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Computer animation charms in Disney's Toy Story

Toy Story

Directed by John Lasseter.

Written by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow; based on a story by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft.

Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and Annie Potts.

Animation by Pixar Animation Studios.

Sony Copley Place.

By Audrey Wu
Staff Reporter

Toy Story, Disney's most innovative feature-length film to date, is not only a landmark in computer animation, but also manages to retain the action-packed plot line and light-hearted comedy that have given Disney a virtual stranglehold on children's films. Toy Story is a definitive showcase of the power of computer animation; this holiday season, if virtual reality wasn't a hot topic before, it certainly will be one soon. But besides the fact that the film is practically one big special effect, its premise is also a lot of fun: What child hasn't wondered whether or not their toys could somehow communicate with each other? It is very refreshing to see this concept come to life in a non-horrific way. The supporting characters of the film are such familiar toys as Mr. Potato Head, Etch-a-Sketch, Slinky, and those miniature green plastic army men that are packaged in buckets. The stars of the film are a talking cowboy doll named Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and a "Space Ranger" named Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen).

Toy Story opens on the day of Andy's birthday party, a week before Andy's family moves to their new house. Woody, Andy's favorite, is the leader of the toys. As they do every Christmas and birthday, the toys anxiously worry about being replaced by any new toys that Andy will receive. On this birthday, Andy receives Buzz Lightyear, a Space Ranger who features pop-out wings, a pretend laser gun, and, most importantly, can talk with a push of a button, not a pull string (like Woody). Inevitably, Buzz Lightyear takes over as Andy's favorite toy. Even worse for Woody, the other toys, impressed by Buzz's features, begin to look to him as their new leader. But Buzz doesn't seem to care for all of this new attention: He mistakenly believes that he is the "real" Buzz Lightyear and that his spacecraft has crash landed in Andy's room. He wants only to fix his spacecraft and return to his mission of defending the galaxy from an evil force. Woody becomes jealous of all the attention that Buzz receives and gets himself and Buzz into a lot of trouble when his plot to reclaim his position as Andy's favorite toy goes awry.

And what would a Disney movie be without a villain? In Toy Story, the villain is the bully who lives next door, a juvenile delinquent named Sid who thoroughly enjoys torturing his toys. He is obsessed with explosives and likes to blow up his toys in his backyard, to the shock and horror of Andy's toys who watch from Andy's bedroom window. Sid also likes to play "mad doctor" with his toys, ripping them apart and then mixing and matching their body parts with movable Legos, resulting in some pretty gruesome creations. In fact, if he could get his destructive tendencies under control, he would have made a pretty impressive engineer. Woody and Buzz ultimately become "lost toys" trapped in Sid's house with his hideous toy creations, and have to escape before Andy's family moves away without them.

Toy Story retains many of the qualities of a Disney film. All of Disney's main characters feature a fault; in this case, it's Woody's jealousy and Buzz's ridiculous idealism. It is very sad when Buzz accidentally sees a commercial for the Buzz Lightyear action figure and realizes that he isn't the "real" Buzz Lightyear, but a mere toy: He becomes very depressed, borderline suicidal, and in definite need of a fistful of Prozac. I was very excited to see that, for a change, this film actually featured a mother (although a father was nowhere in sight - I still can't figure out what Disney has against two-parent homes). The movie also has its share of memorable moments: There is one scene that is reminiscent of Child's Play that I'm certain sent poor Sid into years of therapy (I guess he isn't going to make it to MIT after all).

Toy Story is an adventure that gets better and better. At the beginning of the film, the focus is on the special effects and the personalities of the popular toys. However, it is not long before the engrossing, action-packed plot line takes over. The computer animation is, for lack of a better phrase, really cool. Adults will find humorous the many tongue-in-cheek references to it (for example, the name of Andy's family's realtor is "Virtual Realty"). Although the message of the film, that of not judging people (or toys) by their first appearances, is one that Disney likes to pound into the ground, Toy Story is a lot of fun. And as an added bonus, if you get to the theater on time, you will also have the pleasure of seeing a preview for Disney's newest animated film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Note: For aspiring computer animators, the class 6.837 - Computer Graphics - is offered at MIT during the fall term).