Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Movie That Changed Animation

I remember a long time ago - ok, 1995, but that feels like forever ago - I was a college student who was secretly a geek, and I loved animated movies. I still went to the theater to see the newest Disney releases, even if I was ten years older than the targeted demographic. And it was that year that I got to see Toy Story, and with it the first full-length computer-animated movie.

I was amazed by this little movie from the animation giant Disney and Pixar, a newcomer in the animation industry. The images were so crisp, but the story was heartwarming. So when I discovered Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were being released to DVD and Blu-Ray, I was thrilled to get the chance to see them again.

For those who haven't seen Toy Story, consider it a look at the secret world of toys. When people aren't looking, they come to life and have their own world based around knowing they are toys. They have their own social structure, they have their likes and dislikes, and they are especially afraid of being displaced by new toys.

So when Andy has a birthday party and receives a new Buzz Lightyear figure (voiced by Tim Allen), it immediately makes Andy's favorite toy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) nervous and determined to get rid of this new competition. In doing so, Woody ends up getting himself into trouble and the two toys have to work together to get back to Andy, all while Woody works to convince the clueless Buzz that he's a toy and not the actual Buzz Lightyear. Sounds like a simple story, but it has a strong theme of friendship and is a gentle reminder of the fantastic lives we imagined our toys had when we were kids.

While I saw this film in 1995, my daughters just got to see it for the first time, and they loved it. They liked the story, they laughed at the toys acting silly, and they enjoyed the music. And if you think they liked Toy Story, then you should have seen their reaction to Toy Story 2.

Toy Story 2 begins with Andy going off to summer camp, and Woody accidentally finding himself in the family yard sale when he tries to rescue another toy. He's scooped up by a collector and taken away, while the other toys - led by Buzz Lightyear - try to find him and rescue him. Woody finds himself in the collector's apartment, where he meets the other toys that were from the TV series Woody's Roundup.

The collector plans to sell them as a set to a toy museum in Japan, and while the other toys are excited about the trip, Woody only wants to get back home. Other than Jessie, the cowgirl, the other toys have never known what it's like to be loved by a child, and Jessie has bad memories of being forgotten by the little girl who owned her. Buzz and Andy's other toys eventually rescue Woody, and Jessie and the toy horse Bullseye come along to find a new home at Andy's house.

My girls loved Toy Story 2 even more than the original. First, it had a lead female character, Jessie, and the girls loved the toy cowgirl's vibrant and outgoing personality. Actually, that's primarily the reason they liked it more. The music was equally as good (Randy Newman is a genius!) and the animation was even better than the first. While the story isn't quite as simple as the first, it's still a good story that is easy for young children to follow while still keeping adults entertained.

Both of these movies were re-released last week on DVD and special Blu-Ray + DVD combo packs. This is the first time these films have been released in high-definition Blu-Ray, and each offers a range of bonus features, including a sneak-peak at the upcoming Toy Story 3.  Each has featurettes on the making of each movie at Pixar, deleted scenes, a "blooper reel" for Toy Story 2, and each includes a Buzz Lightyear mission log. The Blu-Ray discs also have movie challenges and other interactive features.

The Toy Story franchise was what originally launched Pixar into the big leagues of animation, and it's easy to see why. Not only was it a technological achievement, the story is unique and perfect for kids and kids at heart. If you don't already have them, be sure to add Toy Story and Toy Story 2 to your collection before the third in the series comes out this June.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 for review purposes, but received no further compensation. A positive review was neither promised nor expected.

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