I had the opportunity today to watch “Toy Story” for the first time in years. My son had not seen it, and I was looking forward to watching a movie I very much enjoyed when I saw it and on subsequent viewings afterward. Since then I’ve seen a bunch of Pixar movies and found them all to be excellent. It’s no surprise that Pixar darn near killed the hand drawn animated feature; with each feature they pushed the boundaries of what was capable of not only computer animation, but animation in general. It’s hard to imagine WALL-E as a hand drawn feature (a movie that was robbed of a best picture nod, by the way.)
That being said, I was surprised at how clunky the animation was in Toy Story in hindsight. At times some of the characters appear to be floating over the carpet, not really anchored into the setting. The gestures don’t quite have the nuance that the later Pixar movies (and earlier Disney ones) did.
The humans were especially cringeworthy, much more stiff and wooden than the toys themselves. It appears at this point that Pixar was trying to replicate humans as closely as possible, but the CGI humans just come off as creepy. They’re not even particularly well designed; the construction of the characters doesn’t lend itself well to animation. Perhaps Pixar hadn’t done much with humans at this point. Clearly they could have taken a page from the Disney book and, instead of trying to render things realistically, find a design that works within the world of the particular movie.
Ironically, the toys seem much more human that the humans. (However, a lot of the toys in the movie were animated from actual toys, which at one point used to be well designed.) One can see that they eventually figured this out, as the human design in the later movies have actually look more like Woody and Buzz, which were easily animated and full of expression.
Still, I find something a little weird about the way that CGI humans appear. I’ve never figured out why animators are obsessed with adding pores and hair follicles. They just look grotesque. And why the realistic backgrounds? Wouldn’t it be cooler if they looked like the old Viewmaster slides?
And don’t get me started on the dog. Clearly this dog was not clearly thought out as a design, as it moves awkwardly and just looks ugly. Again, something Pixar got better at the more obsessive they got, but still startling at this point to witness. I couldn’t find a picture of it online. Maybe Pixar destroyed all evidence of it.
I haven’t watched Toy Story 2 again yet, but I’m looking forward to giving that one a good look as well.