Was it Frank Sinatra that said “You’ve come a long way, baby…”? Probably not. But this rings true when you talk about the status of animation and movies. From the very first cartoon drawings of Mickey Mouse to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to the Computer generated creatures of Toy Story and Toy Story 2…animation has certainly arrived. Some five years ago (yes, it’s really been that long) Toy Story hit theaters with a bang. Featuring the voices of then (and still) box-office champions Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, Toy Story was an unprecedented hit. It was a few years later that the same team came out with another movie, but this time featuring different characters. Called “A Bug’s Life”, this focuses on the world of ants and their eternal struggle to make in the “world”. So a sequel was inevitable, and last Holiday season, Toy Story 2 graced the screen. Featuring the same cast, plus a few new members, Toy Story 2 was one of the few sequels that was as good, if not better, than the original movie. Of course, the magic that was a movie is now a DVD (a few, actually) and Disney has taken a cue from their impressive “A Bug’s Life” success to create what could be the best DVD set…ever. The Ultimate Toy Box contains just over nine hours of material that give you everything you could want to know about two of the most successful animated movies of all time. But first…what are these movies all about?
Toy Story starts out in a boys bedroom. We meet the characters of Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Woody (Tom Hanks) and others right off the bat. It’s not long that we discover that Andy (the owner of all the toys) is having a birthday party and is also in the midst of a move to a new house. As a result, the toys are nervous that Andy will get a new toy and one or several of them will not “make the cut” as a toy. As fate would have it, the very last present Andy gets is none other than the newest, coolest toy on the market…Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)! Buzz has all the gadgets, gizmos and every accessory that you could possibly think of, the only problem is that he doesn’t realize he’s a toy! All the other toys in Andy’s room generally accept Woody as their leader, Woody being Andy’s favorite toy and all. It’s quite a system that they have, staff meetings and special programs throughout the week. It’s clear that this movie isn’t just for the kiddies. Under the threat of being dethroned, Woody and the other toys have to accept that Buzz is now the new, favorite toy of Andy. So all of this is all well and good, right? Well, lest we forget about Sid, the boy next door who loves torture innocent toys just because he has nothing better to do. Woody has become jealous as Buzz’s playtime with Andy increases, so in a sequence of events, Buzz is thrown out the window and both he and Woody end up at the Pizza Planet (essentially, Showbiz or Chuck E Cheese). Now it’s up to the other toys to try and get Buzz back. But what Toy Story shows us is that the outside world can be a very dangerous place.
In Toy Story 2, we see that the gang is still here, along with a lot of other familiar faces (and a few new ones). We see that everything seems to be ok, but in a strange turn of events, Woody is stolen by a toy collector. It turns out that Woody is part of a foursome, and is a very rare, old toy. The other toys are worth a lot, especially as a set, and it’s their dream to finally be out of storage. Along with Woody, we meet Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Bullseye the Horse and Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) the Prospector. The fact that Woody has been abducted is the driving force behind Toy Story 2. The other characters must travel across town to get Woody and bring him back to where he rightfully belongs. What Woody is undergoing is something he has never been accustomed to, though. Having a bad arm (the stitches came loose), Woody is polished and fixed up good as new and is actually excited about going overseas to be part of a collection. What the film tries to accentuate, though, is that the love of a child, and to be played with as a toy, is more fun than being admired as part of some collection. We learn a lot more about Woody, and see that they put his mug on just about anything…from bubble blowers, to towels to board games. Woody and his “roundup” are it! It’s hard to say, but Toy Story 2, with a larger and more diverse cast, is just as good or better than it’s predecessor.
After watching these films back to back, I have to say that first and foremost, they are very, very clever. Obviously written by some pretty creative folks, once you get past how the movies were made, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 have a little something for everybody. These films appeal to little kids, but some jokes tend to have hidden meanings read into them, and thereby appeal to a much larger audience. Toy Story 2 was financially successful that it’s counterpart, which is a rarity…especially in Hollywood. Disney has pulled out all the stops for this new DVD version of two of the most anticipated titles to hit the format. For those of you who will just watch the movies (over and over…as kids like to do), then a bargain edition of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 is available without any of the supplements. It also features a full-frame version of Toy Story 2 and both have the same audio and video specs. Of course, technology is a wonderful thing, and Toy Story and Toy Story 2 have an added supplement disc that has basically everything you need and/or want to know about the making of the films. Included is an overview of the features (also outlined below in detail), which was another nice touch by Disney. All in all, The Ultimate Toy Box is quite a treat, though it’s for a little older audience, as I don’t know many kids who like to listen to Director’s Commentaries. You will not be disappointed, though! Highly recommended!
Video: How does it look?
It’s become somewhat of a standard that when we see these computer animated films, it’s automatic to give them a ‘5″ star rating. Well “Toy Story” started it all and with the movie being 15 years old now (how time flies), it’s still one of the most pristine-looking things I’ve ever put in my Blu-ray player. Disney presents this 1.77:1 AVC HD transfer in all of its animated glory and I’m sure I’ll run out of adjectives to describe just how good it looks. Like “Up”, “Monsters, Inc.” and every other Pixar movie on Blu-ray, “Toy Story” utterly oozes what so many other titles aim to be – perfect. Colors are so bold and vibrant they almost seem to leap off the screen. The yellow of Woody’s costume, the blue of Andy’s room and so forth. Amazing. Simply wonderful. You’ll no doubt see this on display at home theater stores and big box stores as well. It’s a great way to say “Hey, look at what my TV can do”. This is a reference-quality disc.
Audio: How does it sound?
As impressive as the video is, the audio manages to hold its own as well. The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is among the strongest out there and you’d figure when watching, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon that you wouldn’t be too impressed. You’d need to think again, naturally. The LFE have a heyday adding so much depth and dimension to some of the scenes. Consider when Buzz’s rocket explodes at the end of the movie, the “thumps” that are present throughout the film as well. The surrounds are surprisingly active, chiming in at just the right time with some clicks, whirrs and about every other sound imaginable to add some ambiance. Vocals are surprisingly strong as well. This is an amazing soundtrack and it’s easy to neglect the audio when you’re watching the video on screen. Let me assure you, though, the audio holds its own against the video.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A few years ago, Disney issues “The Ultimate Toy Box” and then later on stand alone versions of those films. They had tons of supplements, all of which are included on this Blu-ray disc. I won’t re-invent the wheel, so you can check out all of the supplements that are present on the Blu-ray disc from the previous DVD right here. What you get with the Blu-ray version are some new supplements, all shown in glorious HD. The first segment is a preview of “Toy Story 3” which is sure to be a crowd-pleaser this summer. There’s a bit more on the “Toy Story 2” disc which we’ll cover in that review. We get some stories from the early days of Pixar and some strange ones at that. John Lasseter evidently drove a pretty bad car and Steve Jobs bought him a new one. They had some pretty fierce scooter races around their warehouse and one of the animators won a ticket to Vegas after he shaved off his body hair and dressed up like a baby. Ok. Moving on we get some rough sketches of the film in its very early days with a very nasty Woody (who threw Buzz out the window). And we see the filmmakers reminisce about the production and what it meant to their futures. Lastly we do get a standard DVD and digital copy of the film as well as plenty of trailers.