The secret lives of toys came to light in this groundbreaking and side-splitting 1995 film, the first fully computer-generated picture in history. Toy Story was the work of computer guru John Lasseter (who directed and co-wrote) and his talented team at Pixar Animation Studios, who spent years designing and rendering the images that fill the film. Fittingly, the movie was distributed by Disney, who had made history themselves nearly six decades earlier with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
The story opens in the bedroom of a young boy named Andy, owner of a healthy collection of toys. When Andy’s away, the toys come to life, and a pullstring cowboy named Woody is the undisputed leader of this plastic and metal subculture. When the boy’s birthday comes around, the toys panic, fearing they’ll be “garage sale fodder.” Woody feigns calmness until Andy’s mom delivers the birthday coup de grace: an outer space action figure named Buzz Lightyear, complete with flip-out wings and a blinking laser. He’s new, he’s shiny, and he doesn’t even think he’s a toy, believing himself to be a real “space ranger” who crash-landed on a bizarre planet.
A jealous Woody mocks the newcomer, hoping to keep his position as Andy’s favorite. When that doesn’t work, the cowboy sets the spaceman up for a fall, accidentally knocking Buzz out of the second-story window. When the other toys turn on “murderer” Woody, the cowboy is forced to mount a rescue operation. After a tragically comic series of events, Buzz and Woody end up in the hands of Andy’s destructive neighbor Sid, who cannibalizes toys to make hideous hybrid creations. To make matters worse, Andy’s family is moving soon, and any toys not in the moving truck will be left behind forever.
Despite all the technological advances, much of Toy Story’s appeal come from some familiar elements. First, the toys themselves: Mr. Potato Head, Etch-a-Sketch, green plastic army men, Barrel of Monkeys, big-haired Trolls and several other old favorites were all brought to vivid life, and with personality to boot. The voices behind those personalities were another part of the movie’s success. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen got top billing as Woody and Buzz, respectively, but the cast also included Don Rickles, Annie Potts, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn and other recognizable voices. Add to this mix an Oscar-nominated screenplay, song and score, and it becomes impossible to single out any one reason for Toy Story’s phenomenal success.
Whatever the reason behind it, Toy Story was a hit with kids and parents alike. Hip and nostalgic at the same time, Toy Story made technological innovation fun, setting the stage for further all-CGI animated flicks like Antz, A Bug’s Life and Toy Story’s own 1999 sequel, Toy Story 2.