Fourteen years after the first film hit theaters, there is still magic happening for Disney and Pixar. Fourteen years after Toy Story ushered in a new generation of computer generated animation, this celebrated first feature film of Pixar is still leaps and bounds ahead of so many of today’s animated fair. With the 3D double feature re-release, Disney has delivered a Toy Story experience that is smooth, crisper and more vibrant — an experience that can (and certainly should) now be shared with a new generation of children.
I remember seeing the first Toy Story in theaters in 1995. I was 11 years old and at the twilight of my cartoon-loving days. Not long after Jurassic Park changed the way we look at reality in movies in ’93, I was witness to another great change in ’95 — a shift from the great 2D animation days of old to a new, multi-dimensional universe created in a small animation house in northern California. To say the very least, Toy Story changed the way animated stories were told.
So you can imagine the excitement that I experienced yesterday here at Fantastic Fest, when I was able to take a break from all of the perverse wonders of the Fest’s genre-bending selections to sit down and enjoy both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in glorious 3D. The story is exactly the same, nothing has changed. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is still the charismatic, lovable hero while Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) is still the oblivious, hilarious mess of a children’s plaything. But there is something new here: a sense of depth.
As we’ve discussed with many a 3D release over the past year, the key to the beauty of this release is environmental depth. Instead of manufacturing moments where things pop out at the audience, yo-yos and bouncy balls flying around the theater’s virtual space, Pixar chose to build out in the other direction. The effect can be seen most in moments such as the toys looking out the window toward Sid’s back yard in Toy Story, or Buzz, Woody and the others making their daring escape down the elevator shaft of Al the toy collector’s apartment building. For the first time, the world of Toy Story feels huge and deep and even more rich with life.
Another key to the success of this double feature — one that seems to win at every turn — is restraint with the use of 3D. There are plenty of moments in both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 that don’t need much help looking three dimensional, and the folks at Pixar were smart to let them be. A lot of little character moments and quick shots (many of which occur in Andy’s room) are without much 3D effect, something I learned by accidentally looking over my 3D glasses. This restraint allows the animators to deliver the same exquisite, iconic moments with a bit of added depth, but without the gimmicky look of 3D.
In addition to the wonderful experience of seeing these two animated classics with such added depth, there is a very cleverly executed intermission sequence that includes new short clips and character interludes over some trivia. It all adds to an experience that feels decidedly shorter than it has any right being. For a double feature, it feels like a quick, energetic affair. This should put many parents at ease as they plan to take the little ones out to the local megaplex. And they should, in fact, take the little ones out. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about re-releasing Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D (aside from the nostalgic value it holds for geeks like me and the quality re-rendering that will aid a Blu-ray release later), is that a new generation of little kids will have the chance to see these two stories on the big screen. It allows another generation of little ones to discover something special, to see the movies that changed the way animated stories are told. And it is my sincere hope that parents will take full advantage of such an amazing opportunity.
The Upside: A beautiful, cleverly executed 3D experience. A must-see for fans of old and new.
The Downside: It is only a limited engagement, meaning that so many folks won’t have a chance to see it.
On the Side: Bill Murray was originally considered for the role of Buzz Lightyear.