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review added: 10/11/00

Toy Story & Toy Story 2
The Ultimate Toy Box - 1995/1999 (2000) - Pixar/Disney (Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsTHX-certified

The Ultimate Toy Box (Outer Packaging)

The Ultimate Toy Box - Disc One - Toy Story

The Ultimate Toy Box - Disc Two - Toy Story 2

The Ultimate Toy Box - Disc Three - Supplemental Features

Film Ratings (Toy Story/Toy Story 2): A/A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio - movie discs): A+/A

Disc Rating (Extras - all 3 discs): A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: Toy Story
83 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.77:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:04:12, at the start of chapter 26), Amaray keep case packaging with custom slipcase, audio commentary (with writer/director John Lasseter, writers Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold, art director Ralph Eggleston and technical director Bill Reeves), The Story Behind Toy Story "making of" featurette, 52 Toy Story Treats (ABC Saturday morning interstitials), 2 "on set" interviews with Buzz and Woody, Tin Toy short feature, Buzz Lightyear TV commercial with intro, multi-language reel, sound effects only track (DD 5.1), THX Optimode test signals, THX "Robo" trailer, animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Toy Story 2
92 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.77:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 52:02, in chapter 22), Amaray keep case packaging with custom slipcase, audio commentary (with writer/director John Lasseter, writer Andrew Stanton and co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon), outtakes, Luxo, Jr. short feature, preview trailers for Monsters, Inc. and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, sound effects only track (DD 5.1 EX), THX Optimode test signals, THX "Robo/Moo" trailer, animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music, scene access (35 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Three: Supplemental Features
single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging with custom slipcase, supplements for Toy Story & Toy Story 2 include: history and development videos, early animation test clips, original text treatments & production notes, cast & crew bios, director profile, storyboard pitches, abandoned concepts, storyboard to film comparisons, storyreels, character design galleries (for each character), art design galleries, location design galleries, computer animation production tour videos (on layout tricks, character animation, shaders & lighting, building a shot and special effects), multi-angle production progression demonstrations, original Randy Newman song demos, 2 music videos for Woody's Roundup by Riders in the Sky, interactive sound mixing demo, poster and publicity artwork galleries, theatrical trailers and TV spots, guide to hidden jokes, alternate animation (and much more), 1 hidden Easter Egg (see text), animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music

Wow. In this day of mega-DVD special editions, the bar for quality has been raised awfully high. But Buena Vista and Pixar's The Ultimate Toy Box definitely hits the mark and then some. When Todd and I sit down to decide upon our votes for the next Bitsy Awards, this set and Fox's Fight Club are going be tough to choose between. Part of the reason I like The Ultimate Toy Box so much, completely apart from how great these films are, is that the folks who produced these DVDs (namely the staff at Pixar) seemed to have had a blast doing so. The creators of these films (including director John Lasseter, writer Andrew Stanton, co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon and others) are everywhere on this set's three discs, explaining how the story developed, talking about the animation process and generally guiding us through what it's like to work on a film at Pixar. The result is truly impressive - an in-depth look at computer animated filmmaking, with the filmmakers themselves as your tour guides. How cool is that?

Let's start with a quick summary of the films, for the few of you out there who may have been living under a rock for the last six years and missed them. Toy Story was the first feature-length film to be generated entirely by computer, and tells the story of a cowboy doll named Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks). Woody is the favorite toy of his owner, a young boy named Andy... that is until Andy gets a brand new Buzz Lightyear action figure. When Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) shows up, Woody's world falls apart. Facing the ultimate worst fate for any toy (no longer being loved), Woody "accidentally" pushes Buzz out Andy's bedroom window. Moments later, Andy's family goes out for pizza, and takes Woody with them. But Woody's conscience (and a little pressure from his fellow toys) is starting to get the better of him. Little does he know that Buzz has hitched a ride in the family car... in the hopes of getting back at Woody. In a series of accidents and misadventures, Buzz and Woody find themselves lost in the big wide world. Then they fall into the hands of Andy's vicious neighbor Sid, who tortures toys. Can Buzz and Woody resolve their differences and find their way back to Andy? Did I mention that Andy's family is moving to another neighborhood so time's running out? Are you ready to laugh for about 80 minutes? Toy Story is a very funny film, made all the better for its terrific supporting cast, which includes the voices of Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney and many more that you'll recognize. Better still, each is playing a toy straight from your fondest childhood memories - think Mr. Potato Head and others like him.

Things obviously turn out well for the boys... because there's a sequel (and it's even better than the first film). Toy Story 2 takes place after the move, in Andy's new home. Andy's Mom decides to hold a rummage sale to get rid of stuff they no longer want. Among those things is one of Andy's older toys... one of Woody's friends. Woody immediately leaps into action to save the toy, but he inadvertently finds himself sold to a rare toy collector named Al (the infamous owner of Al's Toy Barn). It turns out that Woody was based on a 1950s TV show called Woody's Roundup, and Woody is extremely valuable. Al wants to clean him up and sell him to the highest bidder, as part of a set of the Roundup toys, which include cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer). But Buzz and Woody's other friends just aren't about to let that happen. They band together and journey out into the world to bring Woody back home. Naturally, the going won't be easy, and our heroes will face both long odds and sinister forces... including the dreaded Emperor Zurg! Toy Story 2 is that rare movie sequel that actually manages to top the original, while retaining all the humor and heart you liked about the first film.

In The Ultimate Toy Box, both films are included separately on their own DVD disc. Each is presented in anamorphic widescreen (aspect ratio 1.77:1) and features the same straight-digital transfer Pixar and Disney used previously to release A Bug's Life. That means that the picture you're seeing is virtually identical to what the animators were looking at at Pixar - no film was involved in the making of these DVDs. The result may very well be the most stunning DVD picture I've yet seen. The colors are rich and accurate, with startlingly clear and crisp detail, tremendous contrast and deep blacks. Because of the all-digital nature of the image, there's not a speck of dust or dirt to be seen, nor is there any kind of print artifacts for that matter. There's no edge enhancement and virtually no digital artifacting. Your mouth is going to water when you give one of these discs a spin and press play. This is really outstanding DVD video.

The sound is also excellent. Toy Story is presented in full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Toy Story 2 goes a step farther, with audio in Dolby's new 5.1 EX sound scheme. The clarity of the dialogue and crispness of the sound effects is remarkable. The sound mixes for each film are completely encompassing. When Buzz climbs into the claw game (thinking it's a spaceship) in the original film, you're going to hear "inside a fishbowl"-style ambience. Then you're suddenly surrounded by a sea of little green aliens, and you'll feel like you're right in the middle of them. And when Buzz takes on Zurg in the opening of Toy Story 2, you're going to be awash in creative channel-to-channel panning, nifty directional sound effects and thunderous bass. The soundstage is deep, wide and natural. And Randy Newman's music is very well represented in the mix. This is great DVD audio that perfectly matches and supports the quality of the video presentation. Note that each disc also includes a sound effects only track in the film's respective sound scheme (5.1 or 5.1 EX).

Each movie disc also includes its own set of supplemental materials. Toy Story features the Academy Award-winning short Tin Toy, a 27-minute "making of" featurette (The Story Behind Toy Story), 2 "on set" interviews with Buzz and Woody, a 4-minute multi-language reel, the original Buzz Lighyear TV commercial seen in the film (with introduction), 52 Toy Story Treats (interstitials produced for ABC Saturday morning TV - 10 to 30 seconds each) and an entertaining audio commentary track with writer/director John Lasseter, writers Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold, art director Ralph Eggleston and technical director Bill Reeves. Toy Story 2 includes the very first Pixar short, Luxo, Jr., along with 5 minutes of funny outtake footage from the film, preview trailers for Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins and the next Pixar film, Monsters, Inc., and an ever better audio commentary track with writer/director John Lasseter, writer Andrew Stanton and co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon. And both discs feature custom THX trailers, THX Optimode test patterns and nifty animated menus.

But none of this even comes close to topping the bonus material included on the third disc of this set. If you own the deluxe CAV laserdisc edition boxed set of the first Toy Story, rest assured that nearly everything that was included in that set is available here. But the folks at Pixar have also added a TON of new material from the first film, including new video introductions and interviews, and made all of it much easier and more interesting to navigate (via more fun animated menus). Better still, the Pixar staff has created the same titanic amount of supplemental material for Toy Story 2, and it's all available here. To give you an idea of the sheer scope of this third disc, it took me more than an hour just to SCAN through the extras for the first film alone. I'm not talking looking at it all - just scanning it to see what was there! I mean, it's almost outrageous what you get on this disc. The Pixar staff introduces the disc themselves (which is funny, but you can easily skip it later if you want to), and takes you from story development and character design all the way through the animation process to the publicity and marketing materials created for the films' theatrical release. It's a great beginning-to-end look at the process.

There's just no way I can list everything this set includes in the way of bonus material - I'd need several pages. But let me give you some of the highlights. You get galleries of some 2,000 still images - design sketches, production artwork and the like. You get video "once-arounds" of virtually every character in the film, along with more artwork and animation tests to illustrate the development of the characters themselves. You get in-depth bios on the voice cast and text essays on the history of Pixar. You get video clips of abandoned and deleted scenes, storyboard pitch sessions and development concepts. You get video explanations of the steps involved in editing, sound design, music recording and on and on and on. You get storyboard-to-film comparisons of key scenes in both films. You get animation production progression videos which allow you to use the angle button on your remote to step though and compare the various stages in the animation process. You get original song demos by Randy Newman and even a pair of videos by Riders in the Sky for the Woody's Roundup theme song. You get an interactive sound mixing tutorial with Gary Rydstrom, in which you can listen to the Buzz/Zurg battle at the end of TS2 with music only, dialogue only, sound effects only or any combination thereof. You get trailers, TV spots and poster artwork. You even get a guide to the "in" jokes in Toy Story 2 and a look at some of the fake-but-ultra-cool Woody's Roundup collectibles that the animators developed for the film. There's like 6 hours worth of great audio and video material alone... and that's just on the third disc. If you have any questions about the process of making a CGI animated film, they're probably answered somewhere on this disc. Best of all, the set includes a foldout guide to all the supplements, which also features comments by Lasseter and the Pixar staff on how they used the capabilities of DVD to really give you a look at their world. These guys clearly love what they do and have a ton of fun with it. And thankfully, that love just pours out of The Ultimate Toy Box's three discs.

Oh... before I forget, I should mention that Disc Three includes a funny Easter Egg, hidden in the... well, I'll just say this: Jessie's Song. Seek and ye shall find.

This may very well be the most impressive convergence yet of superior DVD audio and video quality and truly outstanding supplemental materials. Add to that the fact that these two films are so universally loved and wanted on DVD, and it's very easy to argue that The Ultimate Toy Box is far and away the DVD event of the year. You should know that a Toy Story 2-Pack of both films, without the supplement disc and with an added recomposed full frame version of Toy Story 2, will also be available on October 17th. But if you love these films, you'd be doing yourself a MAJOR disservice if you bought anything less than The Ultimate Toy Box. Trust me - they don't call it "ultimate" for nothing.

Bill Hunt
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