Toy Story 1 & 2 Blu-ray review

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It might seem odd that the first two Toy Story films are so often mentioned in the same breath as the Godfather epic; though the films share little in common, there is a unifying bond – in both cases, a masterpiece was actually improved upon in a sequel.  The rarity of this occurrence is well documented among cineastes, putting these 2 disparate sets of films in the same exclusive club.  Disney is certainly hoping not to have Godfather III luck this summer, when the heavily anticipated Toy Story 3-D arrives in theaters; in the meantime, they’ve given fans a treat to hold them over – Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on Blu-Ray.  Now, we won’t waste time with a plot synopsis – if the story of Woody, Buzz and the rest of young Andy’s toys isn’t already familiar, than willful ignorance can be the only culprit.  Instead we’re going to concentrate on the contents of the new discs and see how they stack-up against the previous releases, including the extremely comprehensive (as far as supplemental go) Ultimate Toy Box release.
Back in 1995, the release of Toy Story was a not-so-minor milestone in the process of modern animation.  Not only was it the first Pixar feature film (made on a relatively modest budget with a staff of just over 100 people); it was also the first film to be entirely created using digital animation.  1995 might not seem that long ago, but in terms of technology it could well be a lifetime; its initial home video release was on VHS and Laserdisc, and it would take the 2000 home video release of its sequel, Toy Story 2, before the films received DVD treatment.  It would be another decade, however, before the films received a home video release that replicates the images the original animators created more than 15 years ago.  Both previous DVD sets were considered to be high quality releases of the moment, so our expectations were caught unawares by the near-ethereal image quality present on the Blu-Ray discs.  Looking beyond the bright, bold colors, we were absolutely gob-smacked by the sumptuous textures.  Details that were always present but had been hidden away by 480p transfers (the grain of the wood in Andy’s headboard, the stitching on Jessie and Woody’s vests, or the scales on Rex) now leapt off the screen as if rendered in 3-D (and, in spite of the recent 3D re-release, neither film was shot in that format).  In fact, the image quality is so pristine that some might not even notice the new DTS lossless audio track, adding yet another layer of dimensionality to the show.   
When we first saw Toy Story, the seemingly dull rendering of Andy (the only human that we see enough to concentrate on) made us dubious of the capabilities of digital animation; sure, you can animate inanimate objects, but are actual human beings that far beyond their range?  With the BD release you can finally see not only additional detail in Andy himself but clear evidence that the animators goal was to imbue the plastic toys with as much – or even more – personality than the humans of the world.  Since their release, the art and science of digital animation has grown at a geometric rate; Pixar’s continuing success eventually forced Disney to re-think their own approach to animation, and saw other studios like Fox and DreamWorks opening their own lucrative animation studios, though none would enjoy Pixar’s level of critical and box office success. 
Now, obviously, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 belong on a very short list of DVDs that you can find in virtually every household – regardless of the presence of children.  And we certainly feel that Disney’s new Blu-Ray discs operate at a reference standard that no serious videophile should be without, but the completist will want to take note that not all previously released bonus features made the jump to Blu-Ray.  On the plus side, there are quite a few new features present on the discs – all of which are in HD:
Toy Story bonus features:

  • The Story: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off
  • Paths to Pixar: Artists – a series of shorts in which Pixar’s artists discuss how they arrived at the company
  • Studio Stories – a series of ‘life at Pixar’ shorts that will make you hate your own job that much more
  • Buzz Takes Manhattan – the debut of the Buzz balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade
  • Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw – an early edit of the film that nearly strangled digital animation in the cradle 

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Toy Story 2 bonus features:

  • Characters: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station
  • Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists – same as above, but the techies
  • Studio Stories – more stories to remind you that you don’t work at Pixar
  • Celebrating our Friend Joe Ranft – a nicely heartfelt tribute to a noted animation story editor

In addition to the new material, an enormous amount of the previously released bonus material has been included as well, but there is also a decent-sized chunk of material (mostly from the now out-of-print Ultimate Toy Box set) that didn’t make it.  We can’t pretend that we’ll miss the effects-only audio track, but we are a bit surprised to see that the Tin Toy short was omitted (you can view the entire list of missing material over at the Digital Bits).  As with most of Disney’s high profile BD releases, each set also includes a standard-def DVD with the film and bonus materials.

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