At the height of Toy Story's success, everyone wanted a Buzz Lightyear toy.
It’s funny, Disney didn’t even think about toys until very late. It was January of the year of the film’s release [it came out in November] that they first approached toy companies – who usually need about 18 months, minimum.
So, both Mattel and Hasbro passed. We ended up working with a small company called Thinkway Toys, a toy maker there called Albert Chan. He came in and I talked him into doing a full 12-inch high Buzz Lightyear.
Initially, he didn’t want to do it because he said there was no market for it. But I said, ‘The kids are gonna want to have what’s on the screen’, because one of the toys I used to love to play with when I was a kid was GI Joe.
So my model of GI Joe was about 12 inches high... which is why I made him make Buzz Lightyear that high. Albert said, ‘Okay I trust you. We’ll do it…’
But then, most of the big retailers passed on selling it. Albert only sold about 60,000 Buzz Lightyears in all of North America. But by this stage he had faith, so he invested his own money and made another quarter of a million. He’s been making them ever since.
Any idea how many he’s sold?
Yeah, we’re still good friends. I asked him recently. He said, ‘I think I’m over 26 million now.’
You followed up Toy Story with another big success, A Bug’s Life. But how annoying was it when Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Dreamworks came out first with the similar – at least at first glance – Antz?
Yeah, er… [torturously long pause] It’s something I don’t really want to talk about.
So, pretty annoying?
Yes… [another uncomfortably long pause] it was teeth-gnashingly annoying. Let’s leave it at that…