboat Willie in 1928.
The Disney/Pixar team were the first to corral the power of the Blu-ray format and their reputation is safe with this release. Toy Story has never looked better, and that's coming from someone who saw the Digital 3D presentation in theatres. This 1.78:1, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p transfer is pris-tine! Literally. These toys jump off the screen with color and life unlike anything you've seen. The lighting effects in Andy's room and Sid's house are astounding, and the emotion that exudes from the desolation of the Dinoco station to the frenzy of Pizza Planet is palpable. Granted, the human modeling is archaic and their mastery of textures was still years away, but the level of detail Pixar has become known for was there from the very beginning and is no less impressive. What's more, there is not even so much as a hint of digital enhancement tampering. The same holds true for the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. This mix is a wealth of audio discoveries. From the hobbling of army men and the clip-clop of Mr. Potato Head's hollow shoes, to the rabid attack of Sid's dog Scud and whir of RC's desperate race to catch the moving truck, we are fully immersed in this world. Gary Rydstrom is a genius at sound design and every channel does his artistry justice.
The only place this release misses the mark ever-so-slightly is in the area of bonus materials. Don't get me wrong, there are riches aplenty to digest, but by not incorporating all of the features from Toy Story's two DVD releases, this edition feels somewhat incomplete. Lying beneath a beautiful menu system, here's what you can look forward to…
New! Bonus Features in HD
• Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Episode 1 (4 min)—Buzz wows Hamm and Rex with video and stories from his trip to the International Space Station, courtesy of NASA.
• Paths to Pixar (5 min)—Staff animators and artists share stories of how they made their way to the hallowed halls of Pixar.
• Studio Stories: John Lasseter's Car (2 min)—An animated tale of the Pixar chief's death trap on wheels.
• Studio Stories: Baby AJ (2 min)—A disturbing animated tale of one particular Pixar Halloween costume contest.
• Studio Stories: Scooter Races (2 min)—Recalling a treacherous scooter race from the early days in Pixar's new facility.
• Buzz Takes Manhattan (2 min)—John's enormous pride in having Buzz take part in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
• Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw (8 min)—The moment John and company realized they had to make their own movie and not the movie Disney execs told them to make. The true birth of the Pixar we know today.
Previously Released Bonus Features in SD
• Commentary—Despite being erroneously listed with the new features, this compilation track—weaving together two separate discussions: 1) Director John Lasseter, co-writers Andrew Stanton and Pete Doctor, modeler Bill Reeves, and art director Ralph Eggleston; 2) Producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold—provides a vast knowledge of the trials, tribulations, trivia, and tremendous respect these folks have for every ounce of blood, sweat, tears, and laughter that went into getting this film on the big screen. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Deleted Scenes (19 min)—Nine segments (in various stages of completion) cut from the picture for complexity, time, pacing, or emotion. Intro'd by John, Andrew, and Toy Story 2 co-director Lee Unkrich. (2005, 10th Anniversary Edition)
• Making Toy Story (21 min)—The creative team talk about their experience on Toy Story just before its theatrical release, covering every aspect of production. It's astounding how young everyone looks. (2005, 10th Anniversary Edition)
• Filmmakers Reflect (17 min)—John, Pete, Andrew, and Joe sit down and reminisce about the origins and making of their first feature film. Be sure to stick around for the spit take. (2005, 10th Anniversary Edition)
• The Legacy of Toy Story (12 min)—Recognizable and respected talking heads (George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Brad Bird, the late Roy Disney, Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Leonard Maltin, and more) look back on the tremendous impact the film had not only on unsuspecting audiences but the film industry itself. (2005, 10th Anniversary Edition)
• Designing Toy Story (7 min)—It's not the technology, but what Pixar did with it to create an emotionally powerful tale that makes it so timeless. The pre-production design process is just as painstaking and important as it's always been, but this film took live-action filmmaking techniques and applied them to an entire world created from scratch. (2005, 10th Anniversary Edition)
• Art Galleries (14 min)—Eleven sets of brilliant imagery covering everything from character design to backgrounds, sets, and lighting, presented in slideshow format underscored by Randy Newman's music for the film. My favorite are Sid's mutant toy creations. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• 3-D Visualization (6 min)—Seven 360-degree computer models for characters and sets, displayed in slideshow format. The three set pieces include commentary by art director Ralph Eggleston. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Color (8 min)—Ralph talks about the development and importance of color used in the film. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Story (14 min)—Andrew, Joe, and John breakdown their storyboarding process (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Production (14 min)—John and company walk us through Pixar's filmmaking process (including challenges, tricks, and secrets) using specific scenes for example. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Designing Sound (7 min)—Sound designer Gary Rydstrom discusses the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the characters and the film. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Randy Newman Demos (18 min)—Randy's rough conceptual songs and character themes. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Music Video: "You've Got a Friend in Me" (3 min)—(2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Publicity (11 min)—Trailers, TV spots, Character interviews, Poster, Toys, Apparel, and more. (2005, 10th Anniversary Edition)
• DVD Copy—Hey, the story works just as well as in 480i standard definition.
• Digital Copy—For those portable devices crying out for content.
• BD-Live—Which amounts to little more than an evergreen promotional arm for Disney's current and future projects.
So What's Missing?
• Wraparound intros specific to each of the DVD editions.
• The Story Behind Toy Story—The 28 min making-of television special from the Ultimate Toy Box Edition.
• Tin Toy—The Academy Award winning short film which has since been released on Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1.
• A lot of the production detail has been merged, recut, or shucked for time, space, and interest. On the one hand, most people aren't going to care, but the Pixar faithful should hold onto that Ultimate Toy Box Edition. It's a brilliantly designed and executed peek behind the curtain at their storytelling process.
• Buzz Lightyear Toy Commercial easter egg.
No fault can be found with Toy Story as a film. It's only when standing in the shadow of the emotional depth and technical achievements of Toy Story 2 does it fall a hair's-breadth short. But no matter how many exceptional films Pixar creates, the first will forever remain a sentimental favorite.
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