Let me tell you a story about this movie. When I was a little kid, I used to get really bad panic attacks. Like, really bad. Sitting on the bathroom floor crying thinking you're going to die bad. And like a lot of people with anxiety, it would almost always come at night. It got to the point where the only hope of sleep I had was to distract myself long enough to calm down and eventually doze off.
For me, the best way to do that was to take my blanket out into the living room and watch a movie until I fell asleep. And for a long time, it was this movie. So to say that Toy Story has a very special place in my heart is a little bit of an understatement, and I'm happy to have an excuse to rewatch the trilogy.
Looking back, I really think this movie did a number on all of us who were kids when this came out. My favorite toy growing up was a Gizmo stuffed animal, and for a really long time I refused to watch Gremlins because I was worried about it upsetting him. I'm still, like, pretty sure that at least some of my toys were secretly alive. And I'm fairly confident that I was not alone in this.
But anyway, for those of you who have been living under a rock or in an anti-Pixar cult since 1995, Toy Story is about the secret lives of toys. They secretly come alive when no one's looking. Is this as terrifying as it sounds? Honestly, sometimes.
Woody is the big kahuna of Andy's room, and enjoys a certain lifestyle as the favorite toy. That is, until his owner Andy receives a super awesome astronaut toy for his birthday, and everything changes.
It's important to note, though, before you start feeling too bad for Woody (and there's no getting around this): he's kind of a dick. Woody's basically just a toy version of an insecure man threatened by the idea of having to share attention/affection/anything, and pretty much everything bad that happens in the movie is a direct result of that insecurity. And seriously, would it have killed him to at least pretend to be scared by Rex?
And it's not like Buzz walks into the room with a huge ego. He doesn't even realize that he's a toy, let alone have the self-awareness that he is a pretty cool toy and can lord it over everyone else.
But on that subject, I have a lot of questions about Buzz and his delusions of grandeur. Why is Buzz the only toy who is singled out for seemingly not realizing that he is a toy? And for that matter, is he? Because it seems like all of the little army men are pretty convinced that they're all soldiers, and no one gives them a hard time about it. Is there a point at which all toys have to grapple with this sort of existential crisis, and Woody just hassles Buzz because he doesn't like the spaceman?
And for that matter, how come only some of the toys have a persona that reflects the type of toy they are? If Buzz is a spaceman, the army men are soldiers, and Bo Peep tends to her flock, why is Woody not a cowboy, or Potato Head not a literal potato?
Because he's a cowboy toy, not an astronaut. It wouldn't make sense for him to have a laser. Why you always trying to start shit, Potato Head?
But the scene on the bed where Woody and Buzz have their initial confrontation with all the toys watching is brilliant, particularly because it leads into my favorite joke of the entire film, where Rex is introducing himself and saying where he's from. He says that he's from Mattel, then quickly amends it to explain that he's not actually from Mattel, he's from a small company that was purchased in a leverage buyout by Mattel. You know, sort of like people say they're from New York City when they really mean they're from Jersey? Classic Rex.
So there's not exactly love lost between Woody and Buzz, which leads to Buzz eventually getting knocked out of a window. And at this juncture there's no point in placing blame, but it's definitely all Woody's fault. So he's basically run out of town, branded a murderer, and has no choice but to find Buzz so that he can clear his name.
This leads them to Pizza Planet, a space themed restaurant which dearly needs to exist in the real world because I would eat/work/live there. And this little excursion ends up about as badly as it could possibly go: they find themselves in the hands of Sid from Next Door, who is like a toy serial killer, and actually one of the most interesting characters in the entire film.
Think about him. Of course, since the story is told from the perspective of toys, he comes off as an evil sociopathic villain. But what is he really? A creative little boy with a vivid imagination, a fascination with fireworks, and a tendency to play rough with his toys while annoying his little sister. Oh yeah, we better round up all of those and put them in jail, because they're clearly a threat to society. And I mean, yeah, he doesn't treat his toys super well, but he's experimenting with them in a way that actually probably indicates a high level of intelligence. It's not his fault that everyone else has no vision.
That having been said, the one-eyed baby-headed spider monster is a horrifying abomination that will haunt my nightmares forever.
But despite all of these horrifying distractions at Sid's house, a very important thing happens while Buzz and Woody are there: Buzz finally realizes that he's just a toy. He sees an ad on TV for the Buzz Lightyear doll, all of sudden notices the imprint on his arm that says Made in Taiwan, and discovers his inability to fly. Buzz has had a busy day.
A lot of people make fun of Randy Newman, but "I Will Go Sailing No More", the song that accompanies Buzz's enlightenment and attempt to fly is perfect. It's easily the most emotional scene of the film, and it's all thanks to Mr. Newman. In a lot of ways, I think when you watch this scene now, you can pinpoint as the exact moment when Pixar became Pixar, with its incredible ability to create poignant and heartbreaking scenes through animation in a way that no other company has ever been able to do.
But the question remains: now that Buzz isn't exactly at the top of the game (and, ironically, strapped to a rocket), how are he and Woody going to get home to Andy's house before the Big Move? Apparently, the answer is to get dark. Because the scene that follows is when Toy Story becomes a straight up horror film.
I can't remember the last time I've seen a movie with such an extreme tonal shift in just one scene. Can you even imagine how absolutely terrifying it would be to have all of your toys spontaneously come alive? Let's break this down. First, there's Tom Hanks' slow, surprisingly menacing voice, switching from Woody slogans to speaking directly to Sid. Then there are crippled army soldiers rising from the mud and limping grotesquely towards him. The baby-headed spider monster climbs on Sid's head, and finally, Woody's head does a hellish, full on Exorcist twist as he reminds Sid that, "We toys see EVERYTHING!" I'm sorry, did Guillermo del Toro take over directing Toy Story for one scene while no one was looking?
But yeah, apparently summoning the power of Satan himself to traumatizing an 8 year old boy is enough to get Woody and Buzz home, no worse for wear. And that's Toy Story.
Remarkably innovative, both from a technical and story-telling standpoint, this film is what Pixar on the map. Filled with memorable characters, solid voice actors, and a creative premise, Toy Story is one of those movies that stands up to the test of time (kids today love it just as much as we did back in 1995), but is also enjoyable for both kids and adults. It's definitely a children's classic.
But as undeniably awesome as it is, I leave you with a question that has been bothering me for the past 21 years. What is the internal logic for why some toys can talk and others can't? At first I was rationalizing that only the toys with actual mouths would be able to talk, but then at the end of the movie Lenny the Binoculars speaks, so I'm at a loss. What gives, Pixar? Explain yourself.