The Twitter account @OnePerfectShot is a truly inspiring page to scroll through. There’s something immensely satisfying about seeing a screenshot that not only perfectly represents the movie, but just looks good too. Pixar movies take inspiration from a huge range of movies, both classic and modern, and you can see these influences sprinkled throughout the studio’s work. Cinematography does exist in the world of animation, and a whole lot of thought goes into it.
We’re going to go through each Pixar movie in order, each of us hand selecting the stills that we find to be the most iconic. That’s right – we’re choosing our own ‘one perfect shots’, and we’re starting off with Toy Story, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary today!
With time, seams inevitably begin to show. The technology Pixar uses has come a long way since their first feature length film, where control over elements like texture, shadows, and light was limited. The Woody and Buzz we see in the first Toy Story don’t look drastically different from their later installment counterparts, but they are still noticeably less polished, less delicately rendered.
None of this however comes to mind when watching a sequence like this one, where Woody at last acts upon his selfish resentment towards Buzz. Instead of limitations, just from this still alone, I’m reminded of how well-crafted and beautiful the film is. Animation after all is not simply the look or style of the film, but the composite of atmosphere, environment, character movement and interaction, and of course, story. Even when I was too young to understand why the visuals were so appealing, I was always drawn to the golds, pinks, and purples of the sunset outside Andy’s room. Now that I’m older I can see how those colors underline the building tension to create a dramatic mood. I also appreciate the framing as well, how the ever recognizable cloud wallpaper shares center stage with Woody’s narrow-eyed profile, and how to the left we see the pinboard that sets off the chain of events that launch Buzz out of the window hinted at on the right. It’s the perfect image to mark the turn of the plot.
But all that technical consideration aside, more than anything else this moment is just plain amusing. I can’t remember my first reaction to seeing Woody’s guile in play but with every repeat viewing the absurdity of his pettiness gets even funnier. A lot of serious work went into creating this moment of Woody coming up with a seriously unheroic idea, and it’s a delight to look at.
Toy Story is a simple movie, but somehow manages to carry a series of pretty intense plots: betrayal, loss, an identity crisis… Buzz coming to terms with his identity is a huge part of the movie, but would probably be considered a ‘sub-plot’ by some. The more I watch Toy Story, the more I realise that Buzz’s struggle with who he is ends up being the most hard-hitting storyline.
This still brings back those feelings brought about by Randy Newman’s “I Will Go Sailing No More”, with a pang of irony and humour, all while being perfectly and very satisfyingly framed.
The still I chose for Toy Story isn’t meaningful in any way, just funny. But it was hard narrowing my choice down to just one. Although the film was released in 1995, before computer animation was as sophisticated as it is today, the visuals are still impressive. I think this is the best in the series. I was just four years old when Toy Story was released. I didn’t know that it was making history. But now as then, it’s a movie I don’t get tired of watching.
Toy Story is that rare Pixar movie that doesn’t make me bawl my eyes out. It’s not emotional at all, and yet, it was the first full length feature made by the studio. So I just had to choose a shot that makes me laugh. Woody has just challenged Buzz to fly around Andy’s room, and Buzz readily accepts. His face is determined while Woody is left a bit dumbfounded watching him go. This of course, after Buzz hits him with those terillium carbonic alloy wings. And we know that Woody’s feelings will be more or less the same with this Mr. Lightbeer around. So to me, it perfectly encapsulates the central relationship between these two and is one of the reasons Toy Story is unsurpassed. A story about friends is good, but enemies to friends is even better.
Choosing a singular screencap from Toy Story was difficult but in the end, I chose one that felt the most significant to me. In this still, Woody and Buzz had just landed from their most iconic scene. They felt victorious because after their troubles and tribulations throughout the movie, they had finally made their way back to the person they loved the most — Andy. This screencap was the exact moment that they both decided “Hey, he’s alright”. To me, this was the beginning of their beautiful friendship. A friendship that would be referenced for years to come. Sometimes I wonder… Did the Toy Story crew know that they would be creating a legacy that would span decades?
The history behind Toy Story is so interesting. As the first Pixar/Disney collaboration and as the first feature-length animated film that was entirely computer generated, there was a lot of pressure behind this project. So much so, if it failed, Pixar would not exist today. I believe this is what drove the larger effort into creating an effective storyline. Even if the technology was lacking, audiences around the world would be too wrapped up in Buzz and Woody’s dynamic. And from there on out, Pixar would become known for their story and their technology. An amazing feat that started with two toys and their rivalry.
25 years since its release, and Toy Story is still being referenced in 2020. If you haven’t revisited the movie in a while, today is the perfect day. Happy anniversary, Toy Story!