Movie Reviews

Toy Story: 25 Years of Infinity and Beyond

For 25 years, audiences have been 'to infinity and beyond', yet Toy Story's actual story was far from blissful.

NOVEMBER 22nd, 2020


Director: John Lasseter | Cert: U | Runtime: 1h 21m

© Disney/Pixar


hat happens to your toys when you leave the room?

This simple question was the starting point of what would become one of the most beloved and successful franchises in film history. Yet with every franchise, they must begin with one movie, and one which ignites the filmmaking world with such force that it changes the way we tell stories forever. Toy Story did just that, and twenty-five years after the introduction of Andy’s toys stormed onto the silver screen, you can still feel the effects of the iconic movie today.

It is quite a feat to use new technology to tell stories, and more so, to successfully pull it off whilst maintaining an emotional foundation, but when John Lasseter’s idea to take his Oscar-winning 1988 short film Tin Toy, and use computer animation for a feature length movie, that initial feat seemed virtually impossible.

© Disney/Pixar

From the outset, Pixar – the film production company founded by Lasseter – had never tackled a feature film before, and more so, no one had ever taken on the task of creating a computer-generated full-length movie. Two mountains were placed before the magicians at Pixar which would need to be conquered, long before any attempts at a plotline could be established.

To ensure that the magnitude of Lasseter’s idea could be achieved, new technology was required, leading Pixar to create the software RenderMan and Menv to make the movie. That technology has since become a staple for filmmakers across the world and is regarded as the ‘go to’ for CGI artists.

Whilst technology would be vital to bringing the physical world of Toy Story to life, the characters and the story would become another obstacle to overcome.

Today we have all enjoyed the friendship between Woody and Buzz – a cowboy and a spaceman who captured the hearts of the world – but in the beginning of brainstorming Toy Story, their relationship was anything but friendly. Woody was originally a ventriloquist puppet. Cold, heartless and bullyingly brutal, the cowboy came across horrifically onscreen, with Lasseter and his team of scriptwriters growing to hate the character.

“He was awful! The original Woody lacked any compassion or humanity. He was this cold, calculating monster whose hatred for Buzz had no context what-so-ever,” admitted Lasseter.

© Disney/Pixar

Although the character for Buzz didn’t face many problems, Woody’s inception went from bad to worse. Changing the puppet to a doll seemed to work better, and made Woody seem less frightening, yet for John Katzenberg – a producer from Disney – the cowboy still lacked “edge”. Katzenberg’s influence led to Woody become even crueller – one who relishes on pushing Buzz from a window, rather than the unfortunate incident happening by accident.

Bowing to pressure and facilitating the changes Katzenberg had demanded they showed a basic version of the then unnamed Toy Story to Disney executives. In an incident which has since been named as “Black Friday”, Disney hated the film even more than they had before Katzenberg’s changes and decided to shut production down.

Thankfully, Lasseter and his storytelling team, including Andrew Stanton – the mastermind behind Finding Nemo, Pete Doctor – who would go on to direct UP, and Joe Ranft – co-director of Cars, they managed to restore Lasseter’s original vision, which regained some of Disney’s trust in the project..

With Disney somewhat happy with the project, they still tried to intervene in elements of the movie. After suggesting that Toy Story should be a musical, Pixar began to hit back resisting the idea. “The movie would have been a really back musical, because it’s a buddy movie,” explained Joss Whedon – who helped pen aspects of the script – to Entertainment Weekly. “It’s about people who won’t admit what they want, much less sing about it. Woody can’t do an ‘I want’ number – he’s cynical and selfish, he doesn’t know himself. Buddy movies are about sublimating, punching an arm, ‘I hate you’. It’s not about open emotion.”

With the studio executives at Disney happy with the final story, and the feeling that the technological advances had been made to facilitate Lasseter’s vision, then came the voice casting. As if following a theme, this proved to be less than easy. Billy Crystal had been the top choice to voice Buzz Lightyear, so much so, that animators showed the actor a 22 second screen test of Buzz animated to Crystal’s lines from When Harry Met Sally. Sadly, it didn’t work in convincing the Hollywood heavyweight to sign on to the project – especially as Crystal had been told the original name for Buzz Lightyear as “Larry Lunar”.

“I hate when this comes up,” said Crystal over turning down the role. “It’s the only regret I have in the business of something I passed on.” Ironically, the actor would eventually become part of the Pixar family, voicing Mike Wazowski in Monster’s Inc.

© Disney/Pixar

With their top choice for the adventurous – and deluded – spaceman out of the picture, they ultimately turned to Tim Allen. With Allen’s hiring, the script had to undergo more changes, after the actor’s vocal tones didn’t match the initially “nice-guy” theme of Buzz’s character. The biggest change eventually became one of the biggest driving forces in Lightyear’s character arc throughout the entire franchise - altering Buzz from being fully aware he was a toy, to be convinced he was really a spaceman.

Whilst early development of Woody had proved problematic, casting Tom Hanks to voice the cowboy doll was less of a problem. Hollywood’s most-loved actor – similarly to Tim Allen – had a huge impact on Toy Story’s script. Noted for his talent for improvisation, Hank’s work was so good that some of his performances from the first movie, which weren’t used, have since been featured in the franchise’s three sequels.

When Toy Story premiered in 1995, it was an instant hit. Making history as the first ever fully completed computer-generated feature film, Pixar’s first foray into feature-length filmmaking had paid off. Yet what made Lasseter and his team most happy was how audiences had been captivated by the story and characters over the animation. The reaction helped form Pixar’s “defining creative principles” – storytelling.

That philosophy has been at the heart of the studios approach ever since, and has grounded their movies up until present day, yet Toy Story was the instigator.

© Disney/Pixar

The human and moving story of two waring toys who eventually realise they have much more in common than they initially dare to admit, captured the hearts of both children and adults. Twenty-five years after our first introduction to Woody and Buzz, Toy Story’s emotional core has cemented its status as a timeless classic. But for Lasseter, recounting to TIME over an interaction between a mother and son days after Toy Story’s premiere, the movie’s true impact was much deeper than box office numbers or longevity: “There was a little boy with his mom holding a Woody cowboy doll. The look on his face I will never forget. It was the first time I’d seen a character we created in the hands of somebody else. I think about it every day: that character no longer belonged to me, it belonged to him.”

Toy Story brought the world of our favourite toys to life. It ignited the imaginations of millions of children, whilst reminding adults it’s okay to be a child every now and then. It pushed the limits of filmmaking and animation – a frontier which is consistently evolving - even today. It inspired a generation to dare to dream, to believe the impossible is possible, and always reach “to infinity and beyond”.

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