Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition Review
Cowboy doll Woody is Andy's favourite toy and thus the king of the bedroom. The others toys admire and respect him, leaving the various administrative duties of their occupation as playthings to him. However, when Andy's attentions turn to a newer, cooler toy, Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger with flashing wings and a voice simulator, Woody's entire world falls apart overnight as both Andy and the other toys forget about him. As feelings of jealousy reach fever pitch, Woody hatches a desperate plan to make sure that Andy will be unable to find Buzz. When it backfires, however, Woody and Buzz find themselves stranded in the outside world, far from the safety of Andy's bedroom. With the family moving house in 48 hours, will the sarcastic Woody and deluded Buzz, who still hasn't realized that he is a toy, be able to work together to find their way home?
Has it really been ten years? Ten years since the first ever completely computer-generated film was released upon unsuspecting audiences? Ten years since the playing field of animation was redefined for ever? In many ways, it feels like no time has passed at all, and that it was only yesterday that we were being wowed for the first time by Toy Story. In other ways, though, it feels like even longer than a decade has passed. Toy Story and Pixar have become so ingrained into our culture that it's hard to imagine a world before they existed. Nowadays, computer generated animation is a staple of the box office, and it seems that every film studio has at least a handful of CG movies in the pipeline, attempting to recreate the model that Pixar so successfully established. Despite all the imitators, however, Pixar is still the best in the game, and Toy Story has arguably yet to be bettered (although personally I felt that their 2004 effort, The Incredibles, at the very least came close).
What is Pixar's secret? Why is it that every one of their films has not only been a massive box office success but also a great movie? Why are so many of their computer-generated imitators either lacklustre or downright awful? Pixar is, to this date, the only studio that has consistently got it right, and the reason for that is simple: their main focus is not the technology, but the story, and they are damn good at story. It is mentioned in the "Filmmakers Reflect" featurette on the second disc that, during the making of Toy Story, they eventually realized that the notes that were being sent to them by Disney executives were slowly but surely destroying the film, so their response was simply to start ignoring them. Ever since, Pixar have been able to work in more or less complete autonomy, and the results speak for themselves (particularly when you compare them to Disney's own efforts, which are notoriously mauled repeatedly by so-called "creative" executives at every opportunity). Toy Story arguably features one of the tightest stories in film history. Not a single shot or line of dialogue is wasted, and although it's fairly clear that the Pixar team overdozed on the story structure manuals by the likes of Robert McKee and Syd Field, given that you can literally pinpoint every single plot point as it occurs, the end result is absolutely fantastic.
Consider for a moment the landscape of animation when Toy Story was released in 1995. Feature animation, or at the very least American feature animation, more or less meant one thing - Disney - and Disney had long ago hit on a formula that it had stuck to, essentially unchanged, for the better part of half a century. Toy Story, when it came along, was in my opinion as big a shake-up for the feature animation industry as The Ren & Stimpy Show had been for television animation four years earlier. Gone were the cute sidekicks, the musical numbers and the fairytale backdrops. Toy Story's tale was timeless but its setting was contemporary. At its heart, it was a simple and extremely familiar story, and one that viewers of any age could relate to. It presented the age-old concepts of jealousy and rivalry, told from the perspective of toys who, despite being made out of wood and plastic, had believable personalities and expressed emotions that were all too human. Woody's feelings of rejection upon Buzz's arrival could just as easily have been the reactions of an older sibling upon the arrival of a new child in the family, and thus represented something that many young children could relate to. Older children and adults could understand Woody's emotions equally well, since we all experience the exact same feelings repeatedly throughout our lives. Although the question of "Did you ever wonder if toys came to life?", around which Disney marketed the film, plays a major role in the film's success, it is not the central issue at hand, and those who believe that the film simply rests on this common children's fantasy are dismissing its more universal appeal. Toy Story is grounded in familiarity, which allows its more otherworldly elements to work where many of its imitators have failed.
It seems clichéd to say so, but Toy Story's technical breakthroughs are not what make it a good film. Whether the film would have been quite so successful had it been hand-animated is up for debate (certainly, I don't think it is possible to deny that the allure of this strange new medium served to entice a number of viewers who would not otherwise have gone to see it), but it remains true that the technology is secondary to the story - a statement that is applicable to all of Pixar's films. As impressive as Toy Story's visuals were to a 1995 audience, they have not aged well, and the developments in CGI in the space of a mere decade already make Toy Story look like a dated old relic. This somehow doesn't matter, though, and I challenge anyone watching the film today to not be sucked into the world, despite the simplistic, plastic-looking settings with their flat textures and unrealistic lighting. Like the dated effects of so many other great films over the years, the fact that the technology has moved on does not matter a damn: Toy Story is as brilliant today as it was when it made its debut. Most importantly, even if the film's visuals are not state of the art, they are definitely appealing, something that Pixar's rivals at DreamWorks have not been able to achieve despite pushing for more detailed textures, higher polygon counts and more realistic lighting. (I mean, whatever you think of the films themselves, it's difficult to deny that the likes of Antz and Shrek are thoroughly ugly in an aesthetic sense.)
Ten years have gone by, and still no-one has really knocked Toy Story from its throne. This is one case where the old adage of "original and best" definitely applies, and I honestly would not be surprised if, in another ten years, Toy Story was still being proclaimed to be the finest example of CG animation to date. Its place in the pantheon of great films is assured: this is one toy that will never be too old to be played with.
This is the third incarnation of Toy Story on DVD, having previously been released in a more or less bare-bones form, with only the short film Tin Toy as a bonus, as well as the feature-packed Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box, which contained both Toy Story and Toy Story 2, as well as a bonus disc packed full of informative extras. Now out of print, the Ultimate Toy Box continues to serve as a benchmark in terms of just how good a DVD release can be, and although there is some room for improvement in terms of the transfers of both films, it is one of the few DVD releases to which I would award an overall 10/10 score.
This new 10th Anniversary Edition release boasts an all-new transfer and audio mix, claiming to feature the highest bit rate ever used for a Disney/Pixar film. With an average bit rate of 8.93 Mbit/sec (compared with 7.9 Mbit/sec for the Ultimate Toy Box), the numerical statistics check out, and indeed a careful examination comparing the new transfer to the one found on the Ultimate Toy Box reveals that some minor improvements have been made. The colours seem a tiny bit more vivid, and a shot-by-shot comparison does reveal some additional fine details. Furthermore, the higher bit rate has improved the encoding, although some compression artefacts are still visible, especially during the sequence towards the end of the film where Woody and Buzz chase after the removal van. As such, what we have with this new release represents an incremental improvement over previous versions, but an improvement nonetheless. It's still a far cry from the near-perfect transfer Pixar provided with their PAL releases of The Incredibles, however.
(Like the previous releases, it is presented in the decidedly 16x9 friendly aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Although no cinema in the world is equipped to display this format, it is actually director John Lasseter's approved ratio for the film: Toy Story was originally composed for a ratio of 1.66:1, with the intention of matting it theatrically to 1.85:1, but for various reasons the artists overshot slightly, so it was decided instead to work towards 1.78:1 whenever possible. In any event, the framing looks absolutely fine throughout.)
The audio, too, has been overhauled. The previous releases of the film featured a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that, while impressive in terms of spatialization and split-channel effects, was probably not the best audio mix ever created. For the 10th Anniversary Edition, the old mix has been ditched in favour of brand new Dolby 5.1 EX and DTS-ES 5.1 tracks created by the film's original audio designer, Gary Rydstrom. Once again using the removal van chase as a benchmark, a comparison of the two discs shows subtle but definite differences. Especially on the DTS track, a slight improvement to the clarity of the dialogue, and more powerful bass, can be heard, but the difference is small indeed and is unlikely to be noticeable at all for viewers without DTS capabilities or decent speakers. So yeah, I'm going to give the audio on this DVD a 10: the likes of Wonderful Days and Hero probably serve as better demo material, but I can't fault the mixes on this disc in any way whatsoever. English, French and Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0 tracks have also been included, and for French speakers this will be something of a downgrade, as previous releases of the film featured a fully-fledged 5.1 French dub.
English, French and Spanish subtitles have been provided. In a surprise move, Disney have broken with tradition and provided full subtitles in all three languages for all the extras - a first for their North American wing, I believe. Congratulations, people! It's taken you long enough, but I am duly impressed.
A selection of all-new bonus features have been created for the 10th Anniversary Edition; the bulk of the extras, however, have been ported over from the Ultimate Toy Box. This is by no means a complete carbon copy, however, as a number of features have not made the transition. Most noticeably, the 1988 short Tin Toy, the 5.1 sound effects-only track, numerous text-based features, much of the contents of the various image galleries, and a 27-minute made for TV documentary The Story Behind Toy Story are missing. More material is missing too, but these constitute the biggest losses, although as we will see later, there is some overlap between the material presented in the missing features and that of the new materials created for this release.
One word of warning: like all of Pixar's DVDs since Finding Nemo, all of the bonus materials are in anamorphic widescreen, meaning that any materials that are intended to be viewed in a 4x3 aspect ratio (which encompasses a fair amount of footage, including virtually everything that has been carried over from the Ultimate Toy Box) are windowboxed. Users with 4x3 televisions, therefore, may have to set their player to "pan & scan" mode when watching these materials to avoid viewing them in a tiny black-bordered window.
The first disc begins with the usual series of pre-film trailers that viewers will have come to expect from Disney releases. The first trailer, and one of the main selling points of this release (or so it would seem), pertains to Cars, Pixar's next film and their final collaboration with Disney. In it, director John Lasseter gushes about the film for a brief period of time before ordering us to buy the upcoming Toy Story 2 Special Edition to learn more about it (ker-ching!). Trailers for the aforementioned Toy Story 2 Special Edition, as well as the Cinderella Platinum Edition, follow. A whole bunch of other "sneak peeks" can be accessed from the menu screens.
John Lasseter shows up again to provide a brief introduction. For slightly over one minute, he tells us how proud he is of Toy Story's success and exalts the DVD for having "more bits than ever in the history of mankind". Personally I can take or leave these Lasseter intros, but thankfully, unlike the Studio Ghibli DVDs he has had a hand in, this one is optional instead of playing before the film itself.
The audio commentary that was originally recorded for the 1996 LaserDisc release, and also showed up on the US Ultimate Toy Box release, is reproduced here. It's a decent track, featuring Lasseter, co-writer Andrew Stanton, supervising animator Pete Docter, art director Ralph Eggleston, supervising technical director Bill Reeves, and producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold. The six speakers cover a range of different topics, and there are no major gaps of silence. In a neat touch, an optional subtitle track is provided which announces the various speakers by name, similar to what was done on the commentaries for the Extended Edition releases of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The final feature on the first disc is a new 12-minute retrospective entitled The Legacy, which features various individuals discussing the impact that Toy Story has had over the last decade. The participants range from filmmakers (including Chris Wedge, Brad Bird, Hayao Miyazaki, George Lucas and Peter Jackson), to critics (naturally, the usual faces of the Disney world: Leonard Maltin, John Canemaker and Charles Solomon), to various animators and trainee animators. The voices of Woody and Buzz, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, also show up, as do a couple of Disney suits (Roy E. Disney and Tom Schumacher). This is a great featurette, and I wish it could have gone on for longer, since although the back-patting borders on sycophantic, it does serve as an excellent reminder of just how widescale the film's impact was. It's also something of a surprise to see an acknowledgement of references made to Toy Story in decidedly more adult-oriented shows like Coupling and Duckman.
Disc 2 is significantly more labyrinthine in terms of its layout of bonus materials. The main menu features lists five key sections, as well as a Set Up option which allows you to select English, French or Spanish subtitles, and a handy Index button, which lays the features out in a slightly more convenient manner (but which will still require some additional navigation, as a number of sub-sections are missing).
Marketed as a new documentary, the 20-minute Making Toy Story essentially recycles a lot of material from the Story Behind Toy Story documentary that was included in the Ultimate Toy Box, as well as adding some new voice-overs. The production is more polished here, and some of the archive footage and interviews have been slightly expanded, but overall I felt that this version failed to cover as much ground as its predecessor. In particular, far less time is spent on the various voice actors - which is not something I personally mind, as I am of the opition that too much time tends to be spent focusing on the vocal talents in animation-related documentaries, but it does give some idea of what is missing when compared to The Story Behind Toy Story.
One piece that definitely is new is a Filmmakers Reflect featurette. This 17-minute piece is comprised of an informal chat between four of the film's key collaborators: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Joe Ranft. They reminisce about the experience of making the film in a commendably frank manner, recounting the trouble the production had and even describing the fact that Disney management's meddling almost completely destroyed the film at one point. (This is probably the closest we'll ever come on a Disney DVD to an admission of the fact that their production process is fundamentally flawed.) At the end, the quartet of filmmakers joke about how they hope to do this again in another ten years, which takes on a slightly eerie tone given that Joe Ranft was sadly killed in a car crash mere weeks before these DVDs hit the shelves. (It's clear that the DVD was too far down in the production process for any changes to be made, otherwise I am sure that his death would have been acknowledged.)
The remainder of the disc is comprised of materials that are mostly culled from the Ultimate Toy Box. These focus on various different parts of the production process, ranging from several deleted scenes in various stages of development to demonstrations of the production process itself. A huge number of image galleries and 3D turnarounds also cover a wealth of different stages in the making of the film. Given that much of this material was included in the previous release of the film, there seems little point in describing it in depth here, so I instead recommend that you check out Steve Wilkinson's review of the Ultimate Toy Box here at DVD Times, which provides an excellent breakdown of what you can expect to find. The only completely new featurette is Designing Toy Story, which is housed in the Behind the Scenes section. Over the course of 6 minutes, art director Ralph Eggleston, lead digital painter Tia W. Kratter, designers Bob Pauley, Bud Luckey and William Cone, and story artist Jeff Pidgeon describe the film's design process, comparing earlier versions of character and location designs with their on-screen counterparts. It's an interesting piece, but in my opinion it could have been longer.
Various screens also feature a selectable star icon, which, when clicked, will play a handful of the Toy Story themed interstitials that were created for ABC. If you want to play all of them at once, the star on the Index page brings up a listing that groups these shorts into 13 different themes (each containing a varying number of different shorts), as well as a Play All function which allows you to experience the entire 13 minutes of material. The interstitials vary in quality, and are generally not particularly imaginative, their most obvious failing being the fact that a number of the key voice talents, most noticeably Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, have been substituted by impersonators. Animation-wise, though, they are pretty good, without too much of a noticeable drop in production values when compared to the film itself.
Oh yeah, there's also one of these horrendous interactive games that Disney insists on putting on so many of its DVDs. I fooled around with "The Claw!" for around five minutes before becoming so mind-numbingly bored that I had to switch it off. Do kids seriously enjoy these things? I have my doubts.
So, would I recommend this version or the Ultimate Toy Box? My best advice would be to compare the feature set of each version (Ultimate Disney's review provides a comprehensive list of exactly what is missing from this new release) and decide which one contains the materials that would appeal most to you. If you do decide to go for the Ultimate Toy Box, however, just make sure you go for the Region 1 release, as the versions released in other territories lack the audio commentaries on both films.
To be brutally honest, there is not a whole lot in this new 2-disc set that viewers who previously bought the Ultimate Toy Box will not already have seen. While the new featurettes are mostly interesting, and in audio-visual terms there has been an incremental increase in quality, on the whole the changes are not really noticeable enough to justify a repurchase for casual viewers. While this is admittedly a very nice package, it is on the whole incomplete, and, despite the claims of Lasseter and co, screams "cash-in". Taken on its own terms, though (i.e. ignoring the existence of previous versions), it constitutes an excellent release.