One of the joys of the innocence of childhood is not ever being sure where the line is between reality and fiction. A child who watches a puppet show will believe he is watching a living creature and purposefully ignore the strings being pulled from above. At a certain age in children’s lives there is also little difference between a puppy and a teddy bear, which is what the filmmakers at animation studio Pixar were probably counting on with their early masterpiece Toy Story (1995). Who among us has never played with toys and deep down thought maybe they were having lives of their own once we left the room?
I imagine I was not the only kid to be fascinated by the sight of Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) getting up after his owner Andy (John Morris) got out the bedroom. The biggest problem with computer animation is that it cannot capture the life in a human being’s eyes, but that problem does not apply to toys since they are of course lifeless to begin with. That doesn’t stop us from believing Woody, his girlfriend Bo Beep (Annie Potts), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), and nervous dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn) are not only moving about but also have their own social interactions. After the movie came out I considered getting Toy Story action figures, but at some point I outgrew the need for toys. And yet, there is still joy to be found in the movie and its great sequels.
As envisioned by director John Lasseter and his fellow screenwriters (including Joss Whedon) the toys in Andy’s bedroom have their own rules and leadership. They are to never be seen moving about by humans, and when they panic at the idea of a new arrival in their home on Andy’s birthday it falls to their leader Woody to keep everyone calm. Little does Woody know he is the one who should be panicking with the arrival of space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), an over-confident action figure equipped with a laser, wings, and an admittedly great catch phrase: “To infinity and beyond!” Woody is Andy’s favourite toy, but with the arrival of the colourful Buzz he eventually finds himself forgotten inside the bedroom toy chest.
Even worse, unlike the other toys Buzz actually believes the description on his packaging. He is certain he is a real space cadet and must return to his mission of saving the galaxy, leading him to enlist the other toys to repair his ship, which usurps Woody’s leadership position. Eventually this situation makes Woody desperate for attention, and in attempt to temporarily get rid of Buzz both rival toys accidentally end up going on an adventure outside of Andy’s home.
Woody and Buzz may be small in size, but their quest to make it back home is big and at times quite dangerous. Their adventures include a fight at a gas station, getting stuck in a crane game at sci-fi themed restaurant Pizza Planet, and worst of all, ending up at the home of Andy’s neighbour Sid Phillips. Sid is the sort of kid who likes to blow up his toys with firecrackers while laughing maniacally, so obviously Woody is not thrilled to end up in his scary bedroom filled with disfigured and broken toys. Buzz on the other hand finds himself in a different kind of trouble when Sid’s sister Hannah (Sarah Freeman) uses him for her tea party. In order to escape their predicament the two toys have to of course learn to put aside their differences and work together.
As with all of Pixar’s films there is a lot of heart in this story. When Woody sees that Andy is slowly forgetting him and starts to prefer playing with Buzz instead he is deeply hurt. As for Buzz, the sight of a TV commercial for other Buzz Lightyear action figures sends him on an existential crisis and a near mental meltdown. This is the meaning of their lives after all.
By today’s standards the animation quality of Toy Story might not hold up, but the story is still just as original and exciting for kids and grown-ups alike. Even though they are just toys, it is still gripping to see Woody and Buzz overcome adversity to become the duo we all love today.