Toy Story 1995

Though it’s pretty common these days, there was a time when making an animated movie with only computer-generated images and graphics was unheard of, and risky even. That time, it isn’t even that far back – it was 20 years ago, in fact.

It was back in 1995 that Disney, seeking to build on its brand as a top-tier animation powerhouse, partnered with then-unknown Pixar, an upstart company whose emphasis and specialty was CGI animation. Together, the two joined forces to create the first-ever entirely CGI-animated motion picture. We’re not talking just for stunts, or to create explosions, or to generate backgrounds a la a green screen: literally everything in the film, from the characters to the environments, to the smallest blades of grass or pieces of concrete, were all computer animation.

The result? Toy Story, released in theaters the day before Thanksgiving on November 22, 1995.

It helped, certainly, that although the concept was unfamiliar, its stars were not. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were the lead characters, each of whom were enjoying much success in the ’90s – Hanks was a top-billed Hollywood actor, and had just come off winning Best Actor Oscars in consecutive years, for Philadelphia in 1993 and for Forrest Gump in 1994. Tim Allen didn’t have the Hollywood pedigree of Hanks, but he didn’t necessarily need it, not when he was an all-but household name by way of his ABC/Disney show Home Improvement killing on prime-time television week in and week out.

But again, it was ambitious for its time. Most audiences, especially the target audience – children – were used to cel-shaded, hand-drawn animation. How would this work? Would Disney’s brand as guaranteed family friendly fodder, be enough to offset critics and concerned folks who, back then, had no clue whether or not to trust this “Pixar” company? All the stops were pulled out to ensure Toy Story did well: a video game was released on all the major platforms back then (Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, NES, and GameBoy). Burger King had Toy Story toys in their kids’ meals.

We know how that story ends now, of course. From a numbers perspective, Toy Story was far and away a success. Produced on a $30 million dollar budget, it not only took the box office for Thanksgiving weekend 1995, but it would go on to rake in over $360 million dollars worldwide. It would establish Pixar’s first franchise property (spawning two sequels, with a fourth allegedly on the way) and firmly plant Pixar as a bankable entity alongside Disney, one that would be responsible for many of the company’s cinematic stand-outs in the years to come. Pixar became synonymous with instant classic – it was all but understood It’s because of Toy Story that Disney would almost entirely abandon drawn animated films from its theatrical line-up, save 2002’s Lilo & Stitch and 2012’s The Princess and The Frog. It made director John Lasseter a household name.

More importantly, though, Toy Story’s characters were memorable and lovable.

Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) was an arrogant and flashy piece of plastic, the easy foil to Woody the Cowboy (Tom Hanks) who was “old school,” as a pull-string toy and made out of wood. Their early rivalry, as both sought to “prove” that the other was more worthy of Andy’s attention, was hilarious and relatable. For most of us ’80s babies, who were still in grade school at the time, Buzz was like the new kid who came from out of town and stole your friends and popularity. That’s why the initial “falling with style” sequence holds so much weight – because Woody calls him out (“You are a toy – you can’t fly!”) and all the other toys are gathered around watching, like a crowd before a confrontation, as Buzz breaks out his wings and leaps off the bed.

There’s Sid, the bad-ass next door neighbor who ends up “kidnapping” Woody and Buzz and attempts to use them for his Frankenstein-esque “experiments.” There’s Rex, the manic-depressive dinosaur; the bossy Mr. Potato Head; the army men; and Slinky Dog, classic childhood toys given a new life by way of Toy Story. There’s Andy himself, a young boy who (literally) Toy Story’s earliest viewers would watch grow up before their eyes, especially in the two sequels that would follow (Andy goes to COLLEGE in 2010’s Toy Story 3. College, y’all. I feel older than Grandmother Willow typing that). There are the hilarious alien toys from the machine in Pizza Planet, who worship “the Claw” like a god.

But though it looked different on the surface, Toy Story remained true to Disney’s penchant to hide life lessons beneath humor and characters with personality. Toy Story taught us about feeling forgotten and overlooked. Toy Story made us wonder, like forreal wonder, if our toys legitimately DID come to life whenever we weren’t around and play amongst themselves. Toy Story reminded us that, though we may have differences, we have to put those things aside for a common goal. It reminded us to stand up to our bullies even when things seemed dire. It reminded us to “play nice.”

So, yes, 20 years ago, Pixar came through and crushed the animated buildings, “to infinity and beyond.” And 20 years later, even as the company prepares to release another movie on THIS Thanksgiving Day – The Good Dinosaur lands in theaters today – Pixar continues to create emotional tear bait in the form of a cartoon. What’s YOUR most memorable moment of the first Toy Story? Let us know.