Movie Review | Toy Story
Movie summary: A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy's room. (IMDb)
I've seen Toy Story a few times now, although not for several years before watching it again for this review, and all I could remember was how dated some of the visuals were in comparison to the later movies. I'd completely forgotten just how much was crammed into an 81-minute running time and just how well it was done too.
To start off, the movie introduces you to a whole bunch of characters at once, keeping Woody (Tom Hanks) as the sole common element for the sequence. All of the toys are visually distinct from each other anyway, but it's impressive how quickly their personalities are defined in this small sequence too - a few minutes into the movie and you've got a decent grasp on half a dozen characters at least.
The toys all look pretty decent too, although the fact that they don't resemble realistically-proportioned human beings undoubtedly help. They avoid the problem of the uncanny valley making them creepy and, refinement of technology aside, don't look too different here to even the latest movie. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the human characters.
To say the humans depicted in Toy Story look rough is an understatement. Faces - especially the mouths - and hair look really poor, if not flat out creepy at certain points in the movie. I do think Pixar tried to avoid the uncanny valley with them too, by exaggerating certain characteristics and giving them cartoonish physical behaviours, but it doesn't quite work.
It's not enough to ruin the movie, but it might be a little off-putting if you haven't seen this movie yet and can only compare it to the later entries in the series. Personally, while I do find them a little creepy, I like to view it as historical evidence of how far not just technology, but the artistic direction of the series evolved over the years.
Although there is one area where Toy Story really surprised me when watching it again, and that was just how good the sound work was from start to finish. I've got a better sound system now than I had the last time I saw this movie and only now realise just how much I was missing out on before. Seriously, turn up the volume and enjoy just how incredible this movie sounds, especially the background noises that can be easy to miss otherwise.
I was also pleasantly surprised at just how strong the horror elements came across in the sequence where Woody leads the toys in revolt against the scary kid next door, Sid. It's not anything particularly strong, but feels more powerful than it should thanks to Toy Story otherwise being a bright, colourful and cheery family film.
There's a lot to like about Toy Story and I'm sure plenty of people will have their own favourite characters outside of the central pair of Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen). I love the toy soldiers, especially the Sergeant, played by R. Lee Ermey, but can also appreciate why their screen time is restricted - but also love just how aggressive Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was in pursuing Woody, which was part of why I liked Toy Story 4 so much too.
Then again, that central pair really does make the movie. They're rivals to start with, before becoming reluctant allies and ending up as good friends - and it never feels false for one second. Credit has to go to Hanks and Allen for their voice work, but also the writers for giving them material good enough to make you believe their relationship throughout.
Toy Story may have aged visually as technology marched on through the years, but still introduces us to a large cast of characters, gives them all unique personalities and tells a complete story that switches tones without putting a foot wrong or feeling false at any point. And 'wow' for that sound work - listen with volume up on a good system and enjoy!