Historical Circuit: Toy Story (1995)



As we’re getting ready for the ACCA revote on 1995, let’s take a closer look at one of the most influential films from that year, Pixar’s first feature film “Toy Story.” Today, Pixar is practically synonymous with quality animated films that are great for both kids and parents. But 20 years ago, when “Toy Story” was first released, it was a huge gamble. Thankfully, the gamble paid off in ways that few could have ever imagined.

Walt Disney Pictures’ animated films were in a resurgent period that started in 1989 with “The Little Mermaid” and had just had its biggest success ever in 1994 with “The Lion King.” 1995 would see them strike gold again with “Pocahontas.” Disney’s 2D animation was a legacy that spanned back almost 60 years at that point and the studio seemed to be churning out products that could not be challenged in the animated genre. But as it is so often with revolutions, we don’t know we want or need something until it is shown to us.

That is the case with “Toy Story.” Computer animation first came about in the 80s, but it was expensive and time-consuming so it was mostly relegated to short films or special effects in live-action films. Then along came Pixar with the crazy idea of making an entire feature film with computer animation about a young child’s toys, who come to life when the boy isn’t around.

“Toy Story” was released on November 22, 1995 with a voice cast that includes Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, Annie Potts and R. Lee Ermey. The rest, as they say, is history. “Toy Story” was the highest grossing film of 1995 with $191.7 million domestically and $361 million worldwide. The film was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song and Best Original Score. John Lasseter, who directed the movie, took home an honorary Oscar as well for “the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film.”

Beyond the technical marvel of the film, “Toy Story” is a great film because of its characters and the story it tells. The voice work from the cast is fantastic and the script has a great balance of gags for kids and adults alike. But more than anything “Toy Story” is story about friendship and was able to resonate with audiences both young and old.

Since “Toy Story,” Pixar has made 14 feature films, most of which have received massive critical and box-office success. But the studio’s heart still rests in the adventures of the cowboy named Woody and a space ranger named Buzz.

I was five when “Toy Story” came out and was mesmerized by the magic of it. When “Toy Story 3” came out in 2010 I was in the second half of my college career and was moved by the emotions as the toys say goodbye to their original owner Andy and I in some way said goodbye to my childhood. It’s a sentiment shared by many my age, and one reason that “Toy Story” will always be looked at in such fondness.

There is some nervousness among fans, however, as Pixar plans to continue the franchise, with “Toy Story 4” planned to be released in 2017. We might just have to give them the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, though.

“Toy Story” was to computer animation what “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was to 2D animation. And that’s not just because they both were the first films of their kinds. Each film inspired artists and fans alike and will forever hold a special place in the pantheon of film.