Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pixar Edition. Toy Story.

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

As you can see I have decided to also include the Pixar films. They have been a part of the Disney family since their first film and are integrated within the company and parks.

Title: Toy Story

Year: 1995

Budget: $30 million

Box office: $373.5 million

Plot: A group of toys, owned by six-year-old Andy Davis, are caught off-guard when Andy’s birthday party is moved up a week, as Andy, his mother, and infant sister Molly, are preparing to move the following week. The toys’ leader and Andy’s favorite toy, Woody, has green army men, led by Sarge, to spy on the party, and report the results via baby monitors.


The toys are relieved but then Andy receives a surprise gift, an action figure named Buzz Lightyear, who thinks he is an actual space ranger.


Buzz impresses the other toys and Andy plays with him more, upsetting Woody. As Andy prepares for a family outing at Pizza Planet, his mother allows him to bring one toy. Fearing Andy will choose Buzz, Woody attempts to trap Buzz behind a desk, but accidentally knocks him out a window. The other toys accuse him of being jealous.


Before they can exact revenge, Andy takes Woody and leaves for Pizza Planet. When the family stops for gas, Woody finds that Buzz has hitched a ride on the car. They fight, and accidentally get left behind. They stow away on a pizza delivery truck heading to Pizza Planet. Buzz gets them stuck in a crane game, where they are salvaged by Andy’s neighbor, Sid Phillips.


Woody attempts to escape from Sid’s house, but Buzz, finally realizing he is a toy after watching a Buzz Lightyear TV ad, becomes depressed. Sid plans to launch Buzz on a firework rocket, but it starts to rain. The next morning, Woody and Sid’s mutant toy creations rescue Buzz and scare Sid into no longer abusing toys by coming to life in front of him.


They try to make it to the moving truck. Buzz gets left behind while saving Woody from Scud, Sid’s dog, and Woody tries rescuing him with Andy’s RC car. The other toys, thinking Woody eliminated RC as well, throw him off the truck. Buzz and RC retrieve Woody, and continue after the truck. Upon seeing Woody and Buzz together on RC, the other toys realize their mistake, and try to help them get back aboard, but RC’s batteries become depleted.


Woody ignites the rocket on Buzz’s back and manages to throw RC into the truck before they soar into the air. Buzz opens his wings to free himself from the rocket before it explodes, gliding with Woody to land safely into a box in the car, right next to Andy.

On Christmas Day, Woody and Buzz stage another reconnaissance mission to prepare for the new arrivals. They discover Andy’s new gift is a puppy.

A little history of Pixar… Pixar started in 1974 when New York Institute of Technology founder Alexander Schure created the Computer Graphics Lab. George Lucas approached them and offered them a job at his studio, which became The Graphics Group at Lucasfilm.


The team began working on special effects sequences with Industrial Light & Magic, such as the Genesis Effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the Stained Glass Knight in Young Sherlock Holmes. After the release of Return of the Jedi, they decided to branch out on their own. Seeking investors, Steve Jobs, who had recently been fired from Apple, paid $5 million of his own money to Lucas for technology rights and invested $5 million cash as capital into the company.


Walt Disney Studios licensed the Pixar Image Computer and software as part of their CAPS project. Pixar also started animating commercials. Then Pixar made a historic $26 million deal with Disney to produce three computer-animated feature films, the first of which was Toy Story.

Background: John Lasseter 1 was a former employer at Disney and had created Tin Toy. 2 Eisner and Katzenberg wanted to get him back, but he was loyal to Jobs and Pixar. A deal was struck where Pixar would produce films outside of the Disney system. A similar deal was made with Tim Burton, another former Disney employee, for The Nightmare Before Christmas. 3


Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter wrote the first few drafts. The story began taking shape, a ventriloquist dummy eventually turned into the cowboy Woody and Tin Toy became Buzz. To pump up the story they hired Joss Whedon 4 as a screen writer. He added the character of Rex and developed the dialogue.

They screened the first half of the movie for Katzenberg and other Disney executives on November 19, 1993, an event they later dubbed “The Black Friday Incident.” The general consensus was that Woody had been stripped of almost all charm. Even Tom Hanks thought the character was a jerk. They closed production while Stanton and Whedon rewrote the script. Steve Jobs kept the work going with his own personal funding. They had a new script with Woody more of a caring leader of the toys and production resumed.

Animation: 5 Twenty-seven animators worked on the film, using four hundred computer models.


Each character was created out of clay, rendered into the computer, and then points of articulation and motion control were coded for each character. 6

The art department gave each shot its color scheme and general lighting, then the layout department placed the models within the shot, programming camera movement. Lasseter rejected automatic lip-syncing, and animators spent a week per eight seconds of animation.


Afterwards, the animators would add shading, lighting, and visual effects. Each completed shot then went into rendering on a “render farm” of 117 Sun Microsystems computers. 7 Then a camera team recorded the frames onto film stock. Finally the film was sent to Skywalker Sound, where the sound effects were mixed with the music score.

Songs: “It would have been a really bad musical, because it’s a buddy movie. It’s about people who won’t admit what they want, much less sing about it. … Buddy movies are about sublimating, punching an arm, ‘I hate you.’ It’s not about open emotion.” – Joss Whedon


Randy Newman wrote three original songs for the film; developing the film’s signature song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” in one day.

Voice Cast:


Tom Hanks as Woody. Hanks is one of the most well-loved actors working today. He is known for Splash, Big, Turner & Hooch, A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, You’ve Got Mail, The Green Mile, Cast Away, Road to Perdition, Cloud Atlas, Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, and Sully . Hanks became one of only two actors who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in consecutive years 8 for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear. He is known for playing Tim “The Toolman” Taylor on Home Improvement, Mike Baxter on Last Man Standing and Santa Claus in The Santa Clause film trilogy. Allen’s other films include For Richer or Poorer, Jungle 2 Jungle, Galaxy Ques, Big Trouble, Christmas with the Kranks, The Shaggy Dog, Wild Hogs, Redbelt, and Crazy on the Outside.


Don Rickles 9 as Mr. Potato Head. He became well known as an insult comic. His prominent film roles included Run Silent, Run Deep and Kelly’s Heroes. He starred in the sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey and won a Primetime Emmy Award for the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. Jim Varney 10 as Slinky Dog. He is best known for his role as Ernest P. Worrell, who was used in numerous television commercial advertising campaigns and films, and also earned him Daytime Emmy Award. He played Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies a Cookie” Farnsworth in from Atlantis: The Lost Empire.


Wallace Shawn as Rex. He has appeared in My Dinner with Andre, The Princess Bride, Clueless, and The Incredibles . He has also appeared as Grand Nagus Zek in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Cyrus Rose in Gossip Girl. Annie Potts as Bo Peep. She is known for her roles in Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Pretty in Pink, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Who’s Harry Crumb?. She is also known for playing Mary Jo Jackson Shively on Designing Women. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 1994 for playing Dana Palladino on Love & War and currently portrays Meemaw on Young Sheldon.


John Morris as Andy. He reprised the role in both sequels and also leant his voice to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Erik von Detten as Sid. He reprised the role in Toy Story 3. He appeared in Escape to Witch Mountain, Brink!, The Princess Diaries, Complete Savages, and So Weird. He also leant his voice for Hercules and Tarzan.


Laurie Metcalf as Mrs. Davis. Metcalf is best known for the role of Jackie Harris on Roseanne. 11 Her television credits include 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Norm Show, Frasier, Desperate Housewives, and The Big Bang Theory. She won a Tony Award 12 for A Doll’s House, Part 2. She has starred in numerous films, including Desperately Seeking Susan, Uncle Buck, Internal Affairs, Pacific Heights, JFK, A Dangerous Woman, Leaving Las Vegas, Dear God, Scream 2, Meet the Robinsons, and most recently Lady Bird. R. Lee Ermey as Sergeant. He is a former United States Marine Corps staff sergeant and an honorary gunnery sergeant; during his tenure in the U.S. Marine Corps, he served as a drill instructor. He has appeared in Mississippi Burning, Prefontaine, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Fletch Lives, and Se7en. Child actor Sarah Freeman played Hannah, Sid’s younger sister, and magician Penn Jillette played the Buzz Lightyear TV commercial announcer.

Where in the world is John Ratzenberger?:


John Ratzenberger has appeared in every Pixar film to date. He plays piggy bank Hamm. He appeared in Firefox, A Bridge Too Far, Superman, Superman II, The Empire Strikes Back, Motel Hell, Outland, and Gandhi. He is best known for playing mail carrier Cliff Clavin on the sitcom Cheers.

A 113: A 113 refers to the classroom at Cal Arts where most of them studied and it makes an appearance in all of Pixar’s film. In this film, it is the license plate of the Davis’ car.

Pizza Planet Truck: This marks the first appearance of the Pizza Planet Truck, which makes an appearance in every Pixar film.


Critical Reception: “It got people to understand what toys are about. They’re true to their own character. And that’s just brilliant. It’s got a shot that’s always stuck with me, when Buzz Lightyear discovers he’s a toy. He’s sitting on this landing at the top of the staircase and the camera pulls back and he’s this tiny little figure. He was this guy with a massive ego two seconds before… and it’s stunning. I’d put that as one of my top ten films, period.” – Terry Gilliam

John Lasseter received an Academy Special Achievement Award in 1996 “for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film.” Additionally, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards, two to Randy Newman 13 and it was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay for the work by Joel Cohen, Pete Docter, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Alec Sokolow, Andrew Stanton and Joss Whedon. 14

Legacy: Toy Story has spawned three sequels: Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, and Toy Story 4, to be released in 2019. 15 As well as a direct-to-video animated film, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, as well as the animated television series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.

There have also been several specials based on the films.

  • Hawaiian Vacation
  • Small Fry
  • Partysaurus Rex
  • Toy Story of Terror!
  • Toy Story That Time Forgot

Video games:

  • Disney’s Animated Storybook: Toy Story
  • Disney’s Activity Center: Toy Story
  • Toy Story video game, for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, and PC
  • Toy Story Racer, for the PlayStation

In the parks: 16 Toy Story and its sequels have inspired multiple attractions at the theme parks of Walt Disney World and Disneyland:

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin 17 at the Magic Kingdom casts theme park guests as cadets in Buzz’s Space Ranger Corps. Guests ride through various scenes featuring Emperor Zurg’s henchmen, firing “laser cannons” at their Z symbols, scoring points for each hit.

Toy Story Mania at both Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland’s Disney California Adventure features a series of interactive carnival-type games hosted by the Toy Story characters.


Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be an entire section of the park set in Andy’s back yard. It’s set to open June 30th and features new rides including a roller coaster based on Slinky.


The All-Star Movie resort features large statues of Buzz and Woody.


In the Magic Kingdom, Woody meets with Jessie from Toy Story 2 in Frontierland and Buzz meets in Tomorrowland. In Hollywood Studios, Woody and Buzz meet in Pixar Place and the Green Army Men usually meet in front of Toy Story Mania


My take:

I don’t think that I am overstating things when I say that Toy Story was a seismic change in the animation industry, much in the same way that Snow White was. It’s more than the fact that it was the first full length computer animated film, but that it was so good as well. Just look at all the imitators.

First of all: what an amazing cast, each voice is distinct and just perfect for each character. Tim Allen gives just the right amount of misguided confidence, and even when Woody is acting like a jerk, you really can’t hate him, because he’s Tom Hanks

But even if the animation wasn’t groundbreaking, the story itself works. It’s a brilliant concept: the secret life of toys, who have the same anxieties, needs, and jealousies as the rest of us. They even have existential crisises

Next Week: We head to medieval Paris for Hunchback