ROSSMAN and His Toys
Back in high school in early 1993, a friend of Chi-Chi's and mine told us that his uncle worked for this "cool computer animation studio in California," and they had signed a deal with Di$ney to make 3 feature-length films featuring their craft. I *pshawed* him and told him that while I loved CGI shorts like all the crap from The Mind's Eye and Beyond the Mind's Eye, and the short and sweet computer effects from Terminator 2, there was no way in hell anybody'd want to make a full movie out of nothing but computer graphics. "They're too shiny and fake," I told Todd. "People won't want to watch an hour and a half of really fake-looking computer generated things running around the screen. How does anybody get attached to that enough to enjoy the movie?"
The next day Todd brought in a VHS tape of his uncle's company's video resume, and Chi-Chi and I watched it that night. There were a handful of shorts on the tape (something with a couple of desk lamps and a yellow ball, a snow globe and a mermaid, a tin toy running away from a scary-looking baby, and a few more). And although the visuals didn't impress me all that much, the way that the animators actually told some really unique stories in such a short amount of time, and made me give a shit about the crappily-rendered characters, well, that was kind of impressive.
Yes — in case you hadn't figured it out — Todd's uncle's company was the fledgling Pixar Studios (started by the great and always awesome Steve Jobs), and since that day I have been a hardcore fan of everything the studio has crapped out like beautiful, butterfly-filled rainbows.... Except for Cars. I fucking hate Doc Hollywood, I mean Cars.
TOY STORY 1
Before I knew it, a few years went by since first watching that 3rd generation tape, and Pixar's premiere full-length feature was released. It just so happened that the first Toy Story was released on the day of my first date with Irene. We were both in the same Photoshop class in college (the second class ever for Photoshop at our university, that's how new this whole computer art movement was at the time), and so we both agreed to see the new "first ever fully CGI'd movie" in order to judge for ourselves if the medium had any staying power, or if our futures as computer artists were already boned.
So what'd we think of it? It was so good that neither of us tried to feel the other one up even once during the course of the movie — We were mesmerized. We both came out of the theater completely and utterly amazed. No, Pixar wasn't able to not make their CG images not look all shiny and plasticy, but that really worked for them with this flick. Plastic toys are supposed to look like plastic, so they had that going for them. But that wasn't at all what made the movie so great for either of us. What Irene and I loved most about Toy Story was Buzz Lightyear and Woody the sheriff — computer rendered characters that were so lovingly written that they made me think of such great comedy duos as... Well fuck, me and Chi-Chi (the highest honor I can bestow).
Okay, so Toy Story goes a little something like this (for all you retards who've never seen it): There's this boy named Andy, and his favorite toy in the whole world is this cowboy doll named Sheriff Woody. Woody's a dorky-looking 1950s-styled stitched toy whom Andy plays with all the time, and always makes the hero in all of his imaginative escapades (which shoot past the ridiculous and splatter in the face of ludicrous most of the time, mixing Westerns, science fiction, bank heists, and animal cruelty into one blended experience of overactive performance artistry every time Andy picks his toys up).
It also turns out that all toys come to life when people aren't around (due to either the love that children pour into them giving them special powers to think and act on their own, or dark zombie toy magic), and because Woody is Andy's favorite he's the leader of all the plastic people in their owner's bedroom. Woody's kind of cocky, but he's an all around nice guy... until Andy has a birthday party and gets a new favorite toy, Buzz Lightyear from Star Command.
Buzz is everything that Woody is not: He's a sci-fi spaceman toy; he's sturdy (entirely made of tough plastic, with no hand-stitched cloth anywhere to be found); he has battery-powered lasers and blinking lights; and he glows in the goddamn dark. Glow in the dark toys were (and still are) the best fucking toys. That's a fact. Anyway, it doesn't take long (merely minutes) till Woody's knocked off his place of honor (on Andy's bed), and replaced by Buzz as not only Andy's most cherished, but as the de facto leader of all the toys in the bedroom. "Ballz!" indeed...
The rest of the movie is all about Woody getting so desperate for Andy's attention that he tries to bump Buzz into the space between the dresser and the wall, but he accidentally knocks his spaceman ass out the window instead (to the horror of all the other toys in the room). Woody's then chosen by the boy to be Buzz's replacement for the family's outing to the Pizza Planet restaurant that night, but an enraged Lightyear catches up to Woody in the car and the two get into a brawl that takes them both out of the car (rivaling the "sunglasses fight" in They Live), stranding them at a gas station far from home. Then the two of them have to work together to get back to Andy's room and keep themselves from getting blown up by the neighborhood nasty boy named Sid who likes to stick M80s up GI Joe's anus for shits and giggles. This being a "buddy movie" I think you can safely assume that they're both the best of friends by the time the credits roll, and Buzz says "I'm gettin' too old for this shit!" every five minutes.
But I digress. Toy Story is more than just "the first 100% computer generated movie ever made." Honestly, I don't even give a crap about that honor; all I care about is that it was the start of one of my all time favorite trilogies. The characters (especially Don Rickles' fantastically sarcastic Mr. Potato Head), the setting (a child's room and the outside world from a toy's perspective), and the story (about a toy's love for his owner) were stuff I'd never seen before, and Pixar nailed everything so goddamn perfectly. True, if you watch some documentaries about the making of the movie you'll see that it took a whooooole lot of trial and error to get the final polished product that we all know and love today, but the fact that they were willing to scrap so much of their original drafts, designs, and characterizations in order to bring out the very best that they could for us, the viewers, well, that speaks volumes for their integrity and drive. Don't you wish McG did the same thing when he first realized that his Terminator: Salvation movie was going to be a piece of crap?
Anyway, after the movie Irene and I spent a long night talking all about the future of animation in film. She swore that CGI was what it was all about, I had my doubts, unless they could match the textures and just plain bad-assery of the quick (and expensive as fuck) effects work as seen in Jurassic Park and other movies at the time, people would grow tired of the shiny look of the medium and (hopefully) stick with hand drawn stuff. There was no nookie that night, but damn did the whole thing open up my eyes... At least to the magic that was Pixar.
Anyway, a few years later and Pixar was on the rise. Their second film, A Bug's Life, was almost as good as their first, and it showed their creativity when they found another way around their whole "shiny plasticy images" problem — they made it about tiny bugs, in whose eyes the whole world looks completely different from ours. Anyway, soon after A Bug's Life the internet was hearing rumors about a shitty straight-to-video release of Toy Story 2. This concerned a whole lot of fans and critics, but then we began to hear that because the strength of the first draft and the visuals Pixar initially produced, that Toy Story 2 would indeed be a theatrical release with the entire cast returning. Fucking joy!
TOY STORY 2
I'm usually a spoiler whore when it comes to movie plots and stuff, but I've learned to stay away from everything concerning the characters, storylines, and jokes of any Pixar film before watching the finished product because knowing about them ahead of time (especially just seeing a clip of a punch line in a horribly mangled commercial where any comedy beat is ruined for the sake of jamming in as much as they can in the space of a 30-second television spot) ruins a good portion of Pixar's genius at set-up and delivery. So all I knew about Toy Story 2 when it came out was that Woody and Buzz were back, and there was maybe a new cowgirl toy, and some guy in a chicken costume. What I got out of Toy Story 2 was a new appreciation for what sequels could and should be: i.e. bigger than the original, no retreaded plots, and beautiful continuity. At the time I thought it was better than the first Toy Story, but in hindsight it comes in just a hair underneath. Still, not bad at all.
Toy Story 2 is all about Andy going to cowboy camp, but leaving Woody behind because he accidentally tore the stitching in his arm and was afraid to bring him lest he lose the arm entirely during the midnight circle jerks around the camp fire. Woody, though, is devastated by being put on "the shelf," but soon regains some of his old spunk when he races off to save one of his old friends, Wheezy the broken penguin squeeze toy, from a yard sale that Andy's mom is throwing together. And because of his good intentions Woody accidentally finds himself in the toy bin at the sale, and is quickly kidnapped by a fat man, who sounds like Newman from Seinfeld, who is very pleased to see the lil' cowboy. We're talking more pleased than if he stumbled across a free Chinese buffet, or an all-you-can-eat ice-cream bar, or the Hamburglar's dead body with his sack of pilfered burgers still fresh beside him. He's fat.
Witnessing all of this from Andy's bedroom window, the remaining toys — led by Buzz Lightyear — band together and vow to Bo Peep (Woody's playtime girlfriend) that they'll get the good sheriff back before Andy returns from camp. And thus begins the greatest journey the toys have ever undergone in their typically stationary lives (though for the life of me I just can't figure out how nobody sees any toys walking around on any security cameras or anything).
Long story short, it turns out Woody's really a collector's item, spawned from a TV show in the 50s starring puppets and becoming a product endorsing empire that rivaled anything the Mouse ever put out. This is why that fat, fat man stole Woody from the yard sale: he needed him to complete his collection of "Woody's Roundup" toys, games, records, cereal boxes, bowls, adult novelty devices, and bubble makers before he could sell the whole thing to a museum in Japan next to the one about the History of Bukkake (in the Children's District).
Soon Woody's all brainwashed by an old prospector doll into believing that going into the museum and never being played with by children again is the best thing that can happen to anybody... Kind of like a bizarro world pederast. But soon Woody's friends from Andy's room appear and slap some sense into him just before the fat, fat, fat man reappears and takes Woody and the rest of the collection to the airport. Then a big chase and a big American-airport-fight occurs (like in Die Hard 2! Only bloodier and with more profanity), but this being a feel-good movie you just know everything is going to turn out fine and dandy in the end (for everyone but the asshole bad guys).
What made me appreciate Toy Story 2 on about the same level as the original was the emotional wallop that it hits you with. We're made to wonder just what happens to toys after their owners grow up and don't need them anymore. Well, no, I guess we don't have to wonder seeing as Jessie the cowgirl suffers from multiple psychiatric afflictions including separation anxiety, hyper-depression, and a slight case of schizophrenia due to her abandonment. But I guess we are made to wonder if the same thing is in store for Woody and his pals once Andy grows up and ceases to play with them. And there's the humor of the movie. Yes, it's about a bunch of plastic children's playthings, but it's dramatic enough that the jokes and gags are perfectly timed to lighten up every moment they can. It's simply a funny movie filled with dreams, chases, and betrayals. I don't want to pull out the old argument of "it's like Bugs Bunny: goofy enough for kids, but with enough sophisticated humor for adults," but it's true. It's nearly the perfect fun movie, only topped a few years later by future Pixar works, like The Incredibles.
And for the longest time I thought that was it — that was the last real Toy Story thing we'd ever see with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voicing their iconic characters (Hanks doing Woody and Allen giving life to Buzz... and did I really have to explain that? Have you been living in a Taliban cave for the last 15 years?..... Holy goddamn shit, it's been 15 years since the first movie came out... I miss Irene). But then, 11 years after Toy Story 2 debuted and here we are; I'm about to review the movie that must have made all the planets align and Hell freeze over: Toy Story 3 came true.
TOY STORY 3
My biggest concerns going into the theater for Toy Story 3 were much different than those that I had for the first movie (after another 10 years of research and new programming skills I knew that Pixar could render any kind of texture imaginable now — from fur to fabric to brick to skin — so I didn't care about everything looking shiny anymore): "Would it live up to the incredibly high expectations that crescendoed after the two grand slams of TS 1 and TS 2? And was it really necessary, or were Pixar and Di$ney just milking everything they could for all they were worth for the sake of an easy buck?" ......Forgive me, Pixar, for ever doubting your own love of Woody and Buzz. I knew not what I did done do'd.
This time I took my niece and nephews to the premiere. I had made it a point to watch the first two TS movies with them for the first time just a few weeks before (lucky buggers didn't have to wait 15 years for a proper conclusion to the Toy STORY), and so I believe they were even more excited about this shit than I was. Didn't think it was possible.
Anyway, Toy Story 3 goes a little something like this: Andy is all growed up now. He's 17 and he's starting to pack up his room in order to move out to college. Woody, Buzz, and the few remaining toys in Andy's old toybox never get played with anymore and they resort to cheap tricks to get Andy to even look at them (like phone sex). Into this comes Andy's mom, ordering her oldest child to either put his stuff in boxes marked for either college, donations, or the attic, or in a garbage bag for the trash. Andy puts Woody in the college box, but the rest of the sheriff's friends (through a series of unfortunate events) get tossed on the curb just before the garbage pick-up.
That's when they decide to choose their own destiny, and everybody escapes their shared trashy doom and throws themselves in the box Andy's mom put aside for donations to the local preschool. At the
hellhole school, the toys meet Lots o' Huggin Bear, a fruity Ken doll, and a monkey with cymbals on his hands who watches security cameras for some bad controlling toy-lords, who looks like he's in it just to stare bug-eyed at the screens when the preschool kids are present. Sick fucking loli-monkey. Then Woody meets a dolly and a hedgehog and Totoro, and then a prison break takes place and Mr. Potato Head becomes a cucumber. Oh, and Mrs. Potato Head lost an eye and can still see things with it. And then the trash came and the trash-burning thing and then... Well, you'll just have to watch it yourself (but judging by its box office revenue you already have, and you bought 6 tickets for every member of your family).
What absolutely blew me away (better than a $500/hr whore) about Toy Story 3 was its mood. It's not all happy puppies and rainbows anymore. Andy's grown up, the "puppy" from TS2 is old and fat, Woody and company have lost their raison d'etre, and the world that the toys are all thrown into is almost completely devoid of all hope for our heroes (especially after the bad toys mind-rape Buzz into servitude). *SPOILERS, BITCH* And that climactic ending in the dump... I, wow. There's this one scene without any dialogue that lasts for what must be 2 or 3 minutes in which the toys give up fighting against the inevitable, hold each other's hands, and stare into their own oblivion. It was one of the most tragic things I've ever seen. It was so damn depressing and soul crushing. And then after all that we get the scene with Andy's mom walking into his now empty room and just breaking down crying (anybody who's loved their parents and moved away from home is legally obligated to tear up at this spot), and then finally we have Andy giving up his most treasured items to that little girl, and reflexively pulling Woody out of her grasp. Now, I never had a "Woody" of my own — a toy that I loved more than all the others, who I never thought I'd lose — but I thought I knew exactly what Andy was going through, and goddammit, I cried like a 3 year-old girl who was just kicked in the vagina. Who the hell would have thought that a computer generated movie about plastic toys would affect me more than Schindler's Goddamn List? Honestly, the last 15 minutes of Toy Story 3 are now tied up there with the last moments of William Wallace's execution in Braveheart — when he looks out into the crowd and sees his dead wife — as some of the most moving pieces of cinematic perfection ever. *SPOILERS DONE, WHORE*
Even though they surely didn't plan it from the beginning, the 15 year tale that the masters at Pixar told that is known as Toy Story is one of the most satisfying and complete narratives I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. It's pretty much near pitch perfect. It's accessible to anyone who's ever owned a toy — from two year-olds to 122 year-olds — it's fun as hell, it's got the perfect cast, and it actually teaches you a lesson. Well two, really: Things change, and you have to be willing to change with them; and don't be a fucking loser wanker who keeps all his toys and shit for the sake of collecting them — pass them on to the next generation to enjoy, faggot.