You're going to hear and read a lot about Toy Story this month. You'll hear that every one of the movie's 1,500-plus shots is completely computer-animated, making this the first full CGA (computer-generated animation) feature film in history. You'll hear about the landmark alliance between Disney, the doyen of animated features, and Pixar, a Northern California house owned by Apple cofounder Steve Jobs that, for CGA, is the pixel of the litter. You'll hear a great deal about the technology that puts Sheriff Woody, a pull-string cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks, and Buzz Lightyear, a spaceman action figure with Tim Allen's tonsils, through their digitized paces.
These are all part of the Toy Story story, but there's another element that goes well beyond high-res gee-wizardry and corporate synergies. Simply put, Toy Story is an ode to toys. As such, it's designed to appeal not only to animation buffs and Disney stockholders but to anyone who ever straightened out a Slinky or overcooked a Creepy Crawler.
"A spaceman and a cowboy — what opposites!" exclaims director John Lasseter, who sought to make Toy Story a mismatched buddy film in the classic mold.
Just ask director John Lasseter about his favorite toys and watch his eyes mist over. "I was really into G.I. Joe and Hot Wheels." rhapsodizes Pixar's VP of creative development. "I had a pull-string Casper when I was a little kid. I still have it, but it's a bit brown now.
"Andrew Stanton [a character designer and one of Toy Story's co-writers, who also include Joss Whedon of Speed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer] would tie a G.I. Joe to a rock on the beach as the tide was coming in and shout. 'Tell us where the treasure is!' One time he gave a G.I. Joe an M80 as a backpack and yelled, "Run. Joe. run!' He blew Joe up."
Remember that M80 — it'll come up later. And bear in mind that, however gobbledy the gook gets about shaders, digitizers and rendering, the people who made Toy Story are basically folks whose love for Gumby and Lincoln Logs runs deep. Their job with this film is to marry that warmth and affection to CGA technology, as surely as old-fashioned Woody and space-age Buzz come to bond.