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Sunderland conference celebrates Toy Story’s 20th anniversary

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 11.28.59“To Infinity… and beyond”!  When a toy astronaut uttered those immortal lines 20 years ago, no could have predicted the global phenomenon that was to become Toy Story.

To coincide with the milestone anniversary of the world’s first entirely computer animated feature film, the University of Sunderland is hosting a two-day conference exploring Toy Story’s success, its enormous influence on mainstream animation and contemporary popular culture, as well as the wider impact of the cartoon franchise.

Produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures on November 22 1995, the film follows a group of toys who pretend to be lifeless whenever humans are present, focusing on the relationship between Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll (voiced by Tom Hanks), and Buzz Lightyear, an astronaut action figure (voiced by Tim Allen).

The Sunderland conference ‘Toy Story at 20’, organised by the University’s Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies (CRMCS), opens with a screening of the film on Thursday, November 12, at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, and includes a keynote presentation by world-renowned animation expert Professor Paul Wells. This will be followed by a day-long conference (Friday, November 13), opened by keynote speaker Dr Peter Kramer, with talks from an invited panel of experts exploring a wide range of themes.

Toy Story was praised for its technical innovation and screenplay and went on to earn more than $361 million worldwide. It received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song for “You’ve Got a Friend in Me“, as well as winning a Special Achievement Academy Award.

The film also generated a huge franchise from toys, video games, theme park attractions, spin-offs, merchandise, and two sequels –Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010) – both of which also garnered massive commercial success and critical acclaim. A third sequel, Toy Story 4, is slated for a mid-2017 release.

Sam Summers, CRMCS researcher and conference co-organiser, said: “This is the first major UK conference focussed entirely on Toy Story. Twenty years on we felt it was time to look back on this film and evaluate exactly what kind of influence Toy Story has had and why it’s important to so many people.

“It signalled an evolution of computer generated animation and a new medium of cinematic expression.

“Many will be surprised that it’s been two decades since the film’s release and have grown up with the franchise, engaging with it at different times in their lives.

“For me, it was the first film I ever saw as a child, and by the time Andy heads off to university in Toy Story 3, I was doing exactly the same thing. No doubt countless others were too.”

He added: “Our guest speakers will explore a range of themes from animating toys and how adults and children engage with those toys in different ways, to the role of Pixar itself.”

The conference has been organised by the University of Sunderland’s Dr Susan Smith, CRMCS researchers Michael Shaftoe and Sam Summers, and Dr Noel Brown, who researches children’s cinema and animation and teaches at Newcastle University.’

‘Toy Story at 20’ will be held at the David Puttnam Media Centre, Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter’s.

Programme and registration information is available on the conference website. Enquiries can be directed to

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