'Toy Story' looks funny, feels great Movie review: Computer wizardry is the least of this delightful movie's pleasures.

November 22, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

It's where the toys are.

It's toy meets toy, toy loses toy, toy gets toy.

It's the toy from Ipanema or at least Pixar Inc., a sub-contractor of the Walt Disney Company.

It's "Toy Story" and if you don't sit there bleeding bliss, exhaling pleasure, gliding on happiness and sucking down the nectar of delight, make a note to yourself never to go to the doctor's again because he'll have to tell you that you're dead.

Who'd have thought it?

Certainly not this critic, who attends most screenings in a pique of high cynicism, convinced all movies are guilty until they prove themselves innocent. This one looked like a potential catastrophe: Set in the never-convincing universe of computer animation, where everything looks strangely glittery and weirdly mechanistic, it begins with a blast of product placements so intense you're afraid you'll go into sticker shock. Is it a movie or a commercial for "Playskool Tinkertoy Construction System"?

But then, suddenly, two minutes into the blasted thing, these adult right-brain objections vanish into the vapors and that warm sensation cascading downward from the crown like mulled ambrosia appears to be nothing more than the purest elixir of enjoyment.

The movie is set in a childhood fantasy world which eternally postulates that when the kid is out of the room, the toys immediately spring to life and begin to interact in a dense social structure. When the kid approaches, they immediately throw down toward abject stillness again. This also explains why the darned things are never where you leave them!

But the big news in "Toy Story" is that geniuses behind it -- producers Edwin Catmull and Steven Jobs and supervising technical director William Reeves -- have understood almost from the start that the technology, which is wondrous and eerie, still isn't enough. In fact, once the shock of seeing inanimate objects pull themselves from the floor and locomote with the precision and grace of bounding leopards vanishes, something else better happen or it's going to be a long 90 minutes.

And something does, making it the shortest 90 minutes in many a moon. The animators -- or are they keyboard techies? -- do their best work not with the moving bodies or the complex, largely believable environment, but with the subtlest of regions, the faces. Both our heroes -- Woody the cowboy, a vain popinjay whose sense of alpha-maleness compels him toward stupidity and thence to redemption; and Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger with the physique of Stallone after steroid therapy, the heroic posture of a square '50s hero and an ego like the Graf Zepplin -- come instantly alive by emotional reality of their mugs and their brilliantly choreographed and expressive eye movements. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Tom Hanks and Tim Allen supply warm and expressive voices with exactly the right timber.

The plot is an amusing amplification on boyhood fantasies answering questions we all held until too much education or beer or aerobics pushed them out of our brains. Do old toys worry about being usurped by new toys? You bet. Do they fear destruction by malevolent children? Completely. Do they have sex? Apparently, but the movie discreetly avoids watching Bo Peep and Woody at tryst time.

The movie also has classical ambitions. Underneath everything it's a fantasy of male bonding that can trace its lineage back through "Star Wars" to Huck and Jim, to the merry boys of the Pequod and finally to that wine-dark sea where Ulysses and the lads tried to find the short way home. In this case, the movie is contrived so that the hubris in Woody's soul gets himself and new rival Buzz exiled to the harsh world beyond the bedroom door, and they must fight heaven and earth, and learn the love of men in order to survive and prevail. It's John Ford in the keystroke language of qwerty!

Have I made it clear, however, how much fun this sucker is? It's that rarest of all films, the one that can unify, not divide, the generations, as both jaded teen-agers and their more innocent parents can connect with it. And of course for the kids, it's pure balm from heaven.

'Toy Story'

Starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen

Directed by William Reeves

Released by Walt Disney

Rated G

****

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