Animation · Movies · Pop Culture

November 22, 1995–Toy Story was Released

20 years ago today, Toy Story was released. This was the first fully computer-animated film ever created. On November 22, 1995, this movie changed the course of animated movies forever.

PHOTO: Disney Pixar shows characters Woody, left, and Buzz Lightyear, from the animated film "Toy Story."
Image Source: abcnews.go

I remember when this movie first came out. I remember them trumping that it was the first fully digital animated film, and for a moment, I remember thinking “Oh great. It’s going to be one of those artsy-fartsy movies that wins all kinds of awards, but that I really just don’t like.” (I won’t name said movies, because I don’t want to start a war.)

Then I saw the movie. And I fell in LOVE with the movie and its characters. I actually didn’t care much at the time that it was all digital or whatnot. I loved the movie. It did look crisp and pretty, though.

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So, how was this movie different and what was so different about it?

What Did Animation Look Like Before?

I think many of us have seen the behind-the-scenes clips where artists are sitting at a desk, drawing out cartoons, and flipping the pages back and forth, back and forth, checking to see if they’ve gotten the movement correct between pages. Maybe all of us have seen the little flipbooks and flipped through them to watch the little stick figure guy walk through the frames, as well.

According to, “The inventor of the viewing device called a praxinoscope (1877) , French scientist Charles-Emile Reynaud, also created a large-scale system called Theatre Optique (1888) which could take a strip of pictures or images and project them onto a screen. He demonstrated his system in 1892 for Paris’ Musee Grevin – it was the first instance of projected animated cartoon films (the entire triple-bill showing was called Pantomimes Lumineuses), with three short films that he had produced.”


One of the films–Pauvre Pierrot–is the only surviving example of this method. Some consider it “the oldest surviving animated film ever made and broadcast.”

The first animated film is considered to be one called Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. The article I researched considered it more officially the “first” because it came before Pauvre Pierrot. It was created as a newspaper comic strip in the 1890s. The film was the first to use what is called a “single frame” method. “In the film, a cartoonist’s line drawings of two faces were ‘animated’ (or came to life) on a blackboard. The two faces smiled and winked, and the cigar-smoking man blew smoke in the lady’s face; also, a circus clown led a small dog to jump through a hoop.”

“This was soon followed by the first fully-animated film – Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908, Fr.), which consisted solely of simple line drawings (of a clown-like stick figure) that blended, transformed or fluidly morphed from one image into another.”

A comic-strip animator for the New York Herald–Winsor McCay–created several animated films. One of them, Gertie the Dinosaur, was created in 1914 and had over 10,000 drawings as part of it. “In fact, McCay created the “interactive” illusion of walking into the animation by first disappearing behind the screen, reappearing on-screen!, stepping on Gertie’s mouth, and then climbing onto Gertie’s back for a ride – an astonishing feat! It was the earliest example of combined ‘live action’ and animation, and the first “interactive” animated cartoon.”

In 1919, Felix the Cat took off with super-stardom during the silent film era. The artist, Otto Messmer, created and directed over 175 Felix cartoons and helped Felix become the first widely-merchandised cartoon character. He pre-dated Mickey Mouse, who would spell his doom.

“Producer John Randolph Bray’s (and Bray Picture Corporation’s) The Debut of Thomas Cat (1920) has often been credited as the first color cartoon, using the expensive Brewster Natural Color Process (a 2-emulsion color process), an unsuccessful precursor of Technicolor. This was the first animated short genuinely made in color using color film. Drawings were made on transparent celluloid and painted on the reverse, then photographed with a two-color camera. However, some sources have claimed that the Natural Colour Kinematograph Company’s In Gollywog Land (1912, UK) was the earliest, using Kinemacolor.”

“A classic animator in the early days of cinema was Walt Disney, originally an advertising cartoonist at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, who initially experimented with combining animated and live-action films. The very first films he made himself at his own animation studio in Kansas City were short cartoons called Newman Laugh-O-Grams, such as Little Red Riding Hood (1922) – the first Walt Disney cartoon, and the Four Musicians of Bremen (1922).

“His first successful silent cartoons (from 1923-1927), after relocating and setting up his own studio in Los Angeles (the Disney Brothers Studio) were a series of shorts (56 episodes) called Alice Comedies (or Alice in Cartoonland) that debuted in 1924 with Alice’s Day at Sea (1924). Disney’s Alice cartoons placed a live-action title character (Alice) into an animated Wonderland world. Soon after, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit became Disney’s first successful animal star in a 26-cartoon series distributed by Universal beginning in 1927. Oswald was the first Disney character to be merchandized. Oswald appeared in a number of cartoon shorts, such as: Trolley Troubles (1927) and Poor Papa (1927). Disney produced about two dozen of the silent, black and white Oswald cartoons from 1927-1928 until forced to give up the character to Walter Lantz. He moved onto another memorable character – first named Mortimer Mouse – or Mickey Mouse (looking like Oswald with his ears cut off) in 1928.”–


Snow White was the first “feature-length motion-picture cartoon ever created” in 1938. According to the website, the creation of this film required “1, 500,000 individual pen-and-ink drawings and water-color paintings.”

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I guess I had never imagined that over 1, 500,000 drawings and paintings would be required, though!

Author’s Note: I strongly suggest reading more on early animation techniques. I wanted to write about Toy Story being released, and here I am hours later still learning about early animations! 

Toy Story was the first film to be created and animated entirely by computers; this gave animators the ability to add a depth and realistic effects such as lighting and shading that hadn’t been seen before in animations.

How was Toy Story Created?

Originally, a team came together at Pixar and had created a short called “Tin Toy.” This was wildly successful and they were able to get a deal to create some films in collaboration with Disney. However, their ideas included the character from Tin Toy–which was a tin…toy….–and a ventriloquist’s dummy.

“Brainstorming sessions between Pixar’s creative team — which included Docter, Toy Story director John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Joe Ranft — led to swapping out the tin toy for a “karate-chop action”-style action figure, which became Buzz Lightyear. The ventriloquist’s dummy character was changed at the request of Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner, who found the dummies “creepy,” and instead became a pull-string cowboy doll: Woody.” –

The team behind the scenes had this to say: “While Pixar had been making commercials and shorts for years, producer Galyn Susman said that the young studio drastically underestimated the resources needed to pull off a full-length feature. “We thought that we would be able to animate the entire film with eight animators,” she said. “That didn’t happen. We ended up with 33.” The same went with staffing across the board, from editorial to those working on lighting and the computer models — but the most dramatic gap was in raw computing power.”

“According to Susman, the Pixar team initially thought they could render the film over 20 months using 53 processors. Each of the machines in the render farm was named after an animal, and when it completed a frame it would play the corresponding animal’s sound. The number of machines eventually grew to 300, but even that pales in comparison to the computing power Pixar wields today. Susman said that the company now has 23,000 processors at its disposal — enough to render the original Toy Story in real time.”

In an article I read on, the initial screenings of Toy Story didn’t go so well. The characters came off as “too wholesome.” The teams rewrote pieces to make Woody a little more gruff, and that also didn’t go over well. The bigwigs behind the scenes were about to pull the plug and call the entire project off. The team went heads-down one last time hoping to really make it work.

“As we all know now, the movie did move forward, and got a boost with the addition of A-list actors like Tom Hanks voicing the characters. (“He basically got the job because of Turner & Hooch, where [he freaks out about the dog eating the car],” Docter said. “We were like, ‘Okay, that’s the guy.’”) Clearly bullish on the long-term prospects of computer-animated films, CEO Steve Jobs took Pixar public one week after the movie’s release, and Toy Storyended up making over $191 million in the US alone.” –

Fun Facts About Toy Story

A page on tells us some supposed facts about Toy Story. Their article lists the following 8 fun facts:

1. The Nightmare Before Christmas paved the way for Toy Story.

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We can all thank Jack Skellington (OK, and Tim Burton) for Disney’s willingness to give “Toy Story” a shot. Prior to “Nightmare Before Christmas,” no animated film bearing the Disney name was ever made outside of Disney. But Burton’s macabre stop-motion feature opened the studio’s minds to the possibilities of collaborating. “Because of ’Nightmare Before Christmas,’ ’Toy Story’ happened,” Lasseter said. (Fun fact: Lasseter and Burton were classmates at CalArts.)

2. Pixar didn’t want to make another Disney film. 

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“We came up with a list of what we wanted our film not to be,” Lasseter said. “We didn’t want it to be a fairytale. We didn’t want a film where the bad guy grows bigger in the third act.”

Lasseter and co. were also tired of boring protagonists, citing “Aladdin” as a specific example of a great movie with a protagonist that is almost too perfect. “Why do they name these movies after the most boring characters in the film?” snarked Stanton.

Pixar, however, wanted protagonists with flaws because that was the only way to make them interesting. “Having our main characters be the most entertaining characters in the film” was a top priority for the team.

3. Buzz and Woody looked a lot different in the beginning.

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Buzz Lightyear was originally named Tempest, after the animators’ obsession with the Atari game Tempest, and he was only six inches high. Other possible names? “Tempest from Morph to Star Command,” Lasseter recalled. One thing that was always part of the mix, though?

“To infinity and beyond” — an iconic line that was part of the short pitch video that they made for Disney, which was screened during the panel.

Meanwhile, Woody was a large ventriloquist dummy — who was kinda unsettling to look at. Several notes criticized Woody for being too creepy, so Lasseter eventually decided to make Woody a pull-string toy (inspired for his own love of one as a child) instead of a dummy. In the end, Buzz was scaled to 12 inches and Woody to 15 inches.

As for Buzz’s iconic spacesuit, in earlier storyboards — back when he was a wee, 6-inch Buzz — his suit was red. After deciding to model it after IRL spacesuits, the team decided on white with lime green and purple accents. Why those colors? “Lime green is my favorite color and purple is my wife Nancy’s favorite color,” said Lasseter. “Just like she and I, they go really well together.”

Fun fact: Lasseter’s wife is also the inspiration for Bo Peep.

4. The first sequence they put into animation was the toy soldier scene. 

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In order to better understand how the toy soldiers move, Docter decided to nail his own sneakers to a wooden board. The animator unfortunately nailed them from the bottom on his first attempt (“That’s so you,” said Stanton.) Docter later made these prototypes for the entire team and they spent an entire day moving around with their shoes nailed to wooden planks. Docter also sewed together his own Woody doll during the production.

5. Some of Woody’s most memorable bits of dialog were improvised by Tom Hanks.

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“In the process of making an animated film, we always record the dialogue before we do the animation so the animators can be inspired by the actor’s movements,” said Lasseter. And boy, were they inspired by Hanks. So inspired, in fact, that they’re still using Hanks’ outtakes in “Toy Story” films because he “gave them so much.”

According to Unkrich, who served as editor, bits of Woody’s dialogue in “Toy Story 2,” “Toy Story 3″ and the upcoming “Toy Story 4″ were recorded by Hanks in 1994.

Hanks was also a master improver with props. “We found out that if we gave him props, he would just come up with ideas,” Lasseter said. One prop — a fake severed arm that Lasseter borrowed from his kids — led to the sequence where Woody plays with Buzz’s detached arm in the window, like a shadow puppet.

“All of that dialogue was Tom Hanks ad libbing,” Lasseter said.

6. Joss Whedon wrote the most iconic line from the movie.

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After reading a early draft of Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie that never was, Lasseter was so impressed that he brought the young writer into the writers’ room to help with the script.

Whedon eventually came up with one of Lasseter’s favorite lines in any Pixar movie: “You’re a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.”

7. They changed Buzz’s character to better match Tim Allen’s performance. 

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After Allen had recorded his dialogue, it became very clear that the it didn’t quite match who Buzz was, initially. This was especially hard for Docter, who voiced Buzz for all of the early treatments.

“Originally, we thought Buzz was aware of the TV show from which he can from — it was very meta,” he said. But once they listened to Allen’s take, they rewrote Buzz’s dialogue and instead, made it that Buzz doesn’t know he’s a toy from a TV show.

8. Disney wanted it to be a musical. 

“Toy Story” was being made during the era of Disney’s musical renaissance. Animated features like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” were huge successes for the studio. So when Disney met with Lasseter and co. well into production on “Toy Story,” they brought along a few (read: “about six or seven”) songs for the film.

When Lasseter broke the news to the poor guy that “Toy Story” wasn’t going to be a musical, “his face went completely white. I think he thought he was going to be fired.”

Of course, “Toy Story” did need a song, and Lasseter and his team knew from the start that there’s was only one guy suitable for the job: Randy Newman.

“There was so much sincerity in his insincere delivery — and that was what ’Toy Story’ was all about,” said Stanton.

Other Facts You Might Not Have Known

I didn’t realize Pixar was failing in the early 90s. I also didn’t know they were the creators behind the silly gummy lifesaver commercials we used to watch.

And….apparently there was a lot I didn’t know….I didn’t know Steve Jobs owned Pixar. Here’s what one article from tells us:

“All the same, Pixar was on the ropes. Its chairman and owner, a computer whiz by the name of Steve Jobs, was actually trying to sell Pixar just before “Toy Story” was released.

“We did not know that Steve was writing our paychecks from his own personal bank account,” recalls Pixar producer Galyn Susman. “He was completely bankrolling the whole venture. He just sat down in front of us and said, ‘I am an exceedingly wealthy man, [but] I’m not that rich. We have to pick one thing, and I have to bet on one horse. I am going to bet on the animation horse.'”

The website tells us the following facts as well.

  1. Future Pixar chief and “Toy Story” co-writer/director John Lasseter (pictured) was a junior animator at Disney in 1982 when he saw the studio’s groundbreaking “Tron” and first recognized the potential of computer animation. When he suggested to Disney brass that the studio make a computer-animated feature, they fired him.
  2. Lasseter soon found himself at Pixar, then a computer graphics company owned by Steve Jobs and best known for its hardware. In 1988, to show off what Pixar’s machines could do, Lasseter directed a short all-CGI cartoon called “Tin Toy.” The film won an Oscar, starting Lasseter back on the path toward making a full-length computer-animated film — and toward negotiating with his old employers to distribute it.
  3. Before “Toy Story,” Disney had a relationship with Pixar as a user of its computer-assisted production system (“CAPS”), which Disney animators used on the wedding sequence in “The Little Mermaid” and the ballroom sequence during the title number in “Beauty and the Beast.” Critics singled out that scene with praise, helping persuade Disney to expand its collaboration with Pixar.
  4. Lasseter’s Cal Arts classmate Tim Burton — another former Disney animator — returned to the Disney fold with the release of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Made by animators independent of Disney, working at a studio in San Francisco, “Nightmare” was the first animated feature made by outsiders to bear the Disney brand. The success of that 1993 stop-motion film was the final straw that convinced Disney that it could make a feature with the independent Bay Area team at Pixar, Lasseter has said.
  5. Still, the Pixar team ran into frequent opposition with Disney because they wanted to make a movie that was not at all a typical Disney cartoon. They didn’t want a fairy tale, they didn’t want a musical, and they didn’t want a story where the side characters were more colorful than the protagonists. They wanted to tell the kind of story that had never been told in a cartoon before: a mismatched-buddy comedy, à la “48 Hrs.” or “Midnight Run.”

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  6. The original Woody (pictured) got his name because he was a ventriloquist dummy. He was also creepy and tyrannical. Over time, he evolved into a pull-string cowboy doll with the reassuring voice of Tom Hanks, but the animators kept the name, now as a tribute to Western character actor Woody Strode.
  7. The initial idea for “Toy Story” was to pair the cynical Woody dummy with Tinny, the wide-eyed soldier from “Tin Toy.” The premise of toys that came to life seemed well suited to Pixar’s capabilities, since, in the early days of CGI, the easiest things to render were plasticky, artificial surfaces like those that characterize toys.
  8. The filmmakers deemed Tinny too old-fashioned and updated him to a more modern soldier toy, and finally settled on an astronaut.
  9. Buzz Lightyear was originally named Tempest, after the Atari game that obsessed the animators. The name “Buzz,” of course, came from astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
  10. While Tom Hanks was always the filmmakers’ first choice for Woody, they initially sought Billy Crystal. (He would eventually play the lead in Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” and “Monsters University.”) They also considered Bill Murray and Jim Carrey before going with Tim Allen, then starring in the hit sitcom “Home Improvement” on Disney-owned ABC.
  11. Future “Buffy” and “Avengers” guru Joss Whedon was a script doctor on the film. He came up with the beloved line, “You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.”

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  12. Lasseter’s wife, Nancy, was the inspiration for Bo Peep.
  13. Not yet famous for his kick-ass female characters, Whedon wanted to make Barbie a heroic presence late in the script, but Mattel declined to license her image to the filmmakers. Years later, of course, Barbie and Ken became major characters in “Toy Story 3.”
  14. On November 19, 1993, almost two years to the day before the film’s release, Pixar took a rough cut of animated storyboards and screened it before Disney executives. The disastrous result was known in Pixar lore as “Black Friday.” The characters were ornery, their chemistry was awkward, and the story didn’t work. Disney threatened to pull the plug on the project, but the animators begged for three months to give the script a complete overhaul. When they returned, Disney approved the new script, and the filmmakers were off and running.
  15. Pixar initially thought it would be able to render the film with a team of eight animators and 53 computers. It ended up using 33 animators and 300 computers. Each machine was named for an animal and would emit the animal’s signature cry when it completed a frame of the film.
  16. To figure out how the green plastic army men would move, the animators nailed planks to their own shoes and spent a day trying to walk with their feet attached to a board.

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  17. The film was initially budgeted at $17 million (compared to $45 million for Disney’s 1994 hand-drawn feature “The Lion King”), but the cost soon ballooned to $30 million.
  18. In North America, “Toy Story” earned $192 million at the box office. Overseas, it took in another $170 million. The three movies to date in the franchise have sold $1.9 billion worth of tickets worldwide.
  19. “Toy Story” became the first animated film nominated for an Original Screenplay Oscar. Randy Newman earned two Oscar nods, one for his instrumental score and one for his song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” The movie didn’t win any competitive Oscars, but Lasseter did get a special achievement Academy Award, “for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film.”
  20. Hanks improvised so much during the voice recording sessions that the Pixar team saved the outtakes he generated in 1994 and used them as dialogue in the sequels, including the forthcoming “Toy Story 4,” due in 2018.

What Did This Change?

I read an article on ABC News  called “Toy Story Turns 20: How it Changed Animated Films Forever.” It stated the effects this had much better than I ever could. Here are 5 major effects they list.

1. It altered the way animated films were created: In addition to looking entirely different from its animated predecessors, Forbes reported in 1995 that “Toy Story” was the first movie in which it was possible to store digital characters, sets and scenes in computers so that animators wouldn’t have to re-draw each cell. “They can be reproduced and adapted economically and infinitely, in film and video sequels and spinoff products like toys, TV shows, and CD-ROM games,” the magazine reported. “Pixar’s techniques so dramatically reduce the amount of manual labor required to make high-quality cartoons that they may well change the economics of animation.”

2. “Toy Story” led to some of the most lucrative films of all time: “Toy Story” earned $361,958,736 worldwide and became the highest-grossing film of 1995. Assured that computer-animated films could be successful, studios began churning them out. Currently, two computer-animated films are among the top ten highest-grossing films ever: “Frozen” and “Minions.”

3. It helped pave the way for animated films at the Oscars: “Toy Story”‘s co-writer and director John Lasseter received a Special Achievement Oscar at the 1996 Academy Awards for “the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film,” according to a Los Angeles Times article from that time. The movie, which earned three Oscar nominations that year, also became the first animated movie to receive a nod for Best Original Screenplay. However, it wasn’t the last: “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E,” and “Up” were also recognized for their screenplays, and “Up” and “Toy Story 3” were nominated for Best Picture. (The first Disney movie to ever garner a Best Picture nomination, however, was “Beauty and the Beast” in 1992.) There was a category for Best Animated Feature added in 2001.

4. Big-name stars began voicing animated characters more frequently: Though celebrities voiced animated characters before 1995, after Tom Hanks and Tim Allen signed on to “Toy Story,” A-listers began lining up to participate in computer-animated films, including Mike Myers, Ellen DeGeneres, and Mindy Kaling.

5. It lent credence to the idea that animated movies didn’t have to be musicals: Unlike many of the animated movies that came before it, “Toy Story” was not a musical. Joss Whedon, one of the screenwriters behind the film, said in his biography that “it would have been a really bad musical because it’s a buddy movie.” Plus, the movie didn’t have what Whedon called “an ‘I want’ number” that was so prominent in other animated films because it wouldn’t have made sense for the story. “Woody can’t do an ‘I want’ number… he’s cynical and selfish, he doesn’t know himself,” he continued. “Buddy movies are about sublimating, punching an arm, ‘I hate you.’ It’s not an open emotion.”

In conclusion, I had no clue this was such a ground-breaking thing! 20 years ago, the team members at the failing Pixar didn’t either. It changed the way we see animated films forever. The part that stood out to me the most was that the characters were now stored digitally, so reusing them over and over was no big deal. This is probably what has led to so many successful sequels and the characters being EVERYWHERE we look!
Digital rocks!




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