Skip to main content

Ages three and up. It's on my box.

Toy Story
(1995)

(SPOILERS) Pixar has a lot to answer for. Killing off traditional animation, for starters. And Randy Newman (well, in Pixar films at least). Indeed, one of the reasons I’m immune to the unconditional worship of the animation house’s crown jewel franchise is that I simply cannot stomach his anodyne, twee songs and lightly-sandpapered crooning. He does not have a friend in me (I’m sure he’s a very nice chap). The first Toy Story profoundly changed the industry (and won a special achievement Oscar for its troubles) and has paved the way for both the plentiful very good computer-animated movies since as well as the multitudinous ones that aren’t, but at what cost? And is it really that good?

It’s well observed, undoubtedly. And the assembled voice cast, including Tom Hanks doing the comedy-exasperated voice he does so well (did: this is very nearly the last remnant of comedy Hanks) and Tim Allen playing commendably straight (Wallace Shawn as Rex – a character added when Joss Whedon did a rewrite – and John Ratzenberger as Hamm are my favourites, though).

But for all its pockets of “edgy” adult humour (at Jeffrey Katzenberg’s behest, with an eye to as broad a demographic as possible) – “laser envy”; “The word I’m searching for, I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present”– and humorous asides – “I’m not actually from Mattel. I’m actually from a smaller company that was purchased by Mattel in a leveraged buyout” intones Rex – Toy Story is shot through with a mile-wide streak of sentimentality hideously compounded by Newman. I find this eminently resistible, and it’s something that put me off Monsters, Inc. even more. As such, going against the grain, my favourite Pixar until Finding Nemo came along was probably the unloved A Bug’s Life, (although, that itself is inferior to Antz).

There’s also the not inconsiderable issue that, in some areas, Toy Story has not aged well. The human children are seriously disturbing distillations, spawn of hell itself, not so much uncanny valley as ghoulish gorge. This works, to an extent, you might suggest, for devil-child-from-next-door Sid, a shoe-in for Will Poulter to play when the live-action version comes around, but it’s generally distractingly crude. On the other hand, there are sequences that still seem just as fresh and masterfully assembled as ever, notably the climactic dog/van/radio-controlled car road chase, complete with the kind of escalating problems thrown into the mix that would have made peak Spielberg proud.

And, as is the nature of animation, the sheer amount of time spent crafting the picture means its littered with little details and asides. For me, it dips somewhat once Woody and Buzz are trapped in Sid’s house, but Buzz forced to take afternoon tea still tickles, and if Joe Dante did the mutilated toys better in Small Soldiers a few years later, Sid’s sick creations still have a twisted, Tim Burton Beetlejuice/ Frankenweenie vibe about them (“I don’t believe that man’s ever been to medical school”).

There have, of course, been lots of theories about the world of Toy Story, and what precisely the animators are trying to achieve (ranging from the fate of Andy’s dad, to an Illuminati exposé included in the third instalment), even if the intended premise is as unfussy as doing what it says on the tin: “Toys deeply want children to play with them, and… this drives their hopes, fears, and actions”. Naturally, however, this lends itself to various opportunities for creator-created plays/ parodies and musings.

Most famously and endearingly, the key embodiment of this is found in the alien toys at Pizza Planet, paralleling Buzz in their hermetic understanding of the world, believing in the great claw as God (“I have been chosen”) and speaking in the coded language of a cult (“A stranger from the outside”); Woody even accuses them of religious extremism (“Stop it, you zealots!”) One might accordingly contrast this with the – on the surface – rational, knowledgeable Woody, who knows the way things are and has certainty about the tangible world, that they are the products of a very nuts-and-bolts master-and-servant system that is easily explainable; his scientific matter-of-factness could be considered equivalent to taking stock in evolutionary theory. Which would make delusional Buzz a fantasist convinced of a fake reality, one written on his box, tantamount to a belief in God, complete with his calling on fake miracles (his ability to fly). But Woody’s scoffing at Buzz in turn exposes his own unquestioning faith in the value of the owner-toy bond, and the requirement to accept a false god as their sovereign (their true creator remains unseen, naturally).

The chief reason Toy Story works is that it fully services the buddy comedy template, though (again, a Katzenberg suggestion, made when the development process was hitting bumps), with jealous Woody learning to appreciate and get along with interloper (for Andy’s affections) Buzz. Does that justify three sequels? For me, not really, as despite The Godfather Part II-esque praise aimed at the second in the series for improving on what went before, I’ve generally found the upgrades cosmetic, rather than truly expanding on what is essentially a stir-and-repeat formula. But then, I’m not one of the chosen.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

I work for the guys that pay me to watch the guys that pay you. And then there are, I imagine, some guys that are paid to watch me.

The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most bizarre thing out of all the bizarre things about The Day of the Dolphin is that one of its posters scrupulously sets out its entire dastardly plot, something the movie itself doesn’t outline until fifteen minutes before the end. Mike Nichols reputedly made this – formerly earmarked for Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Sharon Tate, although I’m dubious a specific link can be construed between its conspiracy content and the Manson murders - to fulfil a contract with The Graduate producer Joseph Levine. It would explain the, for him, atypical science-fiction element, something he seems as comfortable with as having a hairy Jack leaping about the place in Wolf .

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un