"Toy Story" creates a universe out of a couple of
kid's bedrooms, a gas station, and a stretch of suburban highway. Its heroes
are toys, which come to life when nobody is watching. Its conflict is between
an old-fashioned cowboy who has always been a little boy's favorite toy, and
the new space ranger who may replace him. The villain is the mean kid next door
who takes toys apart and puts them back together again in macabre combinations.
And the result is a visionary roller-coaster ride of a movie.
the kids in the audience, a movie like this will work because it tells a fun
story, contains a lot of humor, and is exciting to watch. Older viewers may be
even more absorbed, because "Toy Story," the first feature made
entirely by computer, achieves a three-dimensional reality and freedom of
movement that is liberating and new. The more you know about how the movie was
made, the more you respect it.
the spectacular animation of the ballroom sequence in "Beauty and the
Beast" at feature length and you'll get the idea. The movie doesn't simply
animate characters in front of painted backdrops; it fully animates the
charactersandthe space they occupy, and allows its
point of view to move freely around them. Computer animation has grown so
skillful that sometimes you don't even notice it (the launching in "Apollo
13" took place largely within a computer). Here, youdonotice it, because you're careening
through space with a new sense of freedom.
for example a scene where Buzz Lightyear, the new space toy, jumps off a bed,
bounces off a ball, careens off of the ceiling, spins around on a hanging toy
helicopter and zooms into a series of loop-the-loops on a model car race track.
Watch Buzz, the background, and the perspective -- which stretches and
contracts to manipulate the sense of speed. It's an amazing ride.
learn from the currentWiredmagazine that the movie occupied the
attention of a bank of 300 powerful Sun microprocessors, the fastest models
around, which took about 800,000 hours of computing time to achieve this and
other scenes -- at 2 to 15 hours per frame. Each frame required as much as 300
MBs of information, which means that on my one-gigabyte hard disk, I have room
for about three frames, or an eighth of a second. Of course computers are as
dumb as a box of bricks if they're not well-programmed, and director John
Lasseter, a pioneer in computer animation, has used offbeat imagination and
high energy to program his.
enough of this propeller-head stuff. Let's talk about the movie. Lasseter and
his team open the film in a kid's bedroom, where the toys come to life when
their owner is absent. Undisputed king of the toys is Woody, a cowboy with a
voice by Tom Hanks. His friends include Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky
Dog (Jim Varney), Hamm the Pig (John Ratzenberger) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
The playroom ingeniously features famous toys from real life toys (which may be
product placement, but who cares), including a spelling slate that does a
running commentary on key developments (when Mr. Potato Head finally achieves
his dream of Mrs. Potato Head, the message is "Hubba! Hubba!).
day there's a big shakeup in this little world. The toy owner, named Andy, has
a birthday. Woody dispatches all of the troops in a Bucket of Soldiers to spy
on developments downstairs, and they use a Playskool walkie-talkie to broadcast
developments. The most alarming: The arrival on the scene of Buzz Lightyear
(Tim Allen), a space ranger.
is the most endearing toy in the movie, because he's not in on the joke. He
thinks he's a real space ranger, temporarily marooned during a crucial mission,
and he goes desperately to work trying to repair his space ship -- the
cardboard box he came in. There's real poignancy later in the film when he sees
a TV commercial for himself, and realizes he's only a toy.
plot heats up when the human family decides to move, and Woody and Buzz find
themselves marooned in a gas station with no idea how to get home. (It puts a
whole new spin on the situation when a toy itself says, "I'm a lost
toy!") And later there's a terrifying interlude in the bedroom of Sid, the
dreadful boy next door, who takes his toys apart and reassembles them like
creatures from a nightmare. (His long suffering sister is forced to hold a tea
party for headless dolls.)
"Toy Story," I felt some of the same exhilaration I felt during
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Both movies take apart the universe of
cinematic visuals, and put it back together again, allowing us to see in a new
way. "Toy Story" is not as inventive in its plotting or as clever in
its wit as "Rabbit" or such Disney animated films as "Beauty and
the Beast"; it's pretty much a buddy movie transplanted to new terrain.
Its best pleasures are for the eyes. But what pleasures they are! Watching the
film, I felt I was in at the dawn of a new era of movie animation, which draws
on the best of cartoons and reality, creating a world somewhere in between,
where space not only bends but snaps, crackles and pops.