Back Comments (29) Share:
Pre-Review Note: The Toy Story  films are only available as separate retail releases I cannot for the life of me find a satisfying way to separate the films for critical reasons. I’ve decided to do one mega review of both Blu-ray releases, and I’ve decided to deal with assuming readers have seen the film

Features


Toy Story is cursed to always be first mentioned as an important technical step in feature filmmaking. As the first entirely computer animated feature length film it’s put into a category marked by risk and technical achievement, and critics and historians tend to forget how good the final product is outside all the technical risks and achievements. Jar Jar Binks was a historical technical achievement, and a huge risk, but audiences haven’t since let Lucas get away with these accomplishments because the character was badly written. James Cameron’s Avatar appears to have bucked the trend, at least temporarily, but for the most part Toy Story stands as proof that audiences crave story, characters and originality more than they respect technical achievements, at least in the longer run. Toy Story is also the victim of the rule that states the first of a kind is rarely the best (it is not), but it was a substantial and satisfying step into one of the historically greenest pastures in cinema. It led to some unmitigated, lowest common denominator garbage (every great step in artistic entertainment does), and it briefly snuffed traditional hand drawn animation, but feature animation continues to evolve for the better. 2009 may be the first year in film history that the quality of animated product artistically outperformed the bulk of major release live action product, and Toy Story is surely to blame.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition
Toy Story started the Pixar ball rolling (and in turn the CG animated film ball), but it really wasn’t until Toy Story 2 that the studio firmly planted their stakes in the pop-culture zeitgeist. With Toy Story 2 the ‘formula’ was set, and John Lasseter was able to go to other creative types within the company to mix things up, while still maintaining a compelling overall storytelling style, which has ended up being a more important defining element than the colourful visuals, mixed comedy stylings, and suspenseful chase climaxes (though for the most part, these elements are just as omnipresent today). Toy Story 2 is the better film, the more challenging film, and the film that led to the rest of the studio’s best, culminating in some of the most imaginative plots Hollywood has ever seen. It also introduces those pesky pop-culture references that DreamWorks, Fox and Sony animation studios have overused to the point of annoyance (I’m referring mostly to the Star Wars and 2001 stuff here). Still, the deft hand of Pixar is at work, and the references hardly date the material.

As a stand alone I’d place Toy Story 2 among the best road films ever made, and  even go so far as to mark it as one of the best film sequels of all time. It fulfills the best merits of the sequel yardstick in terms of character and story development, improved scope and set pieces, all while deepening the emotional aspects of the original film. Stuffy critics would likely turn their noses up at a genuine comparison to something like The Godfather Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Dawn of the Dead, Aliens, From Russia with Love, The Road Warrior, Drunken Master 2, Bride of Frankenstein, For a Few Dollars More, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, or even successful comic book sequels like X-Men 2 and Spider-Man 2, but Toy Story 2 actually stands above many of these films in terms of overall achievement. I’m genuinely afraid that the upcoming Toy Story 3 is going to be a step back, and it’s going to hurt.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition
Upon revisiting the films, it dawns on me that beneath the ingenious, childlike veneer, and amazing ability to lead men, writer/director/journeyman John Lasseter may be a little too obsessed with the lives of inanimate objects, and their love for their human masters. The Brave Little Toaster started the theme following the basic ‘Incredibly Journey’ motif, and led Toy Story to delve into the supposed emotions of objects we take for granted. The brave little Toaster just wanted to be a toaster, but toys like Woody, it turns out, have deep emotional attachments to their children, and complex neurosis that develop as a result of this inhuman loyalty and love. The first Toy Story occasionally touches on complex and disturbing character studies, especially where it pertains to the leads Woody and Buzz. Woody’s problems are understandable, and quickly fixed in a rather realistic manner (considering). His world is flipped with the arrival of Buzz, who in Freudian terms threatens his very mandhood, and he reacts rather violently when dealing with his crisis. But Woody’s baggage is substantially human – Buzz’s existential problems are the stuff of nightmares. Buzz is violently forced out of his diluted, Don Quixote mindset, and left knowing for a fact that everything he’s taken for granted is untrue. Everything. Buzz does adjust admirably, but he’s not an intergalactic hero, he’s a child’s toy, a twist of fate worthy of the Twilight Zone.

These big ideas are then pressed into even more emotionally unsettling arenas for Toy Story 2, which builds on the concept of inevitable abandonment, and adds deep, dark thoughts of mortality. Woody, Jesse and the Prospector are so terrified with the anticipation of emotional rejection that they lay plans to sit behind glass in a Japanese museum for what we must assume will be an eternity. Can toys die? Is an eternity behind glass better than an eternity in a landfill? The questions raised by the Toy Story films are practically Phillip K Dick-ian in their scope, if not a little Sesame Street in their reach. Cars breaks with Lasseter’s trend by deleting humanity from the equation entirely, and bringing the whole obsession full circle. I think there’s room for a full essay covering the thrust of Lasseter’s inanimate objects, culminating in the machines doing away with their human masters between the scenes. Perhaps Toy Story 3 will take it somewhere else.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition

Video


Toy Story shows its age on Blu-ray disc, but the problems are clearly not the fault of the transfer, rather the technology. There is still plenty of sharp detail, just not as much as we’ve gotten used to in the following years of vastly superior computing technology. This is a direct digital transfer, obviously, and everything I can find on the internet seems to suggest that the original material is 1080p ready, and was transferred to 35mm without any problems (unlike, apparently, The Phantom Menace). The more effective details are found in the threads of Andy’s bed sheets, the texture of Mr. Potato Head’s face, and the reflective hardwood floor. Problems arise in occasionally pixilated background details, and awkward object interactions. The shading is less subtle as well, which is fine for the purposes of the transfer, leading to harsher lighting, which are well represented and nicely cut. Colours are the big advantage over those DVD copies, which were the best of the best in their day, but on 1080p TV have clear problems with the brightness and purity of the hues. There’s no blocking (apart from the aforementioned pixilation) or blooming here, and the crispness of the elements is pretty much perfect. Some of the ‘magic hour’ lighting leads to some very minor artefacting, but the darkness of Sid’s bedroom revels in sharp shadows.

Toy Story 2 is a little more of a surprise in terms of dated imagery. It’s a pretty massive step up from the first film (Buster versus Scud is a clear indication), but I suppose I hadn’t realized how much the technology had improved in the past decade. Most of the improvements made between the films were subtle in terms of fine details, and more obvious in terms of element interaction, and especially camera movement. This 1080p transfer is more flawless than the other, but this relates more to the lack of production blemishes. These backgrounds feature no unfortunate pixilation, and obviously no newly compressed digital artefacts. The subtle and sometimes not so subtle increases in detail include more realistic props, and amazingly intricate carpeting, furniture and foam rubber crating. Colours are again the major advantage, and most sumptuous during the opening videogame action scene, when Buzz confronts himself in the neon glow of the toy store, and during the autumnal glow of Jessie’s Song. The more subtle, varied and realistic lighting certainly helps too, and leads to some even sharper edges.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition

Audio


The age does not hurt Toy Story’s audio edge, which sounds better than ever here in the form of an uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio track. The difference is immediately clear in the form of the LFE track, which is gigantic and very punchy. When objects hit the floor they shake the room a bit, and when car engines roar the really rumble the speakers. The centered dialogue hasn’t improved exponentially, but the then state of the art surround sound design (which is still pretty lively for its age) sounds crisper than ever. I’d say the foley capture is now so crisp and clean that it occasionally stands out as false, and pulls you out of the movie. Slinky Dog’s motion is a good example – it sounds less like the character is moving in from stage left, and more like a man with a slinky is standing on the left side of the room hoping you don’t see him. Not really a complaint, I suppose.

Toy Story 2 is the same but more. The opening videogame sequence out rocks just about any action flick on your shelf, including thick bass, whipping directional effects, massive surround ambience, perfectly pitched Star Wars call-outs, and some of the brassiest horns you’ve ever heard. Gary Rydstrom and his team really went to town with Toy Story 2 in terms of experimental sound design, and unlike the visuals, the digital audio really isn’t dated at all. Sure, the Wall-E disc is still the studio’s high mark, but there are nearly ten years between the films, and this Toy Story 2 disc still makes a great reference item. Other standout moments include any outdoor shot, the room traveling, LFE busting ‘silent but deadly’ burp, scenes driving through the toy store (super balls!), and the final rescue scene (airplane!). The scene for your reference purposes is the scene where the rescue team crosses a busy street, which is pointed to during the special features by Rydstrom himself (without surround sound, unfortunately).

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition
I’ve always run cold on is Randy Newman’s music, which I admit is catchy, but has always been a little to ‘gee gosh’ for my personal taste. I find the first film is especially nauseating. The second film works along the same lines, and overdoes the country twang a bit, but is largely more successful thanks to the more theatrical scope, and features ‘Jessie’s Song’. Goddamn ‘Jessie’s Song’. That scene makes me weep like a little girl every god damned time. I think Newman just works better when someone else is left singing his words. The score is full bodied and warm. Though the sound of the music it rarely leaves the front channels on either disc, the uncompressed track belts it out pretty far beyond the abilities of the old DVD releases.

A big thing missing from these discs are the ‘Ultimate Toy Box’ edition’s 5.1 effects only track. It may sound like a waste, but it’s actually very entertaining.

Extras


Extras begin with two previously available group commentary tracks. Toy Story features writer/director John Lasseter, creative team Andrew Stanton, Pete Doctor, Bill Reeves, Ralph Eggleston and producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold. There aren’t a lot of surprises in the track, which was available though the ‘Ultimate Toy Box’ set, because the history of this particular film has been etched into the minds of every animation fan alive, but it’s still a lively tone, and a genuinely funny comradery. The track is best for its reference points, and there are so many references it’s easy to miss them, even on your 80th viewing.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition
Toy Story’s new bonus features start with a Toy Story 3 sneak peek (2:00, HD), an ad-like look at the basic plot of the next feature, including footage and conceptual art. ‘Buzz Lightyear’s Mission Logs: Blast Off’ (3:20, HD) is a cute little featurette that teaches the young ones about the NASA stuff via a Buzz doll’s presence. ‘Paths to Pixar’ (4:50, HD) is a sweet little retrospective collection featuring Pixar staff. A series of brief ‘Studio Stories’ come next, with no play all option, including ‘John’s Car’ (1:30, HD), ‘Baby AJ’ (1:40, HD), and ‘Scooter Races’ (2:50, HD). ‘Buzz Takes Manhattan’ (2:10, HD) briefly covers the Buzz Lightyear balloon that travels the street during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, narrated by John Lasseter. ‘Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw’ (7:30, HD) is a brief history of the failed first attempt at the film pitch (some of this can mostly be seen during the Pixar Story film that accompanied the Wall-E Blu-ray release).

This takes us to the ‘Classic DVD Bonus Feature’, which begin with ‘Filmmakers Reflect’ (17:00, HD) , a 10 year retrospective roundtable. ‘Making Toy Story’ (20:20, SD) is a fluffy little retrospective EPK, which is wonderfully dated. ‘The Legacy of Toy Story (11:40, DD) follows the fluffy retrospective look, speaking to famous folks like Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Brad Bird, Leonard Maltin, Buzz Aldrin, Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, and Miyazaki. ‘Designing Toy Story’ (6:10, SD) discussing the then new use of computer animation as a visual element in a film.

There are a series of ten deleted/alternate scenes (18:50, SD), some presented in rough animation, others in story reel form, all with crew introductions. Under the ‘Design’ tab are a big series of slideshow galleries (14:00, HD). Under the ‘Story’ tab are ‘Green Army Men Pitch’ (4:40, SD), ‘Andy’s New Toy Storyreel’ (4:40, SD) and ‘The Chase: Storyreel to Film Comparison’ (3:20, SD). Under the ‘Production’ tab is a production tour (1:50, SD), ‘Layout Tricks’ (3:30, SD), and animation tour (1:20, SD) and a multi-language reel (4:30, SD). The ‘Music and Sound’ tab features the ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ music video (2:10, SD), ‘Designing Sound’ (6:30, SD) with Gary Rydstrom, and Randy Newman’s Demos. The ‘Publicity’ tab finishes things out with EPKs Trailers, TV Spots, and poster art.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition
Toy Story 2 also features an old commentary track, this time with Lasseter, co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon, and co-writer Andrew Stanton. This track is a little more ‘down to business’, and a little less busy, but the fun is still there. Between the two tracks this one is the more informative, and more importantly there’s information here that isn’t readily available in the disc’s other extras, specifically pertaining to some of the technical achievements unknowing audiences might miss. Andrew Stanton’s contributions concerning story structure are valuable as well.

The new Toy Story 2 extras compliment those of the first film. Things start with another sneak peek at Toy Story 3, this one pertaining to the new characters (4:00, HD). ‘Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station’ (3:40, HD) continues the story of the toy’s real trip into space. This is followed by another ‘Paths to Pixar’ (4:30, HD) segment with a few more members of the technical staff, and three more ‘Studio Stories’ entries. These include ‘Sleep Deprivation Lab’ (1:30, HD), ‘Pinocchio’ (2:20, HD) and ‘The Movie Vanishes’ (2:00, HD). The last one is pretty incredible. ‘Pixar’s Zoetrope’ (2:00, HD) is a brief look at an amazing three dimensional zoetrope that was inspired by one at Studio Ghibli. ‘Celebrating Our Friend Joe Ranft’ (12:50, SD), the longest of the new extras, is an ode to one of the studio’s biggest contributors, who died in 2005.

The ‘Classic DVD Bonus Features’ start with ‘Making Toy Story 2’ (8:00, SD), another general little retrospective, which is good to point out some of the elements the filmmakers took from the first film and placed into the second. ‘John Lasseter Profile’ (3:00, SD) is a good excuse for boot licking, while ‘Cast of Characters’ (3:30, SD) catches 1999 audiences up on the films characters. The ‘Toy Box’ tab contains the outtakes that ran during the credits in theaters (5:30, SD), ‘Jessie’s Gag’ (formally an Easter egg, 1:00, SD), ‘Who’s the Coolest Toy’ (3:20, SD), ‘Riders in the Sky Music Medley’ (3:10, SD), and ‘Autographed Pictures’ (:45, SD). The ‘Production’ tab features brief featurettes concerning ‘Designing Woody’s Past’ (2:50, SD), ‘Making Woody’s Roundup’ (1:50, SD), a production tour (2:40, SD), animation tests (3:00, SD), special effects (1:40, SD) and changes made to a certain scene to make it more ‘international’ (1:50, SD). ‘Music and Sound’ houses ‘Designing Sound’ with Gary Rydstrom (5:40, SD), ‘Making the Songs’ (3:30, SD), ‘Woody’s Roundup Music Video’ (2:20, SD) and Randy Newman’s ‘Jessie’s Song’ Demo (2:50, SD). The disc also features two deleted/alternate scenes (3:30, SD), complete with an intro (:45, SD), 12 character design galleries, 13 3D visualization galleries, a three step look at the colour scripts (4:30, SD), and a collection of trailers, character interviews, TV Spots, and poster art.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Special Edition
Despite the vast storage space of Blu-ray discs the ‘Tin Toy’ and ‘Luxo Jr’ shorts are nowhere to be found. Perhaps we’re meant to own that Pixar shorts collection.

Overall


The Toy Story films are certainly worthy additions to every Blu-ray lover’s shelf. Frankly I can’t imagine anyone not loving the films themselves, so I’m basing most of this blanket statement on the quality of these Blu-ray discs. The first film does show its age in terms of less than perfectly clean background elements, but the clarity of the image on both discs is exemplary, and the colours shine so much brighter than the DVD versions. The uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are both reference level material, specifically the second film, which is rather massive even compared to biggest modern action epics. The new extras are cute, though not overly impressive, and the old extras do feel outdated, and lacking in real meat. The only real complaint is the absence of a few of the Ultimate Toy Box special features, like the 5.1 effects tracks and short films.

Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray releases.


Links: