Did you get any sense that Disney were sceptical about you coming in and making a computer animation?
They were definitely sceptical about whether or not our kind of animation could really entertain an audience. There was a very strong feeling, even with our short films, that they had a cold, plastic kind of look to them.
But that’s why toys being the main characters was a perfect choice, because it lends itself to our medium, and where we were in the development of our medium.
The humans in Toy Story really became very secondary because we always knew that they would look a little clunky.
Didn’t Disney also have set ideas on the story and the tone of the picture?
Well, Disney was very much an executive-run studio at the time. They gave you lots of notes; we had this development executive who was walking around with a clipboard and every time we kind of pitched an idea, he had to report back on how we were addressing the notes.
And one of the key things that Katzenberg said was, ‘Make it edgy, make it edgy, make it edgy’... He kept saying that.
What, more wisecracks, more cynicism?
Yeah. They always had a feeling that no one – well, no adult – was gonna want to come and sit and watch a movie about kids playing with toys. So, we followed their notes…
But then we had a screening and the movie was horrible! The characters, especially Woody, were just repellent! Woody was just awful, awful, awful! And I was embarrassed because it wasn't the movie we set out to make.
Disney actually wanted to shut the production down and lay people off. We went back and said, ‘Let us do one more cut, give us acouple more weeks. Let us see what we can do ourselves.’
That must have been a pretty hairy time...
It was awful. I thought, ‘Oh, man I can’t do this!’ My stomach was just in a knot. So we came up and it was Joe Ranft, Pete Docter and myself, and we just said, ‘Screw it, let’s just do what we wanna do!’
We decided to make it the movie we wanted to make. So we remade kind of the beginning of the film. And then we cut it at Lucasfilm - on a digital editing system, which was also unusual and not liked by the executives.
Because of that, we were able to turn it around really fast. And so two weeks later we showed them the beginning, and they were blown away! I mean they wouldn’t say it to us right away but later I heard from other people that they were stunned at how fast the turnaround was.
And so they said, ‘Okay, that’s great – this is the movie we want to make too’.
Did the notes stop coming?
[Laughs] No! But from that point on we changed at Pixar. We said, we’re 600 miles away. We’ll check the notes that make the story better and ignore the rest.
And then Katzenberg ended up leaving Disney about a year and a half before Toy Story came out [to form Dreamworks]. So, really, he was kind of there for us at the beginning, but then we finished it without him which was… you know, we kind of focused on making the movie we wanted to make.
And it turned out quite well…
Yeah, not bad [smiles]. We had a number one movie, a huge hit across the world... but one of the things we were most proud about is that it was the first animated film in history to get an 'Original Screenplay' Oscar nomination.