Toy Story

Toy Storys on Blu-ray disc

Toy Story is the movie that put Pixar on the map. The first full length computer animated movie (kind of the "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" of the CG world), it spawned not only a flood of great Pixar titles, but the abundance of CG movies that now floods the marketplace and have nearly pushed traditional, hand drawn animation off the map.

Before Toy Story, Pixar had made several short features – such as the very funny Knick Knack – but the story of Woody, Buzz and their playroom companions brought the studio fame and fortune that was well deserved. And Pixar has never looked back.

It's a marvelous film, not only for its technical innovation but for its wonderful story and characters, a classic animated film  that's right at home in the Disney library of classic animated features.

Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is an old fashioned cowboy doll and Andy's favorite toy. That status also helps make him the leader of the toy box, kind of a king of his own small world. But his life is turned upside down when Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. Buzz (Voiced by Tim Allen) is all new and shiny and neat, whereas Woody is really obsolete so far as modern toys are concerned – a toy that speaks via a pull string rather than a built in microchip.

A despondent Woody finds himself nearly forgotten as Buzz takes his place as Andy's favorite toy, to the point where, when Buzz falls out of Andy's bedroom window, Woody is ostracized by the rest of the toys. This sets him off on a quest to rescue Buzz and restore his credibility with the rest of the toys.

Nearly as frustrating to Woody is the fact that Buzz refuses to believe he's anything but a real space ranger, and not merely an action figure. Buzz is truly delusional, but it makes for some pretty funny stuff.

There's plenty to love about Toy Story;, even things you see in the background are highly entertaining – for example the "Virtual Realty" For Sale sign in front of Andy's house and the Binford label (the fictional tool company that sponsored Tim Allen's character on his Disney-produced TV sitcom "Home Improvement") on a toolbox in Sid's (the villain) bedroom.

The animation is eye-popping, bringing audiences a fully rendered 3D world the likes of which had never been seen before in a theatrical movie. And even though it looks just a tad dated now compared to the string of Pixar features it spawned, it's still truly marvelous to behold.

It still works as a movie, too, which is a tribute to its great writing.

A few years later, Pixar went back to the Woody well with the sequel, Toy Story 2. It's one of the exceptions to the rule of thumb that sequels are usually inferior. It not only can stand side by side with the first Toy Story, but it also ups the technological ante thanks to advances in the state of the CG art since the first movie was made.

Toy Story 2 brings back all of the main characters from the first movie, and gives them an even bigger adventure to sink their teeth into. It opens with a spectacular sequence in which Buzz is on a Space Ranger mission that actually turns out to be a video game being played by the T Rex toy. To call it eye candy is to not do it justice; when the DVD came out the sequence was used often in video stores to push TV's and DVD players, such was the reference quality of the sequence, along with the way it drew the audience into it. It should have made selling a TV or DVD player about as difficult as shooting fish in a barrel; Pixar should've gotten commission!

This time around, Woody finds himself "toynapped" by an evil toy store owner who recognizes him as the classic he is. His evil plan is to have Woody restored to his original condition, then sell him and (as it turns out) the other rare toys in the original collection of Woody memorabilia that he's collected. Woody's dilemma: does he give up being loved by a child and live forever as a collectible instead or does he go back to Andy for however many years he may have before the boy grows up and puts away his childish things.

As it turns out, Woody's new friends Stinky Pete (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) and, especially, Jessie (Voiced by Joan Cusack) convince him to stay in the collection. But in the meantime, Buzz and the gang have mounted a highly entertaining rescue operation.

It's not only cute and funny and smart, but it even packs an emotional wallop that was missing from the first film, thanks to Jessie's oh-so-sad song "When She Loved Me" (sung by Sarah McLachlan), a tune that could even bring a tear to the eye of a toon.

Speaking of songs, while Pixar upped the animation ante with Toy Story 2, they stayed true to the formula that worked so well in the first movie, including using the music of Randy Newman, which is absolutely perfect for the films. Songs like the abovementioned, "Strange Things" and "You've Got a Friend in Me" capture the mood beautifully.

The Blu-ray format is perfect for movies like these and Disney has done its usual great job here. Not only does the 1080p picture look spectacular, but the audio (dts HD Master Audio) is just as good.

We A/B'd the Blu-ray side by side with the DVD and the difference is readily apparent, and it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if the Buzz Lightyear opening sequence from TS2 will be on TV's in Best Buys and the like all over the world just like it did on DVD. Both movies are absolutely reference quality, with razor sharp images and colors that just about pop right off the screen and land in your lap. If you're looking for something with which to show off your system, you need look no farther than these titles.

Toy Story 2The sound envelops you with the world of Toy Story, using all of the channels very well. Once again, if you're looking to amaze and delight your friends with your audio system, sit them down and play them the opening to the sequel. It'll blow their minds. And while the rest of the movies' audio tracks aren't quite as in your face as that part is, they are definitely not lacking in any way. The sound overall is very dynamic, with excellent use of the low frequency effects channel, and the producers haven't let all the nifty ambience and sound design drown out the all-important dialog, which comes through loud and clear.

As you'd expect from a Disney release, the extras are piled on, including all the stuff they already piled onto the original DVD release. A special edition DVD is included in the package (What? No Digital Copy?) with the Blu-ray, by the way.

Bonus features include reflections from the filmmakers, "making of" featurettes, audio commentaries and the like. HD extras include a preview of Toy Story 3 (which is spread across both Toy Story Blu-rays – undoubtedly to help ensure you buy them both. The preview has us hooked; we look forward with delight to the "threequel".

You can also get a couple of quick HD looks at Buzz Lightyear aboard the International Space Station, some rather self-indulgent "Studio Stories" in which Pixar people reminisce about some funny incidents from their past, and a variety of other stuff like deleted scenes, etc.

Perhaps most interesting on the Toy Story 1 disc is "Black Friday: The 'Toy Story' You Never Saw, which will make you very glad you never saw it. Director John Lasseter gives a very open and frank look at how, during the troubled production of the first movie, the Disney folk's interference very nearly ruined the final film. Studio suits should be required to watch this before they're allowed to have input into the creative process.

Also handy is a feature on maximizing your home theater, which helps you calibrate your equipment to get the most enjoyment out of it. It's reminiscent of the old "THX Optimizer" features on many THX-certified DVD's and while it's no substitute for something like the HD Digital Video Essentials, it's a good and quick start.  

Toy Story 2 also includes an all-too-short look at "Pixar's Zoetrope", a spectacular achievement in "live action animation" you can see in "the flesh" at Disney's California Adventure. It is quite amazing.    

Either of these movies will make a spectacular addition to your home theater and your Blu-ray collection, but you can't really have one without having both, which will probably please Disney's accountants. And that's fine: they're both excellent movies and excellent Blu-rays.

Toy Story 3Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray Disc

It's not just a sequel, it's also a "passing of the torch" as one generation grows up and another takes its place.

It's also the darkest of the Toy Stories. But that doesn't mean all the ingredients of the first two hits aren't back in this third installment, which acknowledges the years that have passed since Pixar first got us Buzzed with Woody and his gang of lovable toys back in the mid-1990's.

Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest have been living in Andy's toy chest for years, though they don't even appear too dusty from the experience. The reason? Andy's inevitable growth into a young man bound for college means he has for the most part put away childish things, and that means the gang of Toys.

Worse for the toys, Andy's room is being given to his little sister as he heads off to school, and that means he has to clean it up and either get rid of his childish things or at least pack them up and store them in the attic. Only one toy will accompany Andy to the halls of academe – Woody, of course – and this causes the entire group serious angst.

Then the unthinkable happens: the garbage bag in which the toys are to be stored in the attic gets mistaken for real garbage and the toys are chucked unceremoniously at the curbside, waiting for the garbage truck to haul them away with the rest of the trash.

But good ol' Woody knows this was a mistake and he's bound to rescue his friends. This puts him in just the wrong place at the wrong time, as they're all picked up as garbage. They escape, of course and, since the rest of the gang doesn't believe Woody's tale that they'd been bound for the attic rather than the dump, decide that they'd be better served being played with by the kids at the Sunnyside daycare, one of those "kiddie mills" that raises people's kids for them.

All looks good when they arrive and are welcomed by the toys already in residence. But it soon becomes obvious that, rather than this being the happiest place on earth, it's Toy Hell. Relegated to the Caterpillar Room supposedly because of their lack of seniority, Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, and the Potato Heads are drooled on, painted up, tossed around and generally treated like inanimate objects – rather than being simply loved – by the toddlers there. What has gone wrong?

As with TS2, we're introduced to a bunch of new characters here and they work well. The Ken doll, for example, is tailor made for Barbie (and it seems surprising that it took three movies to get him here!), and we have a new villain in a toy who was lost years before, an experience that left a hole in his heart and turned him to the dark side.

Naturally, it all works out in the end and all our toys live happily ever after, or at least until the new kid who loves them grows up and tosses them out. Or until Toy Story 4 and its inevitable dramatic conflicts.

We were worried about Pixar returning to the well again, even though Toy Story 2 turned out really well. And though we did enjoy TS3 quite a bit, it's definitely the weakest of the three films from a story point of view.

Still, it's Pixar through and through and that's never a bad thing, and once again they've upped the technological ante and throw us things like huge crowd scenes and terrific action scenes rendered even more photo realistically than before.  And, in true Pixar tradition, it plucks at our heart strings, makes us laugh, and gives us a real toy – no pun intended – for our home video viewing eyes.

As you might expect, Disney's Blu-ray is nothing short of superb. Its release is in another of Disney's combo packs, this time containing four discs. Two are Blu-rays, one's a DVD and the last one's a digital copy of the film.

Disney usually does a great job on their Blu-ray releases, and this one's no different. The picture quality, at a resolution of 1080p of course, is at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which fills the 16x9 screen perfectly. Image quality is as perfect as you could want, with colors that are rich and vibrant, exquisite detail that's the best of all the Toy Stories, and excellent depth. It may not be the best of the Toy Stories, but it's the best of the Blu-rays – not that the others were slouches!

Ditto for the audio. The main track is an exciting 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio mix that surrounds you and envelops you from the very beginning, filled with all kinds of interesting noises and sounds that make you feel a part of the action. It's quite marvelous and very dynamic.

In short, and not surprisingly, this is definitely demo material stuff.

And of course Disney also piles on the extras, including that entire second Blu-ray disc of stuff.

Disc one gives you "Day and Night," a theatrical short that ran in theaters. Pixar's shorts are always well worth watching and this is one of the best.   Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science of Adventure runs about five minutes and gives us Buzz, Hamm, and Rex talking about the advances made in space travel.  Toys! Is a short look at the animators as they talk about the difficulty of creating new characters and toys. And Studio Stories: Cereal Bar is clearly designed to make us all jealous that we don't work at Pixar, where they have a whole room devoted to cereal for their employees.

Talk about food for thought!

Disc two includes "The Gang's All Here", in which we meet once again the original voice characters as well as some of the new ones, including Tom Hanks, Timothy Dalton, Bonnie Hunt, and Michael Keaton, recording in the studio. Studio Stories: Where's Gordon? And Studio Stories: Clean Start are superficial little looks at Pixar folk and are mildly interesting.

More substantial is "Cine-Explore Picture-in-Picture Commentary," which is really a must-see if you're interested in how they make such movies. Director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson are around to discuss the movie in what seems almost like minute detail. It's fascinating and very accessible in great part because Unkrich and Anderson are so interesting and obviously love their work so much.

Beyond the Toybox: An Alternative Commentary Track is provided by production designer Bob Pauley, supervising animator Bobby Podesta, story supervisor Jason Katz, supervising animator Mike Venturini, and supervising technical director Guido Quaroni. It isn't as great as Unkrich and Anderson's, but it goes into a lot of more technical detail, which can be very interesting.

This is just the beginning of the stuff. There's also a look at how Pixar creates and animates human characters, how Disney was able to incorporate the franchise into its parks via the "Toy Story Midway Mania"and a "Toy Story" land in Disneyland Paris.

You can also watch the epilogue that runs over the closing credits (the same type of thing Pixar used to do as fake outtakes) without the credits. There are also featurettes about the gestation of the story, the western-style opening that's kind of reminiscent of the sci-fi opening for TS2, and even background info on how they created the "Day and Night" short.

And of course there's the usual complement of Games & Activities, publicity material, trailers, Character Intros and a poster gallery.

Toy Story 3 isn't as good as the first two, but it's still well worth your time and will certainly be at home in your Blu-ray library.  

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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