In honor of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2, the Cinefantastique Podcast crew takes a look at sequels that surpass their predecessors, including TOY STORY 2, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, and BATMAN RETURNS. Joined by special guest Andrea Lipinski (formerly of the Chronic Rift podcast), the regular CFQ crew of Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski also take a look at superheros on screen this year and give a run down of this week’s home video release, including the director’s cut of LIMITLESS (featuring an alternate ending on Blu-ray), the most recent season of DOCTOR WHO (starring Matt Smith), and TEKKEN, a DTV title based on the popular games by Namco.
Probably the biggest challenge for Pixar in making TOY STORY 3 was turning the third film into more than just a rehash of ideas from the first two stories. But having a central core of well-loved toy characters who were already familiar to audiences from the first two movies, freed the Pixar story team so they could concentrate their sights on developing several interesting new characters and a brand new adventure. The result is yet another astonishing bulls-eye for Pixar, as TOY STORY 3 is a sheer delight and although it may not scale the same heights as TOY STORY 2, it comes awfully close. Of course, some people might be disappointed or unhappy with TOY STORY 3 in comparison to the first two films, but as director Lee Unkrich notes, “There’s nothing we can do about that. We just want to make the best movie we can make and feel fortunate that so far, after putting so much of ourselves into these films time-wise and emotionally, we’ve gotten to enjoy the fruits of our labors.” John Lasseter, the director of the first two TOY STORY movies and the executive producer of TOY STORY 3, shares some brief thoughts about the series below, before going on to discuss the making of TOY STORY 2 which was recently re-isssued on Disney Blue-Ray and DVD in fabulous deluxe editions.
JOHN LASSETER ON TOY STORY 3
JOHN LASSETER: The secret to these films is that each movie is not trying to repeat the same emotion or the same story. We go into something completely different, with the same set of characters and the same world. And therefore we’re able to tap into a completely different set of emotions. Once the toys are alive they become adults with adult concerns. Everyone can relate to these characters. Looking at the world from a toy’s point of view is one thing, but looking at it from a character’s point of view makes it a deeper and more emotional thing. Audiences are able to relate to things in their own lives. This movie has a totally different kind of emotion and depth to it.
Anything that prevents the toys from playing with their child causes them anxiety and worries. And each of the TOY STORY movies deals with those concerns. Basically, in the first film, Woody is concerned with being replaced by a new toy. The toys are always concerned about two days of the year more than anything else—Christmas and a child’s birthday. In TOY STORY 2 the toys deal with being torn, broken, and not being played with because they’re fragile. Woody faces the choice of staying perfect but never being loved again. It’s a pretty deep thing. And in the third film, we really deal with that point in time that the toys are most concerned about—being outgrown. When you’re broken, you can be fixed; when you’re lost, you can be found; when you’re stolen, you can be recovered. But there’s no way to fix being outgrown by the child. It’s such an interesting evolution to the story.
TOY STORY has always been about us… so much of me, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Joe Ranft, and Lee Unkrich has seeped into these stories about Buzz and Woody, and I think TOY STORY 3 continues that. For me personally, I was able to tap into the real emotion of taking my son to college. After helping him set up his dorm room, my wife and I were ready to return home, and we thought he’d walk away and go back to his room. Instead, he stood there and wouldn’t leave. As we drove away, he just waved, and I broke down in tears. It was an immensely powerful emotion. You’re with someone since birth, and then all of a sudden they’re going away. The timing between TOY STORY 2 and TOY STORY 3 was perfect for letting Andy—and our own life situations—grow up.
When we were trying to figure out what Andy would look like as a 17-year-old headed off to college, my wife found these framed pictures of our kids—their 8” x 10” school pictures. Over the years, she had put their latest photo over the ones from preschool and kindergarten up through their high school senior pictures. And it’s just fascinating to watch how they grow and their evolution. They provided some great inspiration for taking a look at Andy and trying to predict what he would look like as a teenager.
From the very beginning, I knew that within the computer, the world is truly three-dimensional. And it seemed like something that Walt Disney himself would have loved, because he was always striving to get more dimension in his animation. And now with 3-D technology and the latest advances in exhibition, we’re able to give moviegoers an amazing experience. It’s like we’ve always been making 3-D movies, audiences just haven’t been able to see them that way until now. It was like watching the film with one eye closed. Last year, we introduced 3-D versions of TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2 and they looked like we made the movies in 3-D. With Lee’s dynamic staging of things and his knowledge and training in live action filmmaking, TOY STORY 3 is the most spectacular 3-D experience yet.
JOHN LASSETER ON TOY STORY 2
Shortly after TOY STORY debuted in 1995, there was almost immediately talk of a sequel to the first-ever CGI feature film, but the creative staff at Pixar initially resisted the idea. “Making a sequel was the last thing we wanted to do,” explains Lee Unkrich, the director of TOY STORY 3. “We felt there were other stories to tell so why make a movie with the same characters when there’s a whole uncharted territory of other stories and new characters. But we saw the big impact TOY STORY has had on the culture. It’s really lasted and we finally realized we had a great thing on our hands. We had all these great characters the world had embraced, and we thought it would be sad if they only got to live in one 90-minute movie. So after some time had gone by, we thought “we enjoyed creating these characters, we really liked them, why not try and give them a great adventure that would be a worthy follow-up to TOY STORY’.” Rather unbelievably, when the first sequel went into pre-production the plan was to make it as a less expensive direct to video title, using many of the same computer models and sets that had already been created for TOY STORY. That would allow it be completed in only two years (as opposed to four) and premiere in video stores for the 1998 holiday season, three years after TOY STORY’s debut. However, John Lasseter was already heavily involved in directing Pixar’s second movie, A BUG’S LIFE, so Ash Brannon, a supervising animator on TOY STORY, was promoted to director, with Ralph Guggenheim returning as producer. The idea was “to make a sequel that would be measured by a gentler yardstick,” explained Pixar’s then chairman Steve Jobs. “Most of the team that created TOY STORY was already working on A BUG’S LIFE, and even with a handful of TOY STORY veterans in key positions, we thought it would be almost impossible to recruit a second crew as talented as the original TOY STORY team.” However it soon became apparent that the storyline created by John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Ash Brannon and Andrew Stanton was so strong it didn’t make much sense to rush the project out in only two years. In fact, Tim Allen, who plays Buzz Lightyear, claimed he lobbied Disney executives to make the switch to a theatrical release. Ironically, the switch meant Allen would have to return and re-do much of his voice recording, as did all of the other actors when the story was re-vamped halfway through the production. Around June of 1997, as initial animation was getting underway, Colin Brady (an animator on TOY STORY), came on as a co-director. At the same time, longtime Pixar employee, Ralph Guggenheim felt the need to make a change, and left as producer. “I left because I was interested in pursuing other areas I had been involved in, like entertainment on the Internet,” explained Guggenheim. “I’d been at Pixar for 11 years and felt I was ready for a change. Helene Plotkin and Karen Robert Jackson, (the production manager on TOY STORY), took over and I hear they’re doing a wonderful job.” Then, a few months later, when the decision to switch to a theatrical release became official, more changes were made. Co-director Colin Brady left the production, and when A BUG’S LIFE wrapped, many of the key creative people who had been working on that film were now free to re-join John Lasseter on TOY STORY 2, including art director Bill Cone, director of photography Sharon Calahan and Andrew Stanton, who did a revision of the screenplay. By the time Lasseter and his new team came on to bolster the production, it was already January of 1999, leaving them less than a year to meet the release deadline of November, 1999. “When we joined the production, very little animation had been done,” noted Unkrich, “but all the character models and setting had been designed and were ready to go, so that’s really when we started to animate and make the film.” No doubt a big reason for the high morale on the project was the depth of emotion the animators could express with their characters. After all it isn’t every G-rated animated film where a character (Woody) comes face to face with his own mortality and another (Jesse), faces the traumatic loss of her purpose in life. It sounds more like the stuff of Ingmar Bergman than Walt Disney!
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I recall Joe Ranft (the head of the story dept. on TOY STORY) telling me that you were the exact opposite of him, because you always kept your toys in perfect condition and he was like Sid, who trashes them. Was that one of the starting points for TOY STORY 2?
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, pretty much. I had my Hot Wheels in a case, and if I used them, I would put them right back, so they didn’t get all over the place. I enjoyed collecting them as well as actually playing with them and took pretty good care of all my toys. And as you know, in my office are a lot of rare and antique toys, so when my sons show up here, their eyes are huge, because they want to play with Daddy’s toys. But I have to say, ‘no these are Daddy’s toys’, and I would be in my office telling them, ‘no you can’t play with that one,’ and I stopped and thought, ‘what if you’re a collected toy.’ So Pete Docter and I were sitting at lunch one day and I started talking about this idea and within a few minutes Pete and I came up with the basic outline of what the story would be. That’s really where the idea really came from. And in the first TOY STORY we don’t really say where Woody came from, how old he is, or anything like that. That opened the door for us to create a history for Woody. So we made him part of the merchandising from a 1950’s TV show called, WOODY’S ROUND-UP. It’s sort of like a Howdy Doody or Hopalong Cassidy type of show. That gave us the opportunity to give him this whole back-story and a rich history. Kind of the retro quality of all these great things from the fifties. Then we could give them this aged look that would be really exciting. So we worked on the story with Ash Brannon a little bit and we brought in Andrew Stanton to help when we were bringing it up to the next level, as a theatrical release. Andrew is so good at that. He really added some key elements to the story and the personalities. Joe Ranft helped on it too. Then the storyboard guys added a lot.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You went from being the sole director on TOY STORY, to being the co-director of A BUG’S LIFE and on TOY STORY 2 you now have two co-directors, Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon.
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, I was the sole director on TOY STORY, but it really helps to be able to delegate and have more than one director. It’s just so complex, there’s too much work for one person to do. I’m not sure how it works with Disney and their co-directors, but here the way we do it depends on the people and their strengths. I worked with Andrew very closely on A BUG’S LIFE. On TOY STORY 2, Lee Unkrich has strength in editing and he comes from a live-action background, so he took the lead in working with the layout dept. and the editorial dept. Ash Brannon, comes from animation, so he and I took the lead in the animation dept. and I took the lead in some other areas. Lighting wise, Sharon Calahan really stepped up to a more active position, as far as leading the lighting team, working closely with myself and Bill Cone, the production designer.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It seems like after A BUG’S LIFE wrapped, not only you, but a lot of the team working on that movie came over to TOY STORY 2 and took over the production.
JOHN LASSETER: Not really took over, but they came in because we had an awful lot to do to get the film out before Thanksgiving. We came in and supplemented the team. That was always the plan, once this became a theatrical release, we knew the production would be staggered, and we knew that a big part of the production would happen after we finished A BUG’S LIFE. You don’t have things going exactly at the same time and we had some story revisions that put us a litter bit further behind than we would have liked, which always happens. We had that on TOY STORY and A BUG’S LIFE, we’re always tweaking the story until the last minute, so we had to bring a lot of people over from TOY STORY 2, during the final stages of A BUG’S LIFE. Most of the animators and most of the lighting people came over for the final stages of A BUG’S LIFE, so it’s a real give and take. That’s why we have the studio, so we can have overlapping productions like that. But we are an animation studio, we’re not two different teams. We have one animation dept. and one lighting dept. and so the people go where they’re needed.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Was there an actual hiatus in the production of TOY STORY 2, after it was finally decided to make it a theatrical release?
JOHN LASSETER: Actually, I think the scene of Buzz and the toys crossing the road was the only sequence that was in production. It was still mostly in pre-production on story reels, when we looked at it and said “yes”, this is going to be great. Some of the layout had been things like them crossing the road, and some things had to be changed, because it was initially being produced for a video aspect ratio, so the biggest production change was switching from 1.33 to 1, to a 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio, because the decision to go to a theatrical release was made in October, 1997. So everything was re-worked for the 1.85 ratio.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Tim Allen said he helped to convince Disney that TOY STORY 2 should be a theatrical release.
JOHN LASSETER: Well, I always felt that TOY STORY 2 had that potential, but it was just that there had never really been an animated sequel. When TOY STORY came out all the animated sequels, with the exception of THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, had been made as direct to video titles. So the business model kind of dictated that decision. It was like, ‘Hey, this is what you do’. The marketplace determined what we were going to do, and also the schedule, because I really wanted to do this as the movie after A BUG’S LIFE, and so what we decided to do was get this started as a direct to video release, brought in Ash Brannon as director, and I was still heavily involved in overseeing it (as Executive Producer). It wasn’t going to be produced, (like Disney’s other animated sequels) overseas; we were going to be making it ourselves and as we started to see the story, everybody including the actors said, ‘let’s make it a theatrical release’.
The story was strong, we all started looking at it and saying, ‘why don’t we make this for theaters? It doesn’t make any sense to go direct to video.’ So collectively we made the decision, about October 1997 to make it a theatrical release, and we then started ramping-up to make a theatrical movie, instead of trying to scale down the budget. We decided to make it look as good as we could and re-worked the story. Then when I finished A BUG’S LIFE, I stepped in to help as director, and brought with me Lee Unkrich, as a co-director. It’s exciting, the whole notion of this story, is dealing with some pretty deep emotions. Basically what Woody goes through, is he gets stolen and gets caught up with the idea of being a collectable, and loses sight of what it is to be a toy. Buzz is the one this time, who comes to him and says, ‘you are a toy, you’re not a collectable, you’re a child’s plaything!’ The other layer emotionally that Woody goes through, is basically, Woody’s fear of dying. In the beginning, Woody’s arm is ripped, and he is so worried about tearing more, because he thinks Andy won’t ever play with him again. This really becomes a deep fear, because he wants Andy to play with him and that’s the underlying theme of the movie. By being valuable as a collectable, you’re being given the opportunity to live forever. Therefore, being afraid of dying, here’s Woody’s choice: you can be restored and sit in a glass case and live forever, but the downside is that you would never be played with again. And of course, the longer you live, the more valuable you become, which means you definitely will not be played with. So that’s like a human being getting a chance to live forever, but never to be loved again. So it’s a really heavy choice. It’s kind of fun and wonderful in that way. It’s something that the kids won’t necessarily get, but adults get, and that’s one of the things we strive to do in our movies, to put the layers in there, for adults, as well as for kids. It’s that heart and pathos, and deeper issues and meanings that take these movies to another level. So adults can go and find it to be an entertaining and enjoyable 90 minutes. That’s really the goal. So we work to make G rated movies, but that doesn’t mean they’re just for kids. We work so hard to make it play for all age groups. So far, the adults we’ve previewed this for are really caught up in this.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: At the end of TOY STORY, Buzz has changed into accepting the reality that he is a toy, and likewise, Woody is no longer threatened by Buzz being Andy’s new favorite. So you already had a good set-up for continuing their adventures with a fresh perspective. You don’t have to just re-hash the first film like most sequels.
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, now they are friends and that was the challenge, where do we go from there. I wouldn’t buy, as an audience member, the characters going through the same kinds of issues. They’ve been there and done that and you want the characters to be intelligent, so they don’t keep doing the same old thing. That’s where looking at toys being alive and finding other aspects of that was the avenue we pursued. So we just thought, ‘what if Woody was a valuable and was collected.’ Then, the next thing you know, we’re off in a whole adventure that is very believably and interesting and is completely new. We’re very aware of the sequel issue, and we looked back at many different films for examples of what we hold high as the types of sequels we liked. GODFATHER II, for instance, which is a sequel that is a great movie into itself. It goes beyond what happened in the original, and what went before it and it’s a really interesting movie. The EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is also a great sequel, because it takes off from the original, but it doesn’t copy it. So they were both huge inspirations for me, as far as what kind of sequel to shoot for. We wanted this to be original and unique and still respect what makes TOY STORY successful, which is the storyline, the characters, their personalities and their relationships. The fact that they all like each other, they’re friends, and the look of the medium, the art direction, all of this makes up TOY STORY as a whole and you want to bring all that over into TOY STORY 2 so it feels like the world you saw in the first one, but then you want the new story to be completely different. It’s a real respect for the original, but then taking off from there and not copying it. So we have all the same returning voice actors along with some new ones.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So with your main characters already set, you could concentrate more on creating the new characters and the story.
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, exactly. In creating these movies from scratch, like we do, there’s three elements that need to work really closely together: the story, the characters and the world they live in. The logic of the world and the design of the world. Well, doing TOY STORY 2, the characters and the world are done, we just kept it in the same milieu and we had all these great characters to work with. That freed us up to concentrate on the story and develop new characters and we found the characters were a great collection of personality types. It’s kind of like some of the great sitcoms, like MASH, CHEERS or MARY TYLER MOORE that lasted forever. In any situation someone is there to have a nice observation or angle. Mr. Potato Head is always there to question authority, to poke at people. Hamm is Mr.-know-it-all. Rex is great character in the new one, because he has a child like innocence, where he takes things at face value, and is very emotional. Slinky Dog is completely and 100 % loyal. His loyality is always there. So we had those core characters and then looked at doing new characters who are funny and unique, and had that opportunity by creating the WOODY’S ROUND-UP TV show to create characters who would be like Woody. So we thought Woody would be the Sherrif of the town, and every good cowboy needs a horse, so we created Bullseye, his horse. We decided early on to keep him mute, so he doesn’t have a speaking voice. That kept him more in the vein of a very loyal dog, rather than a character. But there’s something so honest and straight-forward about Bullseye, as Woody would say, and it’s true. It’s Woody’s horse and he would do anything for Woody. That’s his reason for being, to be Woody’s horse. Then we added Jesse, the cowgirl, and we didn’t want her to be a love interest for Woody, because there’s Bo-Peep, and we didn’t want to confuse that, so we basically thought of her as Annie Oakley, combined with a heavy dose of Ellie-Mae Clampett from the BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. She just has this energy and spark, and her Mountains are really high and her valleys are really deep, emotionally. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and Joan Cusack does her voice. Design-wise we pulled a lot of elements from Woody. She’s got the same color scheme as Woody, a shirt with yellow and red, and her chaps are the same cowhide as Woody’s vest. Her buttons are exactly the same size as Woody’s, thinking, when they manufactured them they would just use the same buttons. The same belt buckle and the boots are the same, too. The hair we kind back to a kind of Raggedy Ann style, of red yarn going back into a ponytail and beautiful green eyes. We wanted to make her as cute as possible. She is just a fiery cowgirl, real spunky, and one of the great things about her character is we could make her really extreme when you first meet her, so Woody is taken aback and then you find out what really drives her. It’s one of the emotional cores of the movie. We always said, that a toy wants to be played with by a child more than anything else, and all the things that can prevent that, are the things that cause them anxieties in their lives. In the first one we dealt with being broken and lost, but we never dealt with what is probably the most tragic thing for a toy, which we deal with in this one: Jesse gets outgrown. Her owner Emily grows-up and Jesse is left behind. If your broken you can be fixed, if your lost, you can be found, but if your outgrown, there’s nothing you can do about it.
There’s a song “When She Loved Me” that Randy Newman wrote, and it’s played over this flashback of watching her being played with by her owner, Emily and then she outgrows her and in the end of it, she’s given to this charity donation center and Jesse watches the car drive away with her owner in it. Sarah MacLaghlin sings it for us. It’s a low point for Jesse and Woody too, because he’s trying to figure out whether to go back or to stay. Then Jesse gets really mad at Woody when he wants to go back and what happened to Jesse is potentially going to happen to Woody, so it parallels Woody story. It’s very similar and adds to Woody’s worries about if he should just stay as a collectable. It gives such emotional resonance to the story and you just fall in love with Jesse because of what she went through. Then we have Stinky Pete, the prospector, played by Kelsey Grammar. He’s like the Gabby Hayes character. I grew up watching Roy Rogers and Sky King and all those shows and they always had the comic sidekick character and I remember, when we were developing this, we had to have this kind of crusty comic sidekick type of character. So as a toy, we thought that the other aspect that would be interesting to delve into was having a mint in the box toy, because that is the most valuable a collectable toy could ever be, if it’s never been opened and never been played with. Of course, that goes 100% against why toys are made and it means that Stinky Pete was never bought. Then later on, he was found by a collector and the next thing you know he’s worth something. So he goes through this depression of never having had a chance to be played with and now that the depression has turned into anger and manifests itself in pride that he never has been played with, so he’s more valuable that way. We play Stinky Pete from inside a box for most of the movie. He’s mint in a box. It’s a funny thing. He’s like old man Potter (Lionel Barrymore) in a wheelchair in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, he’s continually being pushed around by Bullseye, because he’s in a box and can’t walk. So we had a lot of fun developing these characters. We have Big Al, of Al’s Toy Barn, and he’s by far the most complex human character we’ve ever done. The Evil Emperor Zurg, who is Buzz Lightyear’s arch-enemy makes an appearance. Andrew Stanton is actually doing his voice, but it’s heavily tweaked and modified, so it sounds like a space villains voice. There’s a new character that we find in Andy’s room, Wheezy, a forgotten Penguin toy who was left up on a shelve after he was broken and forgotten and Joe Ranft is doing the voice for Wheezy.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In TOY STORY 2 Barbie finally makes an appearance, after Mattel nixed her cameo in the first movie.
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, you bet. We wanted to have Barbie make a quick appearance in the original movie, but Mattel said no, because Barbie is their flagship doll and they didn’t know anything about what this movie TOY STORY was. So after TOY STORY went on to become a hit, Disney signed a long-term deal with Mattel. Then Mattel came to us and said, ‘Oh, by the way, if you want to use Barbie in TOY STORY 2 you can. It’s actually a very funny scene, where Buzz and Rex and all the other toys journey out to try and find Woody and they end up at Al’s Toy Barn and they sneak in before it’s open. They get lost and end up in the pink aisle and find a whole bunch of Barbie’s and their jaws drop because they’re all gorgeous and they say, ‘excuse us ladies, but can one of you tell us where the Al of Al’s Toy Barn is’. And one of them goes, ‘I can, I’m tour guide Barbie’ and she jumps down and gives them a tour of the toy store. It’s very funny. If you know Disneyland, there’s a lot of funny little Disneyland kind of tour guide jokes, like ‘please remain seated and keep your arms inside the car and no flash photography’. Then she repeats it all in Spanish. It’s just like the Matterhorn ride. That comes from my days working at Disneyland. I worked at Disneyland while I was going to Cal Arts. I was a sweeper at Tomorrowland the year that Space Mountain opened, which was the same year that STAR WARS came out, so it was the summer of 1977. It was crazy that summer at Disneyland, with huge crowds and I loved it. Then the following summer I worked as a ride operator on the Jungle Cruise. Barbie is played by Jodi Benson, who is the official voice of Barbie in the commercials and for whenever Barbie needs to have a voice. She was also Ariel, the Mermaid in THE LITTLE MERMAID. She’s a very talented actress and we just had a blast with her doing the part. We kept telling her to smile, because she’s a tour guide. Barbie looks great on the screen and it’s a very funny scene.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You didn’t want to make the world of TOY STORY 2 that much more complex than what you had shown in the original TOY STORY. Did that mean you actually had to pull back from what you could accomplish in creating the environments?
JOHN LASSETER: What happened was we talked about how much we respect the entities that make up TOY STORY. We knew that for A BUG’S LIFE we had gotten so much more visually complex, way ahead of what TOY STORY was. We couldn’t go ahead of that, because it would not resemble TOY STORY. So we did pull back, but TOY STORY 2 is still going to be a lot more complex looking if you were to compare them frame by frame. I think when the audience sits and watches the movie, it’s going to feel like the same world that they saw in TOY STORY. Of course one of the most difficult thing to produce with the computer is organic things and we just went through A BUG”S LIFE so now we have this digital nursery filled with all these plants and rocks and twigs and trees and anything you’d go out and find in the natural world. We have that now because of A BUG’S LIFE, so that worked great and we weren’t afraid to use organic things. In TOY STORY, we didn’t go outside very much and when we did, we were very careful, because it was so complex to create that world. Now, when they go outside, it’s full of the plants and rocks and terrain from A BUG’S LIFE. It’s been a great use of the digital backlot, to make the setting more complex without really adding a lot of time to the production schedule, because we had it all there.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: How much does that save you in the budget, since you don’t have to design and built everything from scratch?
JOHN LASSETER: It’s hard to say, but from a creative standpoint I know that those sets are there, whereas, if I knew something didn’t exist, I would question how we would go about doing it. In creating our models, it’s actually like building a real working model in a machine shop, because it takes a lot of time to create a complex model in the computer. So you have to look at the importance of it in the movie. That’s one of my jobs. If it’s really important, lets do it. Sometimes it may be just for one shot, but if it’s really important, we have to do it. There’s other times when it’s too complex, so we say, ‘let’s simplify that, or not do it’.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: As VP of creative you have your eye on all the movies that are being made at Pixar?
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, I oversee all the movies that are going on, but after TOY STORY 2 I’m taking a much needed break, because I’ve been going pretty much straight since TOY STORY, which was back in 1991. So I haven’t had much of a break. I went straight from TOY STORY to A BUG’S LIFE, and then straight from A BUG’S LIFE to TOY STORY 2. I’m going to just be the executive producer for a while and I have a couple of ideas I’m interested in that I’ll probably start developing. But I need to re-charge my creative batteries. Because I wear two hats, I will just be wearing my executive producer hat for a time, because one of the goals of Pixar is to get a lot of things into development, so we can use both sides of our production staff.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Does being an executive conflict at all with your artistic role when you are directing?
JOHN LASSETER: Well, I’m really an animator at heart and during the production process everyone gets to put his or her own creative ability into the task at hand. We’re honest, and there’s virtually no politics going on. I always believe that the feeling and atmosphere at a studio always comes down from the top. So as VP of creative I try to be honest, funny, crazy and just have fun with what we do, because I realize I’m an example for everybody and it kind of permeates the place.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you direct the voice sessions with the actors?
JOHN LASSETER: Ash did some early on and I was there for a lot of them and then we did a lot after I came over, after finishing work on A BUG’S LIFE. So I worked with all the actors and did a lot of voice recording. On the casting, I definitely worked with Ash in the early days, casting all the voices, especially with Joan Cusack and Kelsey Grammar.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Stinky Peter was originally voiced by David Ogden Steirs, before you brought in Kelsey Grammar.
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, that was very early on when David was still playing Stinky Pete. At that point he was more of a true Gabby Hayes type of prospector, then the character evolved to be more of a mint-in-the-box toy. So Kelsey stepped in and fit the bill there.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Why didn’t Ralph Eggelstein come back and work as the production designer on TOY STORY 2.
JOHN LASSETER: Ralph still works at Pixar, but he was working on other projects. Jim Pearson and Bill Cone, who worked on the original took over for Ralph. The task in terms of the art direction for TOY STOY 2 was to respect the original, but take it too new levels. It’s a difficult task, because the technology has jumped so far from where we were originally. But you don’t want to just re-create the world and have it be something you’re not familiar with. The original look was important, from the neighborhood to the cars, so we have the same cars from the original and the art direction is very much the same, but I think we have gotten better as artists, so the lighting is richer and there are new worlds we haven’t seen before. The whole WOODY’S ROUND-UP show with it’s retro-fifties cowboy collection and there’s also the whole Buzz Lightyear outer space world that appears in the beginning, which is really fun. You get to see him as the true Buzz Lightyear space ranger. The whole beginning 4 minutes of the movie is a full-on, over the top Buzz Lightyear space adventure, with the Evil Emperor Zurg. Then at the end of it, you realize it’s Rex playing a video game. But the whole beginning of it is this great adventure. It’s a great opening sequence, like in a James Bond movie. I’ve always loved the opening sequences of the Bond movies.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Buzz Lightyear meets a whole shelf of other Buzz Lightyears while he’s in Al’s Toy Barn.
JOHN LASSETER: Yes, we recognized that part of the charm of Buzz was this absolute 100% honesty he has, that he believes in himself and the things he can do, but it was all a false reality, because he was a toy. So we realized now that Buzz knows he’s a toy, let’s put him a position where he could meet himself the way he used to be. It’s so funny, because it’s like STAR TREK when they had a good Kirk and a bad Kirk.
It might seem odd that the first two Toy Story films are so often mentioned in the same breath as the Godfather epic; though the films share little in common, there is a unifying bond – in both cases, a masterpiece was actually improved upon in a sequel. The rarity of this occurrence is well documented among cineastes, putting these 2 disparate sets of films in the same exclusive club. Disney is certainly hoping not to have Godfather III luck this summer, when the heavily anticipated Toy Story 3-D arrives in theaters; in the meantime, they’ve given fans a treat to hold them over – Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on Blu-Ray. Now, we won’t waste time with a plot synopsis – if the story of Woody, Buzz and the rest of young Andy’s toys isn’t already familiar, than willful ignorance can be the only culprit. Instead we’re going to concentrate on the contents of the new discs and see how they stack-up against the previous releases, including the extremely comprehensive (as far as supplemental go) Ultimate Toy Box release.
Back in 1995, the release of Toy Story was a not-so-minor milestone in the process of modern animation. Not only was it the first Pixar feature film (made on a relatively modest budget with a staff of just over 100 people); it was also the first film to be entirely created using digital animation. 1995 might not seem that long ago, but in terms of technology it could well be a lifetime; its initial home video release was on VHS and Laserdisc, and it would take the 2000 home video release of its sequel, Toy Story 2, before the films received DVD treatment. It would be another decade, however, before the films received a home video release that replicates the images the original animators created more than 15 years ago. Both previous DVD sets were considered to be high quality releases of the moment, so our expectations were caught unawares by the near-ethereal image quality present on the Blu-Ray discs. Looking beyond the bright, bold colors, we were absolutely gob-smacked by the sumptuous textures. Details that were always present but had been hidden away by 480p transfers (the grain of the wood in Andy’s headboard, the stitching on Jessie and Woody’s vests, or the scales on Rex) now leapt off the screen as if rendered in 3-D (and, in spite of the recent 3D re-release, neither film was shot in that format). In fact, the image quality is so pristine that some might not even notice the new DTS lossless audio track, adding yet another layer of dimensionality to the show.
When we first saw Toy Story, the seemingly dull rendering of Andy (the only human that we see enough to concentrate on) made us dubious of the capabilities of digital animation; sure, you can animate inanimate objects, but are actual human beings that far beyond their range? With the BD release you can finally see not only additional detail in Andy himself but clear evidence that the animators goal was to imbue the plastic toys with as much – or even more – personality than the humans of the world. Since their release, the art and science of digital animation has grown at a geometric rate; Pixar’s continuing success eventually forced Disney to re-think their own approach to animation, and saw other studios like Fox and DreamWorks opening their own lucrative animation studios, though none would enjoy Pixar’s level of critical and box office success.
Now, obviously, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 belong on a very short list of DVDs that you can find in virtually every household – regardless of the presence of children. And we certainly feel that Disney’s new Blu-Ray discs operate at a reference standard that no serious videophile should be without, but the completist will want to take note that not all previously released bonus features made the jump to Blu-Ray. On the plus side, there are quite a few new features present on the discs – all of which are in HD: Toy Story bonus features:
The Story: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off
Paths to Pixar: Artists – a series of shorts in which Pixar’s artists discuss how they arrived at the company
Studio Stories – a series of ‘life at Pixar’ shorts that will make you hate your own job that much more
Buzz Takes Manhattan – the debut of the Buzz balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade
Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw – an early edit of the film that nearly strangled digital animation in the cradle
ToyStory 2 bonus features:
Characters: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station
Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists – same as above, but the techies
Studio Stories – more stories to remind you that you don’t work at Pixar
Celebrating our Friend Joe Ranft – a nicely heartfelt tribute to a noted animation story editor
In addition to the new material, an enormous amount of the previously released bonus material has been included as well, but there is also a decent-sized chunk of material (mostly from the now out-of-print Ultimate Toy Box set) that didn’t make it. We can’t pretend that we’ll miss the effects-only audio track, but we are a bit surprised to see that the Tin Toy short was omitted (you can view the entire list of missing material over at the Digital Bits). As with most of Disney’s high profile BD releases, each set also includes a standard-def DVD with the film and bonus materials.
Variety reports that the 3D versions TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2 will make their premiere at the Venice Film Festival, which is scheduled to run September 2 through 12. The screenings of the popular computer animated films, which have been revamped with Disney Digital 3D technology, will be wrapped around a lifetime Golden Lion award ceremony for John Lasseter, who directed both films and runs Pixar, the company that turned computer-generated animation into blockbuster success. Accompanying Lasseter to the festival will be other Pixar filmmakers: Brad Bird (RATATOUILLE), Peter Docter (MONSTERS, INC), Lee Unkrich (FINDING NEMO), and Andrew Stanton (WALL-E).
In a statement the fest organizers said for “first time in the history of the Venice Film Festival, the award will honor not only the achievement of a single filmmaker but also the contribution of the directors of a visionary studio.”