If I were handing out nominations for the most improved home video company when it comes to DVD content, Buena Vista Home Video would have to be on that list. Sure, they still release some movie-only discs, but with titles such as the "Tarzan Collectorís Edition" and "The Ultimate Scream Collection", the folks over at Disney are demonstrating that theyíve finally taken DVD to heart. Which leads us to what may be their crowning achievement, the "Toy Story Ultimate Toy Box". This three-disc set packs over nine hours of content and is truly the definitive collection for the "Toy Story" fan. While it would be quite a daunting task to discuss every aspect of this set (and ruin many surprises for the viewer), I will try to cover the highlights of the collection.
For the uninitiated, the "Toy Story" films are full-length computer animated features from the people at Pixar, who also did "A Bugís Life". "Toy Story" introduces us to the main characters of the series. Woody (Tom Hanks) is a cowboy doll and has been Andyís (the young owner of all the toys) for years. But, Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) action figure for his birthday, and he soon becomes Andyís favorite. In a fit of jealous rage, Woody accidentally knocks Buzz out the window. Woody ventures forth outside to find Buzz and thatís where the real adventure begins, as they visit a pizza parlor and the lair of Syd, the boy who destroys toys. In "Toy Story 2", the tables are turned. Woody and Buzz have become friends and everything is going great, when Woody is kidnapped by a greedy toy collector. This time, itís up to Buzz to rally the other toys to leave the safety of Andyís bedroom and rescue Woody. In this film, Woody learns about his (surprising) past and a new set of characters are introduced.
Both films work for two main reasons. One, the computer animation is simply fascinating. You sit in the audience and say to yourself, "How do they do this?" Two, both films are very charming. Everyone has had at least one toy in their life and I would dare say that most of have imagined that our toys had a life of their own. The "Toy Story" films play upon this and give each toy and unique and wonderful personality. I would have to say that "Toy Story 2" is an improvement over the first film, as the story is more complex and has a more natural flow. That argument aside, both films offer a ton of action, adventure, laughs (both films are hilarious!) and dramatic moments ("Toy Story 2" contains the SADDEST SONG EVER FEATURED IN A MOVIE. Hands down.) "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" are both fun for all ages (although the very little ones may get a bit scared at times) and despite the fact that technology will improve beyond the scope of these films, I think that they will stand the test of time.
Each film is contained on a separate DVD in "The Ultimate Toy Box". To put it very simply, the films both look staggeringly beautiful. Both "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" are letterboxed at 1.77:1 and both are enhanced for 16x9 TVs. As these are computer-animated films and the digital transfers were made directly from an original digital master, thereís not too much to say about the appearance of the movies. They are both perfect! There is no grain or noise in evidence and the image is absolutely crystal clear. The slight letterboxing offers a bit more information on the sides of the screen than a full-frame version would and there is no warping or bending at the edge of the picture. Besides the clarity of the image, itís the colors that really make you stand up and notice these two transfers. While I found the colors on "A Bugís Life" to be a bit fuzzy, the hues on "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" are bright and true, with no saturation or bleeding. Both transfers are THX-certified and each DVD contains a unique THX intro.
The soundtracks on both DVDs are equally impressive. "Toy Story" features a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, while "Toy Story 2" features a slightly enhanced Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix. The sound on both films gives us a surround sound mix that is full-bodied and fills the room with sound. The sound fields generated by these soundtracks is very impressive and the comparison of on-screen action to speaker placement is impeccable. Every sound, from the loudest explosion to the tiniest move that a toy makes, comes through as crystal clear. The dialogue is always intelligible and Randy Newmanís music always sounds very nice. Overall, two brilliant soundtracks to match the beautiful imagery. Both DVDs also features sound-effects only tracks.
Despite the fact that there is a third disc devoted entirely to supplemental material, each of the movie DVDs contains some extra features. "Toy Story" features an audio commentary with director John Lasseter, and Ralph Guggenheim, Bonnie Arnold, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Bill Reeves & Ralph Eggleston. This is a fun and playful commentary with the group discussing the origins of "Toy Story" and how the film was made, while also pointing out in-jokes and easy-to-miss features.
The DVD also includes the hilarious Academy Award-winning short film "Tin Toy", which was the forerunner to "Toy Story". We also have a short "making of" featurette, which is informative, but not as in-depth as the supplements on the third disc. An interesting feature are the 52 "Toy Story Treats" which were short snippets made for ABC to air during Saturday morning cartoons. Some of these are quite funny. There is a multi-language reel, which samples of "Toy Story" dubbed into 30 languages. The on-set interview with Buzz and Woody is cute, but ultimately disappointing, because itís obvious that itís not the original actorís voices being used. Finally, we have a "Buzz Lightyear" promo, which is pretty useless.
The "Toy Story 2" disc is a little lighter on extra features. The DVD also features an audio commentary with director John Lasseter, but this time he is joined by co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon, and co-screenwriter Andrew Stanton. Itís apparent that these four men have spent a great deal of time together and their camaraderie shines through on the commentary. They, of course, discuss the origins of the film and some of the hidden jokes, but they also take the time to try and explain the technical aspects of "Toy Story 2" and give some layman explanations of how things were done. On top of that, this is a humorous group of guys and the commentary is pretty funny at times.
The "Toy Story 2" DVD also has a short film, this time itís "Luxo Jr.", the 1986 film (featuring the desk lamp from their logo) that started it all for Pixar. (You also notice that the ball from "Luxo Jr." is seen throughout the "Toy Story" films.) The highlight of the disc are the outtakes, similar to the ones which were presented in the credits of "A Bugís Life". Who knew that Woody was playing pranks on Buzz behind the scenes? (And itís always great to see Flik!) The last feature is also another winner, as itís the teaser trailer for Pixarís next project, "Monsters Inc.". Weíre given just enough of a taste of this John Goodman-Billy Crystal comedy to whet our appetites.
And now for the supplemental disc, which is only available in "The Ultimate Toy Box". As supplemental materials are often a matter of personal taste, Iím not going to go into too much detail about this disc, suffice to say that for the "Toy Story" fan, itís definitely worth the extra money. This third disc is overflowing with extras and as you can see elsewhere on on the site, has several Easter Eggs as well. It becomes very apparent while watching this DVD that John Lasseter and his Pixar crew are DVD fanatics just like the rest of us and that they obviously wanted to create something very special for the consumer. The disc contains just about everything that youíd ever want to know about both "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2", starting with the conception of each film and moving through the character design, story development, casting, animation, and publicity. While it was fascinating to learn exactly how the computer animation was done, to me the most fun features on this DVD were the deleted animation and the abandoned concepts. (I always like to see what didnít make it into movies.) Another impressive feature is the "Guide to Hidden Jokes", for those of you who missed these gags during the film and the audio commentary. The bulk of the nine hours of material in "The Ultimate Toy Box" can be found on this third disc and I would advise all of you to take your time and try to check out all of it.
"The Ultimate Toy Box" is the only way to really see "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" and is a crowning achievement for Disneyís home video division. Theyíve truly put in every kind of supplement that you can think of and youíll spend hours of fun trying to see them all. Aside from the abundance of extra goodies, we also have two perfect transfers of these delightful films. I know that many of you have invested in a nice display rack for your DVDs, and now itís time to go out and by a "toy box."