Disney's Digital Delight

"Toy Story" is an eye-opener, and not just because it's the first entirely computer-animated feature film. I can safely say that before I saw this 77-minute expose I had no idea just how tough the life of a toy really was. It's not just the rough-and-tumble, getting whacked around by some little dork who has no consideration for your feelings. It's the insecurity, the paranoia, the anxiety! Like any member of the work force, you live in fear of being replaced by some newer model. Like a lover, you have the constant nagging suspicion that your owner's affection will be stolen by a rival. Sure, today he says you're his favorite toy. But tomorrow you might be cast into the purgatory of a trunk, until your plastic corrodes or your stuffing falls out. The horror, the horror!

Small wonder then that Woody, the pull-string cowboy (with the voice of Tom Hanks), is nervous about his Owner Andy's 7th birthday. What if Andy's new presents doom his old playthings to premature obsolescence? Will Woody still be top dog? The whole crew is near meltdown: Mr. Potato Head can't keep his nose in place (he's hoping there's a Mrs. Potato Head in his future); Rex the dinosaur, a nervous Nellie to begin with, is sure his days are numbered; not to mention Harem the piggy bank, Slinky Dog, the coiled wire canine, and Bo Peep, Andy's token female. They send out the Bucket O Soldiers on a reconnaissance mission to spy on Andy as he opens his presents, and hold their collective breath.

Sure enough, Woody's worst nightmare comes to pass. Enter plastic space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a square-jawed superhero with laser beams and pop-out wings--just the kind of flashy, multifunctional dude an old-fashioned cowboy couldn't compete with. It's bad enough that Buzz immediately becomes Andy's new favorite-and thus the new leader of the toy menagerie. But he's also a nut case: he actually thinks he's a space ranger sent to save the universe from the evil Emperor Zurg, and not a piece of merchandise made in Taiwan. He's got to be disposed of, thinks Woody, whose innocent corn-ball face masks a heart seething with resentment.

Walt Disney Pictures, col-laborating with the northern California computer-graphics company Pixar Animation, has done it again: come up with a winning animated feature that has something for everyone on the age spectrum. A tight and funny story. Three new Randy Newman songs in his best lyrical, sardonic mode. And a east of voices, led by superbly expressive performances from Hanks and Allen, that brings these computer-generated fantasies to delightfully cantankerous life. There's Don Rickles as the gruff Potato Head, Wallace Shawn as the meek dinosaur (the Cowardly Lion role), Annie Potts as the romantically inclined Bo Peep, R. Lee Ermey (the drill sergeant in "Full Metal Jacket") as the lead soldier and child actor Erik Von Detten as the sadistic young human Sid, every roy's nightmare. In his grungy room, he's assembled a collection of terrifying mutant toys that are the film's surrealist triumphs. Woody and Buzz, stranded far from home, become Sid's captives, and in their struggle to survive, they are forced to recognize their common humanity-or is it nonhumanity?

"Toy Story" pops off the screen with a vibrancy that's totally unlike traditional hand-painted animation. Harder edged, with a superrealist sheen, the images have such a tactile, three-dimensional presence that you have to keep reminding yourself they're not models photographed in space -that indeed none of the movie's images has been touched by human hands. "Toy Story" was conceived and directed by John Lasseter, who was a Disney animator before moving to Pixar, a company owned by Steven Jobs, who bought the computer division from Lucasfilm. This first flight into feature-film making--a glimpse of animation's future--is remarkably seamless. Lasseter and his team have resisted the temptation to merely show off the computer's limitless spatial freedom. "Toy Story" is a marvel because it harnesses its flashy technology to a very human wit, rich characters and a perception no computer could think of: that toys, indeed, are us.

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