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Film review: Toy Story

Published: Saturday, Nov. 25 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

The entire audience will feel like the veritable "kid in a toy store" while watching Disney's new fully computer-animated feature "Toy Story."

The plot, about the rivalry between a pull-string cowboy and a space-age action figure, is deceptively simple, filled out out by startling, three-dimensional technical virtuosity.

But what really gives the film its oomph is the fact that it's loaded with sight gags, one-liners and amusing visual and verbal references. In fact, there isn't a funnier, faster-paced movie around, nor one that is more visually arresting.

Young suburbanite Andy is about to have a birthday, and since his family is moving to a new home, Mom decides to celebrate early. This sends Andy's favorite toy, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), an old-fashioned, wooden cowboy with a voice activated by a pull-string, into a panic. In fact, all the toys in Andy's room are concerned that they may be replaced by whatever Andy gets for his birthday.

Toys, of course, are quite neurotic. And why not? After all, they can come to life only after humans leave the room.

So, whenever Andy shuts his bedroom door, Woody and friends - Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), whose facial features keep falling off; a Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), who is stretched to his limit; an angst-ridden dinosaur named Rex (Wallace Shawn), a wise-acre piggy bank called Hamm (John Ratzen-ber-ger) and even a Little Bo Peep doll (Annie Potts), among others - interact with each other.

As the birthday party gets going, a reconnaissance mission (little green toy soldiers, who move awkwardly because their feet are stuck to platforms) is sent out to report on what new toys will be joining them.

To Woody's dismay, the major gift is a Buzz Lightyear doll (Tim Allen), an action figure he fears will displace him in Andy's affections. (The big joke with Buzz is that he doesn't know he's a toy - he thinks he's a real, space-traveling super-hero on an interplanetary mission.)

Eventually, through a series of convoluted events, Woody and Buzz find themselves in the hands of vicious Sid, a neighbor kid who gets his kicks out of mutilating (and mutating) toys - and they plot their escape.

Story aside, however, what makes the movie jump are the wall-to-wall gags. As Andy's presents are being unwrapped, Mr. Potato Head begins his mantra: "Mrs. Potato Head," "Mrs. Potato Head," "Mrs. Potato Head." When Woody pulls his gun from his holster and says to the Etch-A-Sketch, "Draw," a drawing of a gun appears on its screen. And there are also inside gags referring to "The Lion King" and Tim Allen's TV series "Home Improvement."

One could argue that using brand-name toys is little more than blatant product placement, but it was the right decision here, as it lends an air of authenticity - and for parents, nostalgia. (Seeing the Barrel of Monkeys, the fortune-telling Magic-8-Ball and the Troll certainly took me back.)

The voice performances are all terrific, and the artists have outdone themselves, making each toy an amazingly expressive, distinctive character. Oddly, the human characters do not fare so well, as computer animation can't quite deal with shapes that are not geometric. The result is that kids and adults portrayed here look as plastic as the toys. (It might have been wiser to keep human faces off-camera, instead just showing legs and arms, like the old Tom & Jerry cartoons used to do.)

But that's a minor complaint for a film as richly rewarding as this one. If ever there was a movie designed to lure audiences back again and again, this is it.

"Toy Story" is rated G.

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