Like most people I first heard of Pixar in 1995 when they released an unusual animated film called Toy Story.
I say unusual because the animation was something that had never been done in quite that scale before. It was all CGI, it wasn't hand drawn the way many of the Disney's or Warner Bros had been. To be honest at the time that worried me a little. I like animation and to my way of thinking at the time it should be done by an artist or a team of them and not by a computer program, although now I know a little more about how they do it, it's an art form on it's own and does allow for better more realistic images.
The animation in Toy Story, which while excellent is still obviously in a developmental stage. The toys look brilliant and you can even see how they've done Woody's hair to look like moulded plastic. The people on the other hand (Andy, Sid) just don't look quite right.
The story is on the face of it pretty simple. Andy is an imaginative active kid, a fairly typical 6 yo, with a room full of toys. What Andy doesn't know is that when he's not around the toys all come to life and have formed their own toy centric society. To that end when Andy, his mother and his younger sister, move house, they've got a system worked out so that they all make the move and no one gets left behind.
The leader of the toys is Woody, the cowboy toy that has always been Andy's favourite, and it is this that kind of gives him the status as leader. The dynamic gets thrown out when Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear for his birthday. Buzz is a spaceman toy that all kids are mad for due to a fairly clever and intensive marketing campaign. Buzz becomes Andy's favourite and Woody for the first time in his life gets sidelined. This affects his status amongst the other toys, particularly the sarcastic and obnoxious Mr Potato Head. It doesn't help that Buzz is a fairly abrasive character who does not seem to realise that he's a mass produced toy. He thinks he's an actual space ranger and the toys he finds himself amongst are some sort of alien society.
The closest thing the film really has to a villain is Sid. Sid is the older kid next door. He's a sociopath in the making. Andy plays with his toys and takes care of them. Sid does the exact opposite he destroys them for fun. Andy's toys live in terror if Sid and his pit bull terrier; Scud. Fortunately they're moving.
However tensions between Woody and Buzz escalate and the end result is that Buzz winds up falling out of the bedroom window and Woody is blamed for it. While on a treat for Andy; a trip to a local pizzeria/play place, Woody is taken by Andy and Buzz manages to tag along. Buzz and Woody both find themselves in a claw game and are 'won' by Sid, who intends to destroy both toys. I don't know what Woody's fate would have eventually been, but Buzz gets strapped to a rocket and was to be blown up.
With help from Sid's abused and damaged toys, Woody and Buzz escape and then have to somehow get themselves onto the moving van to be reunited with their friends and Andy.
It's not a long film, but it's not all that short and there's not a wasted moment or a slow spot in the whole thing. The scriptwriters, one of whom was a pre Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show Joss Whedon, just do not miss a trick. I particularly appreciated the name of the petrol station where Andy's mother fills up being Dinoco. Not sure how many people got that joke.
Pixar's first feature was a smash hit and now they had to answer the inevitable question: when's the sequel coming out?
Celebrity voice casting for an animated feature film wasn't a new thing. Disney had been doing it for years, most notably in Aladdin with Robin Williams, but Pixar and Toy Story took the practice to new heights.
Disney would have one or two cast members being names, but Pixar threw them around like they were going out of style. By 1995 when Toy Story came out Tom Hanks was already a 2 time Academy award winner, and with films like Sleepless in Seattle, Forrest Gump and Apollo, he had established himself as an all around good guy type. So he was perfect to play the level headed and heroic toy leader Woody the Cowboy.
Tim Allen made his name playing the gadget obsessed Tim the Toolman Taylor on TV sitcom Home Improvement. Allen's character in the show and the character of Buzz Lightyear were rather similar in personality (it's actually the only type of character Allen can play really) and they also both loved gadgets, plus the TV show was at the peak of it's popularity at the time. So another one win for the casters in the film.
Side characters were also spot on. Legendary comedian Don Rickles provided the voice for Mr Potato Head and I'm sure they wrote the character to fit the actor. Rickles may have even provided some of his own lines. Comedian Jim Varney made his name playing the incompetent, but well meaning Ernest in TV shows and films, so was a familiar voice and his slow southern drawl just fits Slinky the dachshund. Annie Potts has a sweet, feminine voice and was just how one imagined the Bo Peep doll to speak. Comedian Wallace Shawn was best known as Vizzini in The Princess Bride, but his whiny somewhat nervous voice fitted the large plastic T-Rex dinosaur toy in that he's a large toy, but very nervous and anxious all the time. Toy Story also began John Ratzenberger's long association with Pixar. He voiced the piggy bank Hamm and has been in every Pixar film ever since, he's actually considered their only regular actor. Alan Tudyk seems to be doing something similar with Disney now. Casting R. Lee Ermey as Sarge (the leader of Andy's Bucket of Soldiers plastic army) was also a stroke of genius, although it's doubtful that many, if any, of the film's younger audiences would have gotten the joke.
Next up: A Bug's Life.