Just in case you were also wondering what happened to all the toys that went missing when you were a kid, the answer is clear: They escaped.
“Toy Story” is the kind of children’s movie adults can enjoy just as much, because it very cleverly mines deep deposits of nostalgia from the memory banks. That may be the reason the 1990s bedroom of young Andy is populated by playthings of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. If Andy was a real boy of his time, there would be a computer and a TV/Nintendo, and not much else.
The voicings of the various toys add to the enjoyability. Tom Hanks was the biggest star of the moment when “Toy Story” came out, and he works with that likeability by creating a stable center as Woody the cowboy doll. Don Rickles has the screen role of his career (not that “Kelly’s Heroes” was Oscar material) as a prickly Mr. Potato Head, while Jim Varney and R. Lee Ermey are standouts in the supporting cast.
Tim Allen gives the movie’s best performance, as a newfangled toy that takes Woody’s place in Andy’s heart but can’t bring himself to accept that he’s just a plastic plaything. It’s the role of the story that gives him the best lines (“I don’t believe that man has ever been to medical school”), but Allen delivers them with real panache. He more than holds his own, and you kind of see where he took off with that note-perfect William Shatner parody he perfected on screen in the underrated “Galaxy Quest.”
While this movie’s use of computer animation makes it a milestone, it neither represents the most innovative use of the technology or the cleverest Pixar-ated treatment of a story. “A Bug’s Life” seems a more worthy apex; that story was funnier, worked better on its own merits, and used the animation to better effect. But given how novel all of this was in 1995, “Toy Story” could have been a lot less thought-through than it was, and still made gobs of money. The fact it is instead invested with real heart, and can be watched and enjoyed today just as easily as when it debuted nearly 10 years ago, is a tribute to the people behind it.
I like Randy Newman’s music, just not here, and while the animation textures are surprisingly lifelike, there are places, especially with Scud the dog but also with the baby’s drool, where it falls short. The story itself gets kind of rote with repeat viewings, though the transition to Sid’s bedroom and its sad mutilated toys is a genius moment. So too are the vending machine aliens, who gape in rapt wonder at the judgment of “the claw.” If it reached for pathos a little less often, “Toy Story” would be an undeniable classic.
As it is, it is very, very good, the kind of film that’s only good for children, even (especially?) the inner ones.