The Story Behind Toy Story 3

Pixar’s threequel: from feud to full speed ahead…

This week, the first full trailer for Pixar’s Toy Story 3 officially went live.

The film itself will arrive in our cinemas on 23 July next year, directed by Lee Unkrich, who has been with Pixar since the first film.

But Toy Story’s latest outing wasn’t always in Pixar’s hands, and while we suspect if the company truly had its way that the sequel wouldn’t even exist, they have taken over responsibility for making it work.

So how did this new adventure for Woody, Buzz and co come about? For that, we have to travel back in time. Back to the making of Toy Story 2, when Disney and Pixar’s relationship was a little different.

Please keep your hands, arms, and accessories in the car, and no flash photography…

1. Disney Demands A Sequel

Long before there was the controversy of Disney making a third Toy Story movie, there was the controversy of Disney demanding a second Toy Story movie.

Back in the dim, distant past (the early nineties, kids) a spunky little studio named Pixar did a deal with Walt Disney Pictures to produce an animated film using computer technology it had been developing to work on adverts and visual effects.

No one knew what would happen with the planned project – finally named Toy Story – as the production was torturous and had to be shut down at least twice before it started looking like it would on release.

To get the greenlight for that first film, Pixar and Disney hashed out a deal, which would cover the animation team’s next few projects.

History has long since recorded what happened – huge box office success, critical orgasms and genuine, deserved talk of ground being broken and boundaries being shoved.

Fresh from the success of that film, Pixar was asked about a direct-to-video sequel to Toy Story, an idea that Disney had increasingly begun to push for all the “products” and characters it owned.

The Pixar brass – including John Lasseter and Ed Catmull – were not particularly thrilled about the idea, but since Disney was A) still largely funding them and B) offered to keep the film out of the original deal, they put a separate, yet still in-house team to work developing it while they focused on the grind of getting A Bug’s Life made.

The early results were not promising. “To be fair,” explained Andrew Stanton when Total Film asked him about it, “none of our movies look that great for most of their existence.

“You start out with the possibility of what it could be and it sounds exciting like any pitch. And then you’re forced to go through childhood and puberty through the life of the movie and it falls off its bike for most of its development and it’s not until the back end that you start to see it come together and be something.

“When we first heard the idea, we said, ‘Okay, let’s make it straight-to-video’ and then when they started to make it, we thought, ‘this has more potential…’

“We also underestimated what it really took and who made it possible for the first Toy Story to make it as good as it was. We couldn’t simply hire in another crew and say, ‘go make it’ and hope everything would fall into place. It’s like saying ‘Well, the Beatles made one album, let’s hire a new group of musicians and let them make a new album.’

“It was that ignorant. We were so busy with A Bug’s Life that we really weren’t able to check on its progress too often and even when you do, and it’s not really working, you don’t freak out because none of them films come together that early.

“And when we were at a year and a half or two years into it, at the stage it should be coming together, it wasn’t. It wasn’t getting any better. And that’s what made us get really, really nervous…”

Yes, Toy Story 2 was shaping up to be an embarrassment for the crew that had produced a winner with their first effort.

But thanks to the intervention of Lasseter, Stanton, Lee Unkrich, and some of the other original team members, it was brought back into shape, thanks to both their hard work and the fact that the crew who had been beavering away on the sequel actually had found some decent plot suggestions.

“The kernels of the ideas that are in Toy Story 2 – Woody being a collector’s item and finding his past - those were all in place, but had just not been capitalised upon or used correctly," explains Stanton. "It was really the experience of the old crew coming in and taking those pieces and doing something with them that others were no able to see.”

With Toy Story improving every day, decisions were made to switch the film for a cinema release. “Pixar’s very good at doing high quality and expensive work. And not very good at doing quick, dirty and cheap work!” laughs technical director Michael Kass. “So after a while they decided to turn it into a theatrical release.”

TS2 arrived with even more fanfare than the first film – and was seen as even better. Given that it actually hit cinemas, Pixar asked that it now be considered part of the original distribution deal.

Disney said no. How does the song go? “There may be trouble ahead…”

Next: Splitsville?


2. Splitsville?

Trouble had been brewing between the Disney honchos and Pixar’s top executives for a while, and the Toy Story 2 issue didn’t help matters.

With Pixar’s movies proving hugely successful – and profitable – the company wanted more control over its own destiny and its movies. Disney, worried about losing what had quickly become its most lucrative division, was equally concerned that it keep a tight grip.

The two companies attempted to reach a new agreement in early 2004.

The new deal would be only for distribution, as Pixar intended to control production and own the resulting film properties themselves. The company also wanted to finance their films on their own and collect 100 percent of the profits, paying Disney only the 10-15 percent distribution fee.

More importantly, as part of any distribution agreement with Disney, Pixar demanded control over films already in production under their old agreement, including The Incredibles and Cars. Disney considered these conditions unacceptable, but Pixar would not concede.

While the two eventually worked out a deal – essentially, Disney acquired Pixar, but Lasseter took over running Disney animation and a couple of other departments, while Pixar corporate guru Steve Jobs joined the Disney – there was still the small matter of the original contract.

The Mouse House still held the rights to Pixar’s earlier work. And since by now every single one of Pixar’s films had proved to be a big hit, the then-head of the Burbank-based studio decided to capitalise even as it looked like his company and Pixar would be going their separate ways.

Michael Eisner, who hadn’t exactly endeared himself to Jobs and Lasseter with his attitude decided that what was really needed was Toy Story 3. Lasseter had had a rough idea for where a second sequel might go, but didn’t want to work on it, since he and his fellow Pixar-ians were more interested in original films.

Steve Jobs made it clear that the only way Toy Story 3 would be made would be to help Pixar ease out of its deal with Eisner’s bunch that much more quickly. And no one was going to force them.

"Pixar has no current plans to create Toy Story 3 and is under no obligation to do so," a spokesbod for the company had said years before it ever became an issue.

"Under the current deal, John picks his own projects, and no one insists on what he should do. With more than $250 million in cash in the bank and no debt, Pixar has the financial resources to finance and market its own films.

“Given Pixar's track record, several studios would likely be willing to finance everything in exchange for a chance to work with Pixar."
But with the pesky rights held still in Disney’s white-gloved clutches, it wasn’t truly their decision.

Toy Story 3 was announced. No, make that Toy Story 3… and 4.

Cue the dramatic musical sting!

Next: Toy Story 3. And 4…


3. Toy Story 3. And 4…

October 2004, and Disney is bullish about the future of the Toy Story world.

"We're doing two Toy Stories at once," announces Eisner.

"They're working on different story ideas with the hopes there will be a Toy Story 3 and another after that," adds a spokesbod.

The company’s target for the new film – unlike their previous sequel plans – would be for a cinema release in 2008.

As if to rub salt into the wounds, Eisner also announced that his studio had set up its own facility to produce the new movie – a shot across Pixar’s bows that said, “if you won’t help us play with your toys, we’ll get our own playroom.”

“The Walt Disney Co. has announced the creation of a new computer animation unit, which will be based in Glendale California and will produce feature film sequels to the Pixar movies Disney has distributed, a highly successful group of films that includes Toy Story movies, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.”

 What, no love for A Bug’s Life? Always the redheaded stepchild…

But it was true: the sequel fate for Pixar’s early output was firmly in the hands of Eisner. The world readied itself for possible announcements about Finding Nemo 2: Nemo Gets Lost Again and Monsters, Inc: Scare Harder…

Next: The Circle And The Plot


4. The Circle And The Plot

Taking its name from Circle 7 Drive where the building was based, the new production facility began to gear up.

''We were never fooled that Circle 7 wasn't the most expensive bargaining chip ever created,'' Stanton has said.

''But we also knew that, bargaining chip or not, they'd go through with it. They weren't going to blink.''

By the end of 2004, Circle 7 had hired an estimated 170 artists, writers, executives, and directors — and it was clear that Disney was pouring millions into the venture.

Toy Story 3 was first on the slate to be directed by Lion King 1½'s Bradley Raymond. (As feared, follow-ups to Monsters, Inc and Finding Nemo were also in development.)

Word was that Tim Allen would likely return to voice spaceman Buzz Lightyear, thanks to his ongoing relationship with Disney (which produced Home Improvement and had handed him a successful franchise with the Santa Clause films). Tom Hanks, however, was less set. The scuttlebutt at Circle 7 was that Disney would pitch Hanks a contract for both a third and fourth installment, for a huge payout.

Jim Herzfeld, who had worked on Meet The Parents and Meet The Fockers, was hired to write a script for the new film.

''I should have had my agent look into it more,'' the writer told Entertainment Weekly. ''There'd been a pot of bile just simmering on the stove. The crew would say, 'we were just pawns, used to scare Pixar to the negotiation table.' It was essentially Michael Eisner putting a gun to the head of Pixar's children.''

Still, he handed in a draft at the end of 2005 that saw the greenlight flash.

And his plot? Buzz Lightyear starts to malfunction, causing his speech to flare up and one of his hands to pop off. The resulting pointy end accidentally scratches Andy.

Believing that they can get him fixed so Andy will accept him again, the toy room gang packs up an unwilling Buzz and has him shipped back to the company that produced him in Taiwan.

Unbeknownst to them, however, Buzz has actually been recalled and won’t ever come back if he reaches the factory. When Woody and co learn this, they have themselves shipped via a faster service to see if they can save their screwy space-buddy.

Meanwhile, Buzz begins to bond with the other recalled toys who are joining him en route, including a night time doll designed for children to snuggle with whose heating element catches fire and a tall action figure doll whose legs don’t work properly and who has a massive chip on her shoulder (no, not literally).

Can the guys (and gals - don’t forget Bo Peep, Jessie and Mrs Potato Head) save their friend in time before he gets melted down or thrown in a landfill?

We’ll never know, because that story will never see the light of day, at least not on screen.

Why? Turns out that Eisner wasn’t long for the Disney world. He left in 2005 and just three months later, new Disney chief Robert Iger essentially buried his predecessor's pet project, announcing that as part of the Disney-Pixar merger, two of Pixar's chief creative architects, Lasseter and Ed Catmull, would now be running all of Disney animation.

Their first major move was to pull the plug on all of Circle 7's work — including preproduction on Toy Story 3.

The end of the story, surely? But no…

Next: Back In The Fold


5. Back In The Fold

Yes, the big, shiny new deal that saw the Mouse House acquire Luxo’s home and the dream team of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull heading up both Disney and Pixar’s animation efforts (with Stanton running day-to-day operations in Emeryville while also working on Wall-E) meant that they had a lot more say in what Disney did with Pixar’s work.

After finding places at the main Disney Feature Animation unit for the majority of Circle 7’s staff (around 140 of the 170 were re-employed), the team turned their attention to future films from Pixar.

With the changes came a renewed appreciation for the possibilities of Pixar sequels, with Toy Story 3 chief among them.

Don’t forget, of course, that Lasseter had had the spark of an idea for a third film way back around the development of Toy Story 2. Which meant that the team wouldn’t be using Jim Herzfeld’s script, but could develop one of their own, one which, rumour has it, will provide closure to the story.

“The idea behind Circle 7 always put a bad taste in our mouths,'' Andrew Stanton told EW. ''We're glad to have a say again about how our kids will be raised.''

Herzfeld, understandably, felt a little slighted: ''I can understand that. Somebody took their children and dressed them up in clothes they didn't approve of. But it doesn't mean they're bad clothes.''

''We didn't read their script,'' says Unkrich. ''Not out of spite, but we wanted to start fresh, and not be influenced by what they'd done. We didn't look at any of the work they'd done. We really didn't want to know anything about it.''

Instead, Pixar turned to Michael Arndt, who had written Little Miss Sunshine, and scored an Oscar for its work.

Working from Lasseter’s basic concept, Arndt came up with a script…

Next: A Whole New Story – Sort Of…


6. A Whole New Story – Sort Of…

So what will be the story for the toys this time around?

Working from Lasseter’s rough template, but including ideas from several of the Pixar “brain trust” – Stanton, Lee Unkrich (who is making his solo directing debut with the movie), Pete Docter and more – Arndt’s script takes place around a decade after the second film.

As many of the toys feared, Andy their owner has grown up. He’s 18 now, and off to college. When asked by his mother what he’ll do with his old toys, Andy decides to donate them to a local nursery school.

There, they’re definitely played with – almost to destruction, and an escape attempt results in a subplot that’s eerily reminiscent of the aborted earlier version.

Buzz crashes at one point and the others must find a way to revive him. But instead of sending him away to be re-set, they decide to try it themselves, resulting in a Spanish-speaking hero who once more believes he’s the “real” Buzz Lightyear. “Return of the Astro-nut” is how Hamm sums it up.

As always, the film will dig deep to find the emotion in the story, with animation Angus MacLane commenting that they’re drawing on life experience.

"I feel like we've grown up making these movies, and each of the films represents where the filmmakers were at the time of making the films," MacLane says.

"Certainly we're approaching this film 10 years later, so I think we're sort of coming at it from the standpoint of Andy has grown up, and we've grown up with these toys, and we have a reverence for them, but we also have different things as a priority."

Short version: get the tissues ready. They’re going to try to make us cry again.

Oh, and they want to surprise us, apparently. “They took forever to get the script right, and they did such a great, emotional, wonderful job,” says Tom Allen. “I can't tell you more because I respect where they're coming from. It's kind of a Sixth Sense.

“The less you hear about it, the more you're going to be surprised. It's just like you expect it to be, but they really found a wonderful piece of business to make this thing run.”

Can’t wait. And the new storyline means some new friends, too…

Next: Voices From The Past - And Future


7. Voices From The Past – And Future

Given Pixar’s reputation, it’s not tough for them to attract pretty much whoever they want to voice their characters these days.

But the company has always been more about finding the right voice than shoving some big name celebrity up on the marquee in the hopes of covering up a lacklustre story with famous voices.

And since this is a Toy Story adventure, there are fewer new slots to fill.

Almost all the original gang are back, from Hanks and Allen to Wallace Shawn as Rex, Joan Cusack as Jessie, John Ratzenberger (because what’s a Pixar film without him?) as Hamm, Don Rickles and Estelle Getty as the Potato Head pair, R Lee Ermey as Sarge, the commander of the plastic soldier men, Annie Potts as Bo Peep and even John Morris.

Who he? He voiced young Andy and was brought back in to perform the college-aged version of his character.

The only original cast member who doesn’t look to be returning has an excuse – Jim Varney, who voiced Slinky Dog, died in 2000 and with Pixar’s Ouija board technology not quite up to scratch, they’ve had to find a replacement.

Luckily, as Unkrich has recently announced, they found the perfect new Slinky. Blake Clark, an old friend Varney’s who happens to sound spookily like him, is taking over.

And there are new characters too. At Comic-Con, Lasseter and Unkrich revealed that not only would Timothy Dalton show up as a thesping-inclined hedgehog named Mr Pricklepants, but Barbie (again voiced by TS2’s Jodie Benson) would see her boyfriend Ken show up.

Apparently, Ken will have some, er, issues, related to his distinct lack of genitalia, not to mention a serious attitude problem given his time spent in his girlfriend’s more famous plastic shadow.

Ken will be played by Michael Keaton who, according to Tim Allen, has done a great job. “I can't tell you where it fits in, but it's genuinely one of the funniest things I've seen - what Keaton does with Ken. It's absolutely hysterical, absolutely hysterical. What I respond to is how they somehow fit emotion in this that will just really affect people. It's just wonderful.”

You know, we don’t doubt it. We were already pumped to see the thing – and then we got a look at the new trailer...

Next: To Infinity And... Ah, You Know The Rest




8. To Infinity And… Ah, You Know The Rest.

So now all that’s left to do is wait for the thing to arrive.

Pixar has been busy teasing us all with short promos and now the full trailer, which premiered in US cinemas attached to a double bill of the first two films.

With the studio seemingly firmly back in control of its destiny – and its output – it appears unlikely that we’ll be watching Toy Story 4.

At least, not yet. Though for a company that used to be dedicated to avoiding having to pump out sequels, Pixar’s attitude has been shifting more recently, with announcements about development on a Monsters, Inc follow-up spearheaded by Pete Docter and endless rumours that The Incredibles may one day seen a new adventure.

Most importantly, however, it feels like the team will only consider new films if they’ve got a solid story behind them, which is a refreshing continuation of the ethos that has served them well all these years.

After all, 10 box office hits in a row is not a record to be sniffed at. And Toy Story 3 looks to have the makings of another winner…

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    • TheTingler

      Jun 21st 2010, 3:19

      "Annie Potts as Bo Peep" Didn't happen. Bo's not in TS3. Didn't notice about Slinky though! Although I don't think he talks much in TS3...

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