Toy Story was the first feature-length computer-animated film. Think about that statement for a moment. First off, it shows just how old we are, since Toy Story doesn’t “seem” all that ancient. Secondly, it boggles the mind just how much of what we now see previewed in the theaters has Toy Story to thank for its existence. And thirdly, it means that Toy Story’s Blu-ray Disc appearance is a long-overdue treat for those of us who are Pixar and Disney Animation fans, yet it sets the stage for some minor disappointment as well.
As the original computer-animated feature film, Toy Story looks as crisp, colorful and sharp in 1080p as it ever has, and arguably even crisper. When Toy Story first wowed audiences with its “buddy film” plot in a world of grade-school toys, shiny plastic and self-shadowing was top-of-the-line technology. The fact that that technology just happened to also tell a fantastic story was just gravy on an already-good film. But much as Pixar has evolved as filmmakers and animators, so too have computer-animated films evolved to the point that if viewers can’t detect individually animated hairs, a CG film runs the risk of being called to the mat. And let’s just say there aren’t any individual hairs in Toy Story. The visuals, colors and animation are solid; Pixar is Pixar is Pixar. You can settle into your La-Z-Boy knowing you’ll get some good entertainment with Toy Story on Blu-ray. But while the story and humor have withstood the test of time, Toy Story visually looks its age, especially when watched side-by-side with Wall*E or Up.
The audio fares quite a bit better in the new generation, however. With the transition to Blu-ray Disc, Toy Story quite literally sounds better than it ever has, even better (it seems) than its original theatrical presentation. The surround channels on a 5.1 or 7.1 setup are particularly impressive, because although most of the film is driven by dialogue and plot, there are plenty of immersive environmental and toy sounds to give the rear channels a workout. The only minor disappointment is the volume balance, as I regularly found myself regularly adjusting the volume to compensate between quieter audio segments and louder action scenes. But the fidelity and clarity in Toy Story’s Blu-ray audio are incredibly immersive and perfectly executed.
The bonus features are an interesting mix on Toy Story’s Blu-ray release. Nine of the features on the list are completely original to Toy Story’s BD release, while the other 10 features have been previously released on DVD. Fortunately, those who own Toy Story on DVD won’t have to jog their memory to recall which are old and which are new; Disney has wisely categorized them into two sets: “Bonus Features” and “Classic DVD Bonus Features.” For the sake of not rehashing older content, we’ve only gone into detail about the new ones below. However, we can tell you that that Classic DVD Bonus Features are truly that: “classic.” They have not been remastered or upgraded at all from their standard-resolution origination. But they’re still worth watching, particularly the original 20-minute “making of” feature.
And now, on to the new bonus features. Kicking things off slowly is the requisite audio commentary, which amazingly enough is new for this Blu-ray release and comprised strictly of insights from Pixar staff including John Lasseter, Pete Docter and various producers and technical directors. This is followed-up by a Sneak Peek at The Story of Toy Story 3 (2:02), which includes about 10 seconds of footage not seen in the theatrical trailer (a good thing) while Director Lee Unkrich gives a verbal play-by-play recap the plot behind the theatrical trailer (less good). There really isn’t much insight here that you couldn’t gain yourself by watching the trailer, but it does do a good job at encouraging viewers to buy Toy Story 2 on Blu-ray Disc to see the “Characters” portion of the Sneak Peek. Or not.
Two features focus on Buzz Lightyear: Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off (3:27), in which Tim Allen (as Buzz) gives a high-level overview of the International Space Station, complete with footage of an actual liftoff and a Buzz toy on the space station; and Buzz Takes Manhattan (2:13), which is a documentary about the logistics behind getting the Buzz Lightyear balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Three “Studio Stories” go into detail regarding inside jokes at Pixar. The first, Studio Stories: John’s Car (1:27), tells the brief story of John Lasseter holding onto his first car so tightly that Steve Jobs himself had to buy Lasseter a Volvo in order to get him to drive something safer. The second, Studio Stories: Baby AJ (1:38) reminisces about an old Pixar costume competition won by a 295-pound animator who shaved his body and wore a diaper on stage like the baby from Pixar’s old Tin Toy short, while Studio Stories: Scooter Races (2:16) recalls the scooter races that employees used to have in their large building when the company only filled one-fourth of the space.
Paths to Pixar: Artists (4:49) also focuses on internal Pixar info, this time on the career paths of select artists and exploring their inspiration for getting into the art field. This is an intriguing feature insofar as it gives a face to some of the people responsible for bringing these classic films to life, and it’s also interesting to hear just how diverse their inspirations were. But by far the most interesting bonus feature on the Toy Story Blu-ray Disc is Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw (7:34). This feature’s presence on the Disc is surprising, because it doesn’t exactly paint Disney in the nicest light. However, it’s fascinating for that same reason, because it shows how the original storyboards were butchered by Disney and resulted in a terrible first cut, which Pixar then took back and retooled as they saw fit, basically undoing all the guidance Disney had originally given and going back to make the movie they wanted to make. This background is intriguing for sure, but even better (or is it worse?): an entire scene is shown in its storyboarded entirety. Let’s just say we all have Pixar’s instincts to be thankful for. Had Disney’s original edits gone through, we never would’ve seen a Toy Story 2, and I shudder to think what the bomb would’ve meant for the history of computer-animated films.
Toy Story is a classic film, and today’s CG features have none other than Pixar and Disney to thank for letting this animated masterpiece see the light of day. The film obviously wasn’t without its challenges, as its captivating bonus feature recalls, nor is its release on Blu-ray Disc without a few hiccups (most notably, exposing the film’s visual age). But the fact that Toy Story is here, finally, on Blu-ray Disc, is worthy of celebration from a historical sense, a fan’s sense and, let’s face it, a nostalgic sense for anyone who remembers when this film first came out and wants to finally share the experience in high definition with their children (myself included). Toy Story may show its age, but it shows its classic vintage as well. The fact that the Special Edition set also includes a DVD and digital copy? That’s just gravy. Consider me sold on this solid Blu-ray release.
Click this link to buy Toy Story on Blu-ray Disc from Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.7
— Jonas Allen