Enough to turn flesh to plastic

29th March 1996 at 00:00
Robin Buss is entertained by Disney's first computer-animated production. The big children's movie for the Easter holiday is Disney's first made entirely using computer animation. In fact, what audiences are most likely to notice about this innovation are its limitations, particularly when it comes to showing human beings, whose flesh looks like plastic. But the toys are fine and Toy Story exhibits Disney's traditional strengths: a witty script, a well-paced narrative and superb characterisation.

Andy's toys are the stars of the show, while Andy, with the mother and younger sister who make up his family, are shadowy characters - life begins when they leave the scene. In their absence, the playroom is organised like a company office: there is nothing childlike about these toys. The threat of new arrivals, from a birthday party provokes an emergency meeting, chaired by "favourite toy" Woody. Troops from a bucket of soldiers are sent out to reconnoitre and radio back the news that Andy has acquired a spaceman, Buzz Lightyear. Is Woody's chairmanship under threat?

In the end, all is resolved amicably, and Buzz is brought to the painful realisation that he is only a toy like the rest. For all I know, this may be a film a clefs reflecting boardroom struggles within the Disney Corporation. However that may be, it will entertain adults at least as much as their children (though it is probably not suitable for the very young).

In the year of an American presidential election, teachers may think that Oliver Stone's 190-minute biography of Richard Milhous Nixon will provide useful back-up for courses on government and politics. They should be warned that Stone works to his own curriculum, not the Ministry's. Nixon is an engrossing collage of dramatisation and newsreel, in colour and black-and-white, with a terrific central performance by Anthony Hopkins as the tormented President. But it requires a sound knowledge of post-war American history to follow the narrative, as it moves across Nixon's life and times, from Whittier, California, to the White House and Watergate. In JFK, the main character was a corpse; in Nixon, Stone performs his autopsy on a living man.

The film opens on the verse (from Matthew, XVI:26): "What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" As this warns us, the film's ambitions transcend the level of political or even psychological analysis: Stone is engaging with the enigma of a public figure condemned to torment by a tragic sense of his own inauthenticity, and constantly aware of his failure to live up to the office he holds.

Whatever good Nixon does (Stone gives a pretty positive account of his achievements) and however well-meaning he may be (Hopkins' portrait is touchingly sympathetic), nothing can save him from what seems a predestined fall.

Older students should certainly see Nixon and debate it - it is Stone's best work and a provocative reflection on the American political psyche; but they should be well briefed in advance. A starting point might be the Film Education study guide, which is available from Film Education, 41-42 Berners Street, London W1P 3AA (tel: 0171 637 9932).

There is a rare opportunity to see four Russian-made adaptations of Dostoevsky at the Barbican on Sunday evenings from April 7, beginning with The Brothers Karamazov (tel 0171 638 8891)

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