Toy Story is, and always will be, better than 99% of the movies that exist. 25 years after its groundbreaking release—it was the first feature length film to be completely computer animated—it holds up spectacularly well, and packs more of a punch in 81 minutes than many films do in twice that.
This is where we first meet Woody and Bo Peep and Slinky and Mr. Potato Head and Rex and Hamm and Buzz. As the favorite toy, Woody runs Andy’s room—until Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday, and Woody ends up in the toy bin.
Sparks fly as Woody tries to reinstate himself as the alpha and explain to Buzz that he is not, in fact, the Buzz Lightyear, but only a plastic toy. And when a mishap at Pizza Planet results in both Woody and Buzz ending up in the possession of the neighborhood terror kid, Sid, the two must set aside their differences and work together to make it back to Andy before he moves.
Toy Story is not the first Pixar film I ever watched. (That honor belongs to Finding Nemo.) Still, Toy Story has a special place in my heart, and it’s easy to see why this debut feature helped establish Pixar as a household name. Simply put, it’s a story with heart that takes a certain amount of life experience to appreciate. Yes, kids may be captivated by the colorful animation, but it’s adults for whom the story truly hits home.
In a pivotal scene at a Dinoco gas station (being familiar with the entire Pixar canon, it’s fun to go back to the beginning and remember where some of the Easter eggs got their start), Woody and Buzz watch in horror as the minivan Andy is in drives away. “I’m a lost toy!” Woody wails.
And in that moment, something in the story shifts. No longer is it simply a story about toys who come to life when humans aren’t present, but it’s a story that drives to the core of our own deepest needs as humans: to belong, to be seen, to be known.
Unlike some other Pixar films, Toy Story isn’t one that makes me choke up. Still, it’s not lost on me that, at some deep level, I find myself identifying with the animated-cowboy-doll-with-a-Tom-Hanks-voice protagonist. We’ve all had those moments, I imagine, of standing in what feels like the middle of nowhere—metaphorically perhaps, but go with me here—and screaming into the void, “I’m lost!”
At this point in the film, Woody’s journey isn’t over. It’s only just begun. Ahead, there are perils to escape, friends to make, and a kid to reunite with. But none of those external factors come close to his own internal struggles against the fear of being lost and a desperate need to know he belongs.