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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits

Toy Story: Special Edition

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Toy Story: Special Edition
1995 (2010) - Pixar (Disney)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 23rd, 2009
Coming soon to DVD (and available previously on DVD).

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A-


I've always held a special place in my movie-loving heart for Toy Story since its release in 1995. For me, it will always be the finest work Pixar ever produced, by virtue of the fact that it told the most coherent and endearing story that the newborn animation studio ever pulled out of their hats (being the magicians that they are)... or maybe because it just came first.


It's one of the few family films that never speaks specifically to a certain portion of an audience. Whether that audience is made up of nostalgic adults, children, or just anyone in need of being told a really good story, Toy Story delivers in spades no matter who you are. Besides being the first full-length computer animated film, it was also one of the first that wasn't based on a fairy tale or required its characters to break into song; it relied solely on character and story, without heavy-handed musical numbers, over-the-top comic relief or dead-end animation extravaganzas. Every moment in the movie is designed to move the story forward, without stopping to waste time by going off on tangents that ruin the pace of many of its 2-D counterparts. The movie has certainly aged due to the leaps and advances in the ever-expanding field of computer animation, but the quality hasn't deteriorated at all. It still holds firm, touching and entertaining us as much as it did 15 years ago. Brilliantly directed and designed, it stands as the benchmark for all that followed as one of the greatest animated films ever made.

For the movie's debut in high definition, Disney has really put together a terrific package. This release is over-loaded with content that should make enthusiasts very happy. Not only have they included brand new content, but almost all of the material from previous releases on DVD has been carried over (with some exceptions, which I'll get into a little later).

First of all, the video presentation is just gorgeous. These movies have never looked better, and with a digital-to-digital transfer, everything holds up really well. There are spots in the movie where some areas in the background appear to be a bit soft and some very light digital noise can be seen, but I think this has more to do with the rendering than the actual frames of the film. Some Digital Noise Removal might have been put to use, but it's really difficult to tell. Regardless, it's been given a fantastic looking treatment and it's just as lush and textured as you would expect, especially from a 15 year old digital film. The soundtrack is just as fantastic. Expertly mixed and layered, it should give your home theatre system an excellent workout. You get 5 audio options here: English DTS-HD 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, English DTS-HD 2.0 and English DVS 2.0. With that many options, there should a minimal amount of room for complaint (as if there could be). It also contains 3 sets of subtitles: English, French and Spanish. There's also an additional option to Maximize Your Home Theatre, which allows you to run tests to calibrate your system's video and audio. Now, if you'll just bare with me, we'll dig into the extras (this may take a while).

Straight away, it's obvious that this package was geared very heavily toward Blu-ray enthusiasts and serious fans of the film. The animated menus feature concept artwork that slides by while you're browsing through the options, which is a very lovely touch and gets you in the right mindset for the plethora of content you'll be exploring. To start the Blu-ray features off, you get the first part of the 2-part Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: The Story (the other is on the Toy Story 2 set). It's brief, but it's just enough to get you excited and ready for June when it gets released. Next up is an audio commentary featuring Director John Lasseter, Co-Writer Andrew Stanton, Supervising Animator Pete Docter, Art Director Ralph Eggleston, Supervising Technical Director Bill Reeves and Producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold. This is a great commentary, and as you'll see in the other extras, a lot of these guys are HIGH ENERGY and keep things interesting at all times. Next is the Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off featurette, which showcases Buzz's trip to the International Space Station orbiting Earth. It was produced in cooperation with NASA and is a cute extra that more or less is a brief education on what it's like for astronauts on the station (with Buzz floating around, of course). Next is the short featurette Paths to Pixar - Artists, which features several of Pixar's animators talking about their experiences with the studio. Following all that up are three brief Studio Stories featurettes: John's Car, Baby AJ and Scooter Races. They are more or less tiny tidbits of things that took place during the production of the movie. Buzz Takes Manhattan is another brief segment documenting Buzz Lightyear's recent appearance at the Macy's Day Parade. Perhaps the most interesting new extra is the Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw featurette. It gives new insight into the original storyboard reel of the movie that was a direct product of studio meddling, which gave it a much edgier and darker tone. Only a few minutes of the actual reel is shown, which is a shame because I personally would like have seen the entire 30 minute reel played down. Perhaps they'll hold that one over for a future release. One can only hope. Ending these features is a short segment on Disney DVD and Digital Copy, along with a BD-Live option.

Now that covers the NEW features. In a separate menu titled Classic DVD Bonus Features, you get four documentaries: Filmmakers Reflect, Making Toy Story, The Legacy of Toy Story and Designing Toy Story. It all equals out to about an hour of material and is well worth a look. Following all that up is a set of 10 deleted sequences with a couple of intros. 2 of them are almost fully animated while the other 8 are from the storyboards. There are definitely some interesting moments that came under the knife (including material that went into Toy Story 2), but nothing the film can't do without. Next up are a long set of Design Gallery slideshows divided up into three categories: Concept Designs, 3-D Visualization and Color). Several featurettes follow, including those for Story ("Green Army Men" Pitch with an intro, "Andy's New Toy" Storyreel and "The Chase" Storyreel/Film Comparison), Production (Production Tour, Layout Tricks, Animation Tour and Multi-Language Reel) and finally Music & Sound ("You've Got a Friend in Me" Music Video, Designing Sound featurette and a set of 6 Randy Newman Song Demos). Following all of that up is a section for all of the Publicity materials including: Character Interview (Woody and Buzz), trailers, TV spots, posters, Toys & Stuff and Toy Story Treats, which contain 15 ABC bumpers (Hobbies, Dreams, Space Rangers, Games, Rex at Play, Hamm Salesman, Night Time, Thrill Ride, TV Time, Professor Rex, Fast Food, Alien Encounter, Go Fish, Mrs. Nesbit and the entire Buzz Lightyear Commercial. At long last, it all concludes with a Sneak Peeks section featuring a Disney Movie Rewards commercial, Toy Story 1 and 2, The Princess and the Frog, James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition, a Disney Parks commercial, Toy Story 3, an On Blu-ray Disc segment and Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition. As for the DVD version that's included, it features the NEW extras only, along with additional Sneak Peeks for Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, Phineas and Ferb and fewer audio and subtitle options. Whew. On a side note, you may want to set aside a day or even a couple of days to cull through all of this material.

Now the question that most people have been asking is "Has all of the previous extra material made it into this release?" The answer is "No." While they have done an enormous amount of work to cram as much as they can into this set, some things have been left over from previous releases, most notably the Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box set. The Isolated 5.1 Sound Effects-Only Track, the Story Behind Toy Story featurette, the Tin Toy animated short and the preview for Buzz Lightyear: The Adventure Begins are not present. As are the following from Disc Three of that set: the Introduction to the Supplemental Features, most of the ABC bumpers (there were around 50 included and only 15 on the Blu-ray set), the entire History section (History and Development - Interviews with the Filmmakers, Early Test Footage, Original Story Treatments, Production Notes and Cast Biographies), a couple of Story segments (Editing and Abandoned Concepts), several Computer Animation segments (Character Animation, Shaders and Lighting, Building a Shot, Production Progression Demonstration - Multiple Angles and Special Effects), a Randy Newman Biography and Render Bugs: Rendering Errors.

Now you may look at that list and think 'Wow, that's an awful lot of material that they left out!' The truth is that you're right, but you have to understand that you can only fit so much material on these discs, and what they have managed to include is A LOT. So my advice would be to hold on to your copy of the Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box set, but definitely upgrade to the high definition release. More than likely, we'll see another release in the future - sometime after Toy Story 3 gets a home video release (perhaps in a large ultimate package containing all 3 movies and all of the missing material). For now though, this is a definite must-buy, along with the sequel that's being released the same day. Be sure to check both of them out.

Tim Salmons
timsalmons@thedigitalbits.com



Toy Story 2: Special Edition

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Toy Story 2: Special Edition
1999 (2010) - Pixar (Disney)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 23rd, 2010
Also available on DVD (and available previously on DVD).

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: B+
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: B+


In 1999, Pixar followed up their hugely successful debut with Toy Story 2. Just as successful, the sequel introduced new characters and gave the toys a chance to get out of Andy's room and explore the world around them.


While I genuinely enjoy Toy Story 2 and think it's a nice follow-up, it just isn't as impressive as the original (few sequels are). It's not bad movie at all, but it just seems to be lacking what made the original so special in the first place. While the emotional wallop is still there, it seems to take a step back rather than forward and pander more directly to children rather than people of all ages. In any other animated series this would be acceptable, but for a sequel to a movie that had such broad appeal, Toy Story 2 seems to fail. It's still a successful story, but it feels more like a television spin-off rather than a movie, at least to me.

The charisma of the characters is still intact, thankfully. The overriding and repeating fear from film to film (including the as yet to be released Toy Story 3) is that Andy will get tired of his toys and stop playing with them, which is Woody's greatest fear. There are some sequences that were deleted from the original that carried over into the sequel: the Buzz Lightyear adventure opening, Woody's nightmare and the character of Wheezy. In the final moments of the movie, Wheezy breaks into song - a big band version of "You've Got a Friend in Me." To me, that ruins not only a great character, but tosses out the validity of the original in that these stories aren't fairy tales and their characters don't break into song. So the movie has some problems, but that being said, I still enjoy it for the most part. The animation excels above the first one, obviously, and gets better with every picture. All of the characters are funny and enjoyable and the story is a fun and entertaining ride. I just wish that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

Again, as with the Toy Story Blu-ray, Disney really did a nice job in putting together a great set with some great extras (on the lighter side compared to the previous disc, but I'll come back to that later). It's new content mixed with old again, but it's been compacted and upscaled in quality wherever possible.

The video of this one looks just as great as the original. Actually it looks better, but only marginally so. I didn't notice as much digital noise this time, in fact, hardly none at all. It's sleek, sharp and just all around a terrific looking picture. I noticed that the contrast is slightly higher in this sequel, but that's nothing to complain about. It's also worth noting that Disney has replaced their original opening logo on both movies with the new computer-generated logo. The soundtrack work here is just as great as the video. Well-mixed as always, it makes you happy to have a 5.1 setup because they really take advantage of it. As with the original, you're given 5 audio options: English DTS-HD 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, English DTS-HD 2.0 and English DVS 2.0. You also get 3 different sets of subtitles: English, French and Spanish. There's also one additional option here that allows you to Maximize Your Home Theatre by calibrating your system's video and audio. Now let's go in-depth and check out these extras.

Once again, these releases are slanted more toward enthusiasts, rather than general fans. Not a problem though, as the menu system is smooth and easy to navigate, regardless of who purchases the set. Various pictures of concept artwork slide by as you sort through the menus, which is a very nice addition. Starting off with the NEW Blu-ray features, you get the Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: The Characters, which is the second part from the first release. This is a much more detail-oriented peek as they introduce a lot of the new characters that will be featured in the new film. Next is an audio commentary with Director John Lasseter, Co-Directors Lee Unkrich & Ash Bannon and Co-Writer Andrew Stanton. It's a fun and interesting commentary and just as high energy as the other release. Next is part two of the Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station, which goes into a little bit more depth about Buzz's trip into space, via NASA. Up next is the short featurette Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists, featuring some of the crew from Pixar chatting about what they do for a living. Studio Stories comes in 3 parts: Toy Story 2 Sleep Deprivation Lab, Pinocchio and The Movie Vanishes. The latter contains a revealing tale about how the movie almost lost and then rescued by a chance of pure luck. Pixar's Zoetrope shows off an attraction that can be seen at Disneyworld that features several characters from both movies. Celebrating Our Friend Joe Ranft is a tribute to the great storyboard artist from both films who passed away a few years after the sequel was released. These features end with a short segment on Disney DVD and Digital Copy and a BD-Live option.

That takes care of the new features, now let's flip over to the other menu Classic DVD Bonus Features. Here a lot of the extras from previous releases are presented including the featurettes Making Toy Story 2, John Lasseter Profile and Cast of Characters, which is all good stuff. Next is a section called Toy Box which contains Outtakes (seen at the end of the movie), Jessie's Gag (an Easter Egg from the Toy Story 2 DVD), Who's the Coolest Toy?, Riders in the Sky Music Medley and Autographed Pictures. Following all that up is 2 deleted scenes with an intro, which wouldn't have really added much to the film. You also get another set of Design Galleries split into 3 parts: Concept Designs, 3-D Visualizations and Color. A set of Production featurettes follows with Designing Woody's Past, Making Woody's Round-Up, Production Tour, Early Animation Tests, Special Effects and International Scene. Next is a section devoted to Music & Sound: Designing Sound, Making the Songs, "Woody's Round-Up" Music Video and "Jessie's Song" Randy Newman Demo. Finally, the Publicity section features Character Interview (Woody and Buzz), trailers, TV spots, posters and Baseball Woody. Topping it all off are the same Sneak Peeks from the original Blu-ray: Disney Movie Rewards commercial, Toy Story 1 & 2, The Princess and the Frog, James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition, a Disney Parks commercial, Toy Story 3, an On Blu-ray Disc segment and Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition. The DVD version that's included features the NEW extras only, along with additional Sneak Peeks for Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, Phineas and Ferb, and fewer audio and subtitle options.

That takes care of what you get on this fancy new set. Now let's take a look at what you don't get. Missing extras from the Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box set are the Isolated 5.1 Sound Effects-Only Track, the Luxo Jr. short, Sneak Peeks of Monsters Inc. and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, the Introduction to the Supplemental Features, almost everything from the History section including Why a Sequel?, The Continuing World of Toy Story, Production Notes and Cast Biographies, the Story section (Storyboard Pitch, Storyboard to Film Comparison from Multiple Angles - Woody's Nightmare and Jessie's Song), the Production Progression Demonstration from Multiple Angles featurette, the Mixing Demo segment and the Guide to Hidden Jokes.

Now, this is where I'm supposed to defend the producers of this disc for not including some of this material, but I don't have an argument here. As far as the features go, there DEFINITELY could have been more material put on this disc. There is quite a bit of extras to go through, but not nearly as much as the original Toy Story Blu-ray has. What they seem to have done is compress all of the material and break it down to make it flow smoother for this release. The problem is that there was plenty of room to include at least some of the things that are missing. To put things in perspective, It took me an entire day to comb through everything on the Toy Story disc. Yet on the Toy Story 2 disc, it only took me a few hours to check everything out, which is kind of disappointing.

Nevertheless, this is a great upgrade to high definition, even if it is lacking in the features department. It looks and sounds fantastic and is definitely worth picking up. If you have the Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box, I again suggest hanging onto it if you want the extras that didn't make the cut. If you're not interested in the extras, by all means sell it and upgrade because this is another must-buy.

Tim Salmons
timsalmons@thedigitalbits.com
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