[box cover]

Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box

Buena Vista Home Video

Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles,
Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Joan Cusack,
and Kelsey Grammer

Written by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Peter Doctor,
Joe Ranft, Ash Brannon, and Andrew Stanton

Directed by John Lasseter, Peter Doctor, and Lee Unkrich

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Review by Kerry Fall                    

What do toys do when no one is watching? That's what director John Lasseter and his ingenious team at Disney/Pixar set out to discover in their animated features Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Part adult nostalgia trip for Baby Boomers and part eye-popping kid's movies, these films bring heart, soul, and lots of laughs to a cast full of familiar and imaginative toys. And after some wait, Pixar and Buena Vista have delivered The Ultimate Toy Box, a comprehensive, definitive three-DVD set that is sure to satisfy the most ardent fans of these films and Pixar animation in general. This is a spectacular collection with two brilliant animated films and an array of terrific extras that will keep you — and your kids — engaged for hours.

The first film, Toy Story, explores the world of Cowboy Woody, favorite toy and best friend to his child owner, Andy. Woody rules the humble domain of Andy's bedroom, serving as kindly mentor and surrogate father to the other toys. But during Andy's birthday party, even Woody is unable to calm Andy's toys from panicked frenzy as the fear of being replaced by other, better birthday toys fills their plastic hearts with dread.

Enter Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Andy's newest and coolest toy. Delusional about his lowly status as "just a toy," Buzz thinks he really is a space commander who has landed on a foreign planet. As Buzz impresses the other toys with his hi-tech gizmos and gadgets, Woody sees his own status in the toy hierarchy begin to diminish. Buzz's flashing lights and push-button commands make Woody's pull-string yesterday's news. And when Andy casts Woody aside to make Buzz his new number-one plaything, Woody can no longer contain his jealousy and the two begin to square off.

The rivalry leads to various hi-jinks that put Buzz, Woody, and their strange collection of friends through various tests of courage, loyalty, and finally friendship. The toys are infused with an immense amount of charisma and personality, due to the outstanding voice talents of the entire cast. Tom Hanks' "ah-shucks" Woody and Tim Allen's brash but lovable Buzz make these toys come alive, while strong supporting characters like Don Rickles as a sarcastic Mr. Potato Head and Wally Shawn as a cowardly T-Rex keep the one-liners coming with comic precision.

Toy Story 2 picks up where the first film leaves off, bringing back all of these enjoyable characters and adding a few new ones. Originally scheduled for straight-to-video (as often happens with Disney animated sequels), Toy Story 2 got the green light for a theatrical release when Disney execs saw the potential in the second story and upped the budget. Lasseter's team revamped several angles of the movie, and the results are a film as engaging and creative as the first.

From the first film, we know birthday parties are a downer for toys, but what else can put them in a cold sweat? In Toy Story 2, it's a garage sale. When Woody attempts to rescue a fellow toy from the dreaded garage-sale toy box, a nasty toy-store owner (perfectly voiced by Wayne Knight) recognizes Woody as a collector's item and steals him away. Turns out Woody once had his own TV show and line of collectable toys named after him. Now a big Japanese corporation wants to place Woody and his show pals Jesse (Joan Cusack) and Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammar) on display in a museum.

This puts Woody in a philosophical toy dilemma — is it better to be adored from afar in a museum or played with by a loving child, even though you know the child will grow up and tire of you? But Buzz and rest of the gang set off to rescue Woody, and encounter some amusing adventures in the real world as well. Ultimately, they help Woody decide that living in the moment beats a life of fame and glory under glass.

I must admit that I went to see Toy Story 2 with trepidation. I thought Toy Story was one of the best films of 1995 and certainly one of the most creative kids' films to come around in a long time. The thought of what butchery might be performed to create a sequel made me shudder, but when Toy Story 2 turned out to be as wonderful as the first movie, I was amazed. These films are of the highest caliber of animation, but their real virtues are the delightful storytelling and humor.

But we all know the movies are great, and bound to be great on DVD — is this Ultimate Toy Box up to the task? If you watch the two mid-1980s animated short films "Luxor Jr." and "Tin Toy" (both included) you'll see why Disney execs got so excited about what was going on over at the Pixar Animation Studios. Director John Lasseter is our entertaining and enthusiastic host through most of the interviews and features here, and you might want to start with the third "Supplemental Features" disc that contains "The History of Toy Story and Toy Story 2" — a cohesive retrospective on the evolution of the whole Toy Story concept wherein Lasseter and the others take you from first concepts to the challenge of producing a Toy Story sequel. Storyboards, music, sound effects, treatments, character designs, casting, computer graphics &3151; these are presented in a near-linear fashion for an entertaining start-to-finish Toy Story overview. "History of Toy Story and Toy Story 2" also offers insights like how Pixar first pitched Disney and how ideas originally conceived for Toy Story showed up in Toy Story 2, as well as presenting details about casting and character development. By talking you through early treatments, storyboard-to-film comparisons, animation production notes and demos, you see the care that was taken to develop characters and a well-constructed storyline.

But, of course, the story is only, well, half the story — it was the groundbreaking animation that made everyone sit up and take notice. So Disney also offers a mini-history of animation, and details some of the large and small challenges that faced the film's creative team as they problem solved their way through uncharted technological waters. All this gives you a real sense of being included as a Toy Story insider. The fun behind the fun is really evident here — not in typical Disney Pollyanna fashion, but from the delight the filmmakers share as they explain their craft.

The two feature-discs themselves have more goodies. For starters, the audio commentaries are excellent — funny, entertaining, and just as enjoyable as the films themselves. You learn a wealth of details about the movies, and the filmmakers are enthusiastic and well spoken as well as informative. And both commentaries succeed where others so often fail, enhancing the viewer's knowledge of the films in order to make them a richer experience. Also on board are an "On-set Interview with Buzz and Woody" as well as "Toy Story Treats" (a series of interesting supplemental 10-15-second vignettes showing the characters in funny situations). Both of these are really only worth one watching once — mainly because they are frustratingly short.

The Toy Story disc has a "Making of Toy Story" feature that has more information specific to this first film. I found this feature was more interesting after I watched the "History of Toy Story and Toy Story 2" on the third disc. A "Multi-Language Reel" offers snippets of the film voiced in different languages, as Disney released the film in more than 30 different spoken languages. On the Toy Story 2 disc there are outtakes, and I was hoping for some new ones, but unfortunately these are the same outtakes that appear at the end of the film. Finally, both films look stunning — if you have a large television you will be particularly impressed with the anamorphic transfer with its vibrant colors. Audio is terrific as well, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix giving great clarity to the multi-layered sound effects and Randy Newman's scores. Even without all the features, these two films are so enjoyable that they lend themselves to repeated watching on DVD. With this wealth of extras, you'll find watching the film that much more engaging.

— Kerry Fall

Disc One: Toy Story

Disc Two: Toy Story 2

Disc Three: Supplements

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