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'Toy Story' Is 20, And Celebrating With A Special

Pixar celebrates the 20th anniversary of <em>Toy Story </em>with a special that will, among other things, show original sketches.
Pixar celebrates the 20th anniversary of Toy Story with a special that will, among other things, show original sketches.

Toy Story, Cars, WALL-E, Up, Finding Nemo, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Ratatouille ... that's only some of the Pixar films that have come out in the last 20 years. This year, they put out two, and while The Good Dinosaur is not setting the world on fire, Inside Out was as well-received as anything they've ever done.

But it all started with Toy Story, back in 1995. It's widely recognized as the first entirely computer-animated feature, and had it gone wrong, it might have fed a narrative that computer animation was bloodless and mechanical, weird and off-putting. Instead, it set a high bar for deeply felt, gorgeously realized stories that balanced goofiness and melancholy and threw out almost as many weird, one-off gags as Airplane!

Thursday night, ABC (which is part of Disney, which owns Pixar) celebrates with a one-hour special airing at 8:00 p.m., followed by a showing of Toy Story at 9:00. (And yes, it's a little weird to put Toy Story at 9:00. Perhaps the airing is less intended for the little kids of today than for the little kids of 1995, who get to stay up a little later now.) ABC hasn't made the special available, but their description says it will feature interviews with some of the production and voice talent — including, yes, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, plus director John Lasseter and one of the screenwriters it's easy to forget was part of this project: Joss Whedon.

ABC has, however, released some of the sketches they're apparently going to show, which look pretty cool. Here's what seems to be a different-looking Buzz, for instance.

An original sketch from <em>Toy Story</em>.
/ Disney/Pixar
An original sketch from Toy Story.

When you look at the interlocking commerce in play here — the network affiliation with the studio, the fact that they'll undoubtedly tease Toy Story 4, working on that precious pre-awareness of a movie that isn't scheduled to come out until 2018, the massive amount of dough that all these movies bring in — it's easy to see a special like this through a cynical lens. (Put another way: it's one thing to have someone else throw a celebration of your achievement; it's another to throw the party yourself and give out samples of your next project.) But at the same time, the creation of Toy Story really was a cultural moment that's earned a degree of interest. I might have preferred to see a documentary done with more distance, but for a cuddly tribute coming from inside the house (of Disney), perhaps this will be the place.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.