The Influence Of Toy Story On The Film Industry

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“To infinity, and beyond!” (Toy Story 1995). Buzz Lightyear, a talking, macho, superhero toy, belts this phrase out in the movie Toy Story. In Toy Story, a boy named Andy has a plethora of toys, his favorite doll being a floppy, cowboy sheriff named Woody (who is also the antagonist in the movie). Now, all the toys Any possesses come to life and can experience emotions, talk, and can even walk. For Andy’s birthday, he received a new, flashy Buzz Lightyear action figure. Woody notices Buzz taking a great portion of Andy’s attention, and becomes overwhelmingly jealous. The toys overhear Andy’s parents telling him that he can only take one toy to eat with him at Pizza Planet, and Woody’s ever-consuming jealousy causes him to try and get rid of Buzz. Woody pushes Buzz out of Andy’s bedroom window so that he is certain Andy will take him to Pizza Planet, which he does. Woody does not know that (a now very angry) Buzz has hitched a ride on the back of the family’s car, so when Woody finally realizes that Buzz has found a way to come along, he hops out of the family car at the gas station when Andy’s mom is gassing up the car and the two fight it out on the gas station parking lot. Andy’s mom gets into the car after she finishes filling the car up (in the meantime, the two are still fighting) and she and drives away. As a result, both toys are left behind and must now team up to overcome various hardships and trials and find their way back home. The phrase, “To infinity, and beyond!” (Toy Story 1995) is more than a popular line out of the movie, however. This phrase perfectly foreshadows the future for computer animation’s success in movies, and this essay will explain how the impact this first-ever computer-animated feature film affected the film industry as well as its historical influences within the movie.

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In America on November 22, 1995, Toy Story’s first-ever screenings were occurring, and the movie carried high expectations as it was the first entirely computer-animated film. However, some computer animation had been introduced in bits and pieces of films before Toy Story “including the ballroom scene in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast” (The ‘toon titles, 2012). However, the idea for a completely computer-animated film came roughly twenty years prior to the movie Toy Story releasing. The genius behind the magnificent idea and creation of the computer-animated film has always adored cartoons and animations. When asked about where his passion for animation comes from, John Lasseter said as a young boy, ‘I realized people made cartoons for a living!’. From there, he went on to be “one of the first eight students in Disney’s animation program at California Institute of the Arts (Tim Burton was a classmate) … Lasseter went on to work for Disney after graduation in 1979”. After nearly twenty years of Lasseter’s idea of a completely computer-animated film being disregarded and shut down by Disney, “he [John Lasseter] moved on to Pixar and tested the technique on animated shorts. Disney struck a deal with Pixar to make the first-ever computer-animated feature, Toy Story. It went on to gross $361 million worldwide and would forever change the face of animated films”.

The movie was wildly successful, to say the least. Within its first year of being released, the movie was a blockbuster and won an Academy Award for Special Achievement and was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay – the first animated film ever even nominated for the award (The Real Toys, 2017). Behind the film’s success were new and improved computer-generated imagery as well as a sense of nostalgia living within the film itself.

According to Penn State University:

A process called rendering is used in making CGI movies. It is the process of generating an image from a model, by using computer programs. A scene file contains objects in a defined data structure; it would contain geometry, viewpoint, texture, lighting, and shading information as a description of the scene. The data contained in the scene file is then passed to a rendering program to be processed and output the output is the CGI scene.

The amount of work it takes to create a short clip with computer-generated imagery may seem simple to those who are unaware of the process. Instead of a camera operator physically filming the actors and actresses with a boom operator recording audio on a boom, the “camera operator” is the person doing the rendering of the plain models and adding various details in movement, lighting, and camera angles in a virtual three- dimensional world. On top of the painstaking task of ensuring each scene is generated to perfection, voice recordings are layered over the imagery to make the film have audio and voices. The voice recordings must be in perfect unison with the imagery in order to create an accurately generated film. As one can imagine, making an entire movie using this technique is going to take some valiant effort.

Another aspect behind the success of the film was the nostalgia placed within the movie itself. Not only was Toy Story a family-friendly film about toys which would appeal to children, but the toys themselves that were placed in the movie delivered a sense of nostalgia to appeal to the older, adult audience. Several popular toys and games that are featured in the movie are Mr. Potato Head (a real toy that was introduced in 1952), Slinky (introduced in 1957), Toy Army Men (introduced after World War 2), Etch a Sketch (introduced in 1961), a Barrel of Monkeys (introduced in 1966), and Woody, the antagonist, is a western themed cowboy sheriff. In the 1950s, Western films and games were especially popular. Each of these toys plays a key role in Woody and Buzz Lightyear’s safe return to Andy’s house, and the fact that the screenwriters and directors gave such nostalgic, classic toys big roles in the movie (especially Woody) goes to show that they are appealing to more than just children; a critical, well thought out move by John Lasseter and his screenwriters.

In addition to the toys being nostalgic for adults, the toys also cover the geo-industrial facts of toys in the 1990s. Bill Brown states it best in his journal article How to Do Things with Things (A Toy Story) by saying:

By 1995, the life that the life of American toys occults begins with a story of their international production. Toy Story gesturally and comically marks the geo-industrial facts…The Piggy Bank asks the new toy, the space ranger, “Where you from, Singapore, Hong Kong?” and the space ranger, Buss Lightyear, finally succumbs to recognition of himself as a mere toy when he reads, inside his wrist monitor, “Made in Taiwan.” To be an American toy in the 1990’s is to have come from elsewhere.

Brown then goes on to explain that The U.S. International Trade Commission started explaining why there were a greater variety of toys coming from other countries at that time, which essentially boils down to (in layman’s terms): America was moving towards cheaper labor and more product production at the time. Not only did Toy Story accomplish making the toys historically accurate and nostalgic for the older audience, but also related the toys to the younger audience at the time by portraying all the “classic American toys” to come from production sites in other countries. The mindfulness John Lasseter has in this aspect is superb and ties two different generations into one, allowing the audience from both age spectrums to be able to relate to one another through a common film.

Another historical aspect that was relevant to the time was that in the 1990s, the world started advancing in the world of technology (particularly video games). Brown does a great job of explaining the relation of the new world of video games and the traditional world of normal toys in the movie Toy Story by stating:

Though the film personifies the tension between novelty and obsolescence as the tension between the latest battery-operated space ranger (Buzz Lightyear) and the pull-string cowboy (Woody), what makes the film feel so anachronistic and nostalgic is that, for preadolescent boys in the 1990’s, video games and computer games, for instance, Disney Interactive’s own Toy Story CD-ROM game) threaten to render the toys depicted in the movie Toy Story (including piggy banks and toy soldiers, Mr. Potato Head and Etch A Sketch) all but obsolete.

The world was starting to move towards more advanced technology rather than traditional toys, which is another historical aspect captured in the movie (as Brown explains, the tension and struggles Woody has with Buzz Lightyear replacing him).

Aside from Toy Story’s historical aspects and relations, the visual effects artists (VFX) do a magnificent job portraying moods throughout the film using lighting. More somber parts of the film are darker and gloomier with smooth and slow camera movements along with quieter, more monotone voices from the characters. More exciting or action-packed scenes are well-lit, fast camera movements and dramatic angles, loud, sporadic voices from characters along with intense music at times.

In conclusion, it is the combination of Toy Story’s historical components and relations as well as its success in the unexplored world of an entirely computer-animated film that contributes to its blockbuster success. It succeeded so much so, that Pixar’s next five completely computer-animated film releases “grossed more than 2.7 billion dollars worldwide” (The Pixar-Disney, n.d.). Clearly, the film left a lasting impact on the audience viewing it and proved to be an enjoyable, refreshing, movie experience. All in all, the movie Toy Story greatly impacted the film industry, all while including historical aspects and influences relevant to the 1990s and even 1950s. Not only did the film wildly succeed in the 1990s, its impact was so significant that it set the tone for computer-animated films that would be released after it. It is safe to say that John Lasseter’s revolutionary idea of a fully computer-animated film succeeded “To infinity and beyond!” (Toy Story, 1995).

Bibliography

  • Booth, C. (1998). The Wizard Of Pixar. TIME Magazine, 152(24), 100. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=1339631&site=ehost-live
  • Brown, B. (1998). How to Do Things with Things (A Toy Story). Critical Inquiry, 24(4), 935-964. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344113
  • The Pixar-Disney Animated Films. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2019, from https://www.filmsite.org/pixaranimations.html
  • The Real Toys of ‘Toy Story’. (2017, December 8). Retrieved April 20, 2019, from https://www.thehenryford.org/explore/blog/the-real-toys-of-toy-story
  • The ‘toon titles that redefined the Walt Disney brand. (2012, Nov 01). USA Today Retrieved from https://library.semo.edu:2443/login?url=https://library.semo.edu:4836/docview/1125264057?accountid=38003
  • Singh, A. (n.d.). Technology Behind the Magical World of Pixar. Retrieved April 20, 2019, from http://sites.psu.edu/avidesigns/2013/11/22/technology-behind-the-magical-world-of-pixar/
16 August 2021

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