Rewatching the Pixar Films Pt. 1: Toy Story

This is a series of film reviews that I am doing as a part of my Pixar marathon. I hope to watch every Pixar movie before the release of their newest production Brave on June 22. I will try to view them without the nostalgia and bias of someone who saw these films throughout my childhood and judge them for what they are and how they’ve aged. 

Toy Story is the first film that Pixar ever made and has not only become a classic in kid’s movies and animation, but has lead the way for 2 successful and Oscar winning sequels, as well as 9 other fantastic movies. Pixar’s biggest talent (out of many) is the studio’s ability to take us into different worlds; worlds that we’ve always imagined existed but have never been able to express. With their first feature they bring us into the world of toys. A world that nearly all children can imagine in some way, where toys come to life in your absence, running about with their own rules and insecurities. The design and creativity that they have put into Andy’s toys and the society that they have created comes from a place of love. There is so much imagination and creativity and fun flowing throughout the film that you can just picture how much fun they must have in their studio.

It isn’t all fun and games however and once you get past the introduction of the toys and all the details that they put into each one, there is true depth to them. Woody is the leader of the bunch, someone who has confidence in his owner, Andy, and tries to reassure the rest of his faithfulness. Rex is a dinosaur, insecure that he will be replaced by a tougher, scarier beast. Hamm is a piggy bank there to provide sarcastic and comic relief at any point. Slinky is a dog shaped slinky who is loyal to Woody like any dog would be. Mr. Potato Head provides a negative, pessimistic voice as is present within any community. They all have unique characteristics that not only fit in with their particular toy, but make them as interesting as any human would be.

When Andy gets a new toy (which is a part of an absolutely brilliant sequence in which we get to see what happens in the minds of toys during a kid’s birthday party), one much flashier and exciting than Woody, he begins to question what he believed to be true and is overcome with jealousy. Buzz Lightyear is all the latest amongst children and when Andy gets him, he is overcome with excitement. For Woody, this means that his prized spot on Andy’s bed is taken and he is no longer the hero of Andy’s imagination.

Buzz is everything a young boy could want from a toy, he has wings, a laser, and a cool spacesuit. Buzz however, has one slight problem, which again leads to hilarity; he doesn’t know that he’s not actually a space ranger. He fixes his spaceship, tries to communicate with “star command”, and shows off his flying skills. Aside from Woody’s jealousy, Buzz’s innocence absolutely drives him crazy leading him to attempt and get rid of the problem. This leads them on a huge adventure having to defeat their animosity toward one another, escape the toy torturing neighbor kid, and get back home in time to catch the moving truck.

Woody’s story arc is relatable not only because he must come to re-imagine his relationship with Andy, but because of his loyalty. Woody has nothing to offer Andy but loyalty. He’s not a cool toy in any sense of the term. He doesn’t bloop and beep like Buzz. He doesn’t provide a specific use like Hamm. He doesn’t have changeable parts like Mr. Potato Head. No, Woody is always there. His draw is in his faithfulness. He will never leave Andy no matter what happens and Andy loves him for that. Yes, Woody is very flawed and acts out in jealousy when he doesn’t get what he wants, but when he works things out he comes to be an even greater leader. It’s hard to be the loyal, steady one, especially when people pass you by for flashier things, but as Woody and Toy Story show us, it’s worth it.

Buzz’s story is the opposite of Woody. He is hip and flashy and everyone likes him. He’s the new thing. He is also delusional. He thinks he’s something that he’s really not and when he is confronted with it, his world shatters. He has nothing left to live for and settles for mediocrity. He must find a purpose and identity that remains viable even when  he is not the center of attention. He confronts the lie that there is nothing to him besides his gadgets and overcomes his insecurities in order to work together with Woody to get back to Andy and make him happy.

Toy Story is a wonderful invitation into the creative minds of Pixar, one that offers wit and depth of the highest kind. It teaches us that when we become jealous with one another and bicker and fight, it causes damage to the others around us. Toy Story is a delight and holds up 17 years after its release.

5/5

Here I will list some bests from each movie I watch:

Best Character: Woody

Best small character: The metal spider looking thing with one eye in Sid’s room

Make you cry moment: When Andy is distraught over not being able to find Woody or Buzz and Bo Peep whispers to herself “Woody, if only you could see how much he misses you”.

Rango

Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski’s latest collaboration takes place far away from the storming seas that the Black Pearl swayed on and finds itself in the deserts of an unknown location, likely somewhere in California or Arizona.

Depp plays Lars a lizard in this animated feature who creates plays with inanimate objects while in his cage as somebody’s pet. He longs for meaning, for some sort of tension to occur in his life outside of his plastic environment. His wish comes true when his cage is thrust from the vehicle he rides in (no backstory is given to his prior life) and he is forced to survive in the desert. A place, that technically, he is made for, but has yet to ever live in.

As the story continues, he eventually finds a town called Dirt, where he makes up a new identity for himself, a tough cowboy like figure named Rango. After a few accidental victories over the town’s bullies and a bird that haunts the town, he is thrust into the sheriff’s position; one that apparently is refilled often.

The town is in a water crisis and with the water supply running low, it is up to the sheriff to both protect the existing water supply and to look out for the people he rules over. Of course, he is not alone in this and in charge of the town is the mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty), who controls when the water is to be given out.

From here, the plot is fairly predictable. There is a corrupt leader, our hero tries to save the day but somehow fails and ends up revealing that he is not the hero he claimed to be, he is thus outcast while the town suffers at the hand of the corrupted leader, the hero realizes that within his true self he has the ability to save the day (and figures out the key to the whole problem) and returns to face his fears and the corruption that lords over the town eventually getting the girl in the end.

Its unoriginal plot structure wasn’t the most pathetic I’ve ever seen, but when you’re sitting in the theater trying to determine how much time is left based on what point the movie is at in the typical hero archetype, you know there is some sort of a problem.

Rango never really seemed to add up. Subtle parts that seemed like they would come back to mean big things thematically, never really appeared again. There are certain shots, characters, and interactions that would have lead down interesting paths had they been pursued, but evidently Verbinski wanted a more cookie-cutter like film. It seemed like it either wanted to go a lot deeper than it did and failed, or they had to cut scenes out for time/marketing purposes.

Depp is great as the voice of our false hero and the animation is fantastic. The filmmakers really attempted to go for something different animation and editing wise and  this was certainly successful, giving the film a more artsy edge to it than its other animated competitors. Just Rango himself looked amazing, and it is a wonder how they were able to make his eyes look like they did. If only they would have put more of that focus and originality on the plot, we could have had a pretty good film on our hands, instead it turns into a run-of-the-mill animated film that is not really worth recommending.

2.5/5

Top Animated Films of 2010

This year in animated cinema was no different than any other year. You had Pixar release a film that everyone loved. Dreamworks came out with a couple that people mostly liked. Disney released one that returned it to  its “classic Disney” storytelling days. And there were a couple more artsy flicks that the population didn’t see, but critics adored. Despite the similarities with other years, it was an enjoyable year (hopefully next year will follow suit as Pixar is releasing Cars 2 a film I am not looking forward to).

I saw eight animated films this year. I will list them in order of which I liked them and will write about the top 3.

8. Despicable Me

7. Shrek Forever After

6. Tangled

5. The Illusionist

4. The Secret of Kells

And now time for the top three animated films of 2010:

3. How To Train Your Dragon-HTTYD gave us an excellent underdog hero in its main character Hiccup. The way that Hiccup forms a bond with his lifelong enemy and figures out a way to subdue his enemy other than the sword is truly inspiring. It is a fantasy tale that is definitely worth checking out.

2. Toy Story 3-The year’s most popular animated film (and the most critically acclaimed of all time?) was certainly great. The toys were faced with questions of what to do when their purpose in life has been served. Do they stay true to their master whom they’ve served all their lives even if that means spending the rest of their lives in an attic? Or should they look out for themselves and spend their days in a place that seems like a toy paradise? Only this series could get me questioning the ethics surrounding toys as the whole thing seemed like a lesson in theology (which I loved). But, there were a couple of things that I didn’t like and I couldn’t really let go of (I thought the whole spanish Buzz Lightyear gag was dumb and slightly racist) and that keeps it out of the number one spot.

1. Megamind-Yes, this was a movie that received just okay reviews, and is probably my most controversial pick of the awards season. I think that the problem is that nobody really took this film seriously. When I saw it however, I was blown away at the risks that it took and I felt as if the film really had stakes behind it. Whereas in most animated films characters may face the risk of danger or death, but we secretly know that nothing will happen to them because after all most animated films are geared towards children. Megamind was not like this. The development of the villain was one of the most interesting story lines of the year. There were many twists and turns and each one was truly surprising and unique. Even the love story that is twisted in it was something I could cheer for. There were many problems with it, but overall Megamind brings a freshness to it and that propels it to the number one animated film of the year.