I’m a tiny bit behind on my cinema viewing, so I’m finally going to see Toy Story 3 on Saturday. Tonight, therefore, seemed like the perfect time to start to catch up with the first two films.
Unsurprisingly, I started with the original. It’s been regarded as a modern classic ever since its release, but a decade and a half later it still seems just as fresh, even though CGI has advanced quite a bit in the meantime.
The reason? Good storytelling. It’s why shallow FX flicks inevitably look rubbish only a couple of years after they come out, whereas compelling character dramas stand the test of time. Toy Story has far from an original plot. Indeed, the big revolution it promoted on release – the fact that it was the first totally CGI film of any note – was just a Trojan horse for the genius contained within.
As someone once said (citation needed), there are no new ideas in the world, only fresh takes on what already exists, and Toy Story took the buddy movie archetype and ran with it. Woody and Buzz hate each other to begin with, are thrown into an unfamilar, dangerous situation, and through it learn to like and respect each other, with the goal of the story (getting back to their owner, Andy) not possible without them working together. It’s an idea as old as the hills, but through some brilliant writing, great performances from Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, and absolutely stunning animation (even now, the expressions are just right), the movie really works. Not as a showcase for new technology, but because it has real heart, real emotion and genuinely funny dialogue.
Watching it now, it’s difficult to fathom that it could possibly have been Pixar’s first movie. The final product turned out to be a landmark in animation, but along the way there were major problems which, for a long while, made it seem like Toy Story would either be a total disaster or might not even be released at all. Indeed, the film only came together relatively late on.
Pixar has an almost unblemished track record in movies, with the philosophy of the studio surviving both its initial partnership with Disney and subsequent merger with the company (it’s notable that John Lasseter and others were tutored by classic Disney animators at college). Unlike so many studios, it prides story above all else, and gives its storytellers the time and support to realise their vision. And what a track record, with the likes of Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Wall-E. These are films that appeal to all ages, not because they’re carefully targeted at a particular demographic, but because they’re just great stories, brilliantly told.
I really can’t wait for Saturday night. Toy Story 3 lives up to the legacy, you say? Fantastic.