Pixar blockbusters Available On Demand

Toy Story 3Walt Disney Home Video put out a press release today announcing that the “Disney-Pixar Film Collection” will be available for On Demand viewing for a limited time. The availability – which extends from October 19 through November 9 – is timed with upcoming home video release of TOY STORY 3, from Pixar Animation Studios, on November 2 (which will be available on DVD, Blu-ray, and as a a download to own).
Read the press release below:

BURBANK, Calif., Oct. 19 /PRNewswire/ — To celebrate the upcoming home entertainment release of the #1 animated film of all time, Toy Story 3, Disney-Pixar is giving people of all ages the opportunity to enjoy their favorite films on demand for a limited time only. These timeless movies from the celebrated animation studio have never been available simultaneously on demand until now. “The Disney-Pixar Collection” of films will only be available for on demand rental beginning today, October 19 through November 9, via your television provider or favorite digital retailer.
Featuring some of the most incredible stories and beloved characters in movie history, “The Disney-Pixar Collection” includes Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille and Wall-E. All of the movies from the collection, along with Disney-Pixar’s UP (which is not currently available on demand), will continue to be offered for download to own.
Additionally, the year’s most critically acclaimed and highest-grossing movie, Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 3, will become available for download to own (as well as on Blu-ray and DVD) beginning November 2. Buzz, Woody and the gang have charmed audiences around the world and now fans can enjoy their own digital copy of the record-breaking film on a multitude of platforms.

Genre Films Rule Summer B.O.

Inception_DiCaprioNot too surprisingly, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films were  the biggest grossing Summer box office films this weekend.
Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION hit bigger than expected, with a $60.4 million debut. Let’s see if the challenging SF film has legs.
Universal’s winning animated SF-inspired comedy DESPICABLE ME took in another $32.7 million, bringing it’s total to over 118 million dollars thus far.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE came in third place for Walt Disney Pictures, with just over $17 million in its second week, bringing the domestic total to about $24,500, 000 — considerably less than the studio expected, I suspect.
Teen/Tween favorite THE TWILGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE continues to draw respectable business, with another $13.5 million, bringing it’s domestic take to just under $265 million.
Pixar’s well-received TOY STORY 3 came in fifth, with 11.5 million, earning over $362 million in 4 and a half weeks, domestically. It’s made $630,209,000 world-wide.
Figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com

Toy Story 3: An Observation on Critical Carping

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Let’s face it, boys and girls: sequels do not exactly increase the pedigree of a solid, successful original film.  With the exception of, say, AFTER THE THIN MAN, THE GODFATHER II, THE EMPIRE STRIKE BACK, and a few others, they tend to do more harm than good, tainting the brightness of the first. Still, every now and again, a little gem bucks the history of the system.  TOY STORY 3 is just such a little gem, a critical and box office champ that has become the second highest-rated film in Rottentomatoes.com’s history and grossed over $225,000,000 at the domestic box-office in its first ten days. Still, this hasn’t prevented a few critics from reflexively sharpening their long knives.
In a way, you can almost understand their attitude. It is a fact in the standard world that the third time around is definitely not a charm. (JAWS 3D, anyone?) And Pixar’s successful streak is unprecedented: they haven’t had a dud since they debuted the very first  full-length CGI animated movie (the original TOY STORY) back in 1995. The simple law of averages seems to suggest they would drop the ball with this second sequel.  So you can bet that the assassins were poised for the kill.
They should have waited for another target, however, With TOY STORY 3, Pixar has navigated the sequel pitfalls with grace, charm and smarts not once, but twice (TOY STORY 2 is actually Rottentomatoes’ all-time highest rated film).  Now, this isn’t to say that the franchise loses nothing in a third outing – it does lack some of the strength and originality of the first two outings – and one could pick on a few things here and there, but as a third go-round it still stands pretty firmly on sequel ground.  So methinks jabs seem more like critical carping.
TOY STORY 3 completes a near perfect arc.  The original TOY STORY (one of the best animated movies of all time) gave us heart and depth that we don’t often see in animated features – with themes such as the fear of losing someone’s love and being replaced by something new and tantalizing.  TOY STORY 2 dealt with the concern of being played out, worn out and broken, only to be discarded once one has been “beaten up,” as it were.  It also touched on the theme that is entrenched within the third film: What happens when a toy is outgrown?  TOY STORY 3 builds on this idea to its final, touching conclusion.
Of course, these are all metaphors for life itself.  There is not a one of us who cannot relate to love, loyalty, loss, and fear of rejection, abandonment, replacement and so on. This is a main reason why so many people can connect to and enjoy these movies.  Another is simply the love, care and grasp of material that the Pixar team exhibits when making its films.  There wasn’t a single child in the theater during the time period I saw TOY STORY 3 –  a strong testament to Pixar’s universal themes and creative integrity.  Yet it was still easy to sense the connection and the fun everyone was experiencing while watching the movie.  One could even hear sniffles toward its close.
Pixar’s films are International phenomenons.  In the end, they do speak to us all (well, most of us).  It takes a pretty cynical soul to completely reject the creative spirit and intuition that Pixar’s exceptionally talented band of brothers and sisters brings to any given project it produces.  The world of film would be in a much sadder realm were it not for them.  When I watch a Pixar production I am constantly reminded of so many of the reasons why I fell in love with the medium of movies in the first place.
Not every single living soul agrees with this benign line of thinking, however.  Two particular critics have definitely been thrust into the spotlight for their polar views.  Armond White is a reviewer (more a critic, I would say) who betrays an air of haughty superiority, as if he enjoys thrusting a dagger into a well-loved film.  To his vituperate way of thinking, TOY STORY 3 is  “so besotted with brand names and product-placement that it stops being about the innocent pleasures of imagination – the usefulness of toys – and strictly celebrates consumerism,” but then he holds up a messy, exploitive piece like JONAH HEX, exclaiming that “without a $50 million ad budget to make JONAH HEX seem important, the media feels free to trash it – doing so exposes their collusion with marketing and refusal to read film for personal reflection.”
Such a position is just plain silly, to be quite frank.  History is replete with enthusiastic critical and audience acceptance of little films that could.  Now, I cannot say whether Mr. White takes controversial positions to generate attention, or if he is completely genuine with his views, but he acts as if he is in a college debate class and reflexively needs to take the unpopular side of an issue so that he can impress us with his rhetorical skills.
Cole Smithey is another critic who has taken a more negative viewpoint of TOY STORY 3. Smithey claims TOY STORY 3 “sends all the wrong messages,” and he reproaches the film for its lapse into what he sees as an inappropriately dark area.  To this I would counter that Mr. Smithey may not remember his childhood all that well.  I can assure him that the imagination and methods of play of children can be every bit as dark as anything portrayed in TOY STOY 3.
Smithey doesn’t understand why people think his C+ rating is so negative, writing in a later self-defense, “As with everything else in the American media, there’s no room for nuance in today’s court of public opinion; it’s all or nothing. My review was being sniffed at like it was a box of Cracker Jacks with no prize. Although I’d made fifteen points about specific problems I had with the film, some readers seemed unable to grasp a single criticism.”
Well, now, there’s a difference between understanding and accepting. Perhaps the real reason people object is that, within the body of his “nuanced” review, Smithey makes not a single positive comment on the movie. His comments on TOY STORY 3 and his follow-up comments about the reaction to his words show him to be every bit as black-and-white and snippy in his views as any of those against whom he rails.
A third film critic named Jeremy Heilman weighs in on the negative side as well.  His views are more understandable in their “been-there-done-that” perspective.  On that score he – and the others – have a point.  Many of the themes have been touched on before.  But as I said, they come to a rather natural full-circle that ties up the trilogy.  Still, reading between the lines it feels as though Heilman has a bit of a Pixar grudge too (he doesn’t like the fact that they may cast a type of shadow on the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki).
I’m not here to say “How dare these guys show any negativity toward the great gods of Pixar Studios!”  On the contrary, I fully support their right to make any honest observation they see fit. (After all, I doggedly bucked popular opinion on ALIENS, TERMINATOR 2, TITANIC, AVATAR, among others. No I don’t hate James Cameron; I just don’t think he’s very honest in relation to the execution of his stories and characters.)  Besides, Pixar sure doesn’t need me to come to its defense.  What I do question, though, is the possibility that they either had an axe to grind or were simply lying in wait, ready to poke any holes they could the third time around.  As fresh as the first it is not.  But as a threequel it is so much better than most.  And this is the pleasant surprise to which our trio of critics should be a bit more willing to concede.
Mr. Smithey claims to be quite sincere about his sincerity.  Mr. White, on the other hand, seems to be more ticked off at humanity.  There, is no doubt, reason to feel negatively about us particular bipeds, but there must be more honest and constructive ways to show it. We cannot all be “non-thinking children and adults,” as Mr. White essentially says of those who enjoyed the film.  No, in this third and final TOY STORY, almost everything comes together just about as well as one could hope for (with a few exceptions).  The time between the films is just about right, too.  With the years that have gone by, Andy has grown up and is moving away to attend college.  This prompts him to seriously consider: What is to become of the needful things that must now be set aside?  His fondness for his old toys remains (as it has with so many of us), but he cannot take them away to some tiny student dorm and into a completely different type of life.

No longer needed by Andy, the toys end up at Sunnyside Day Care.
No longer needed by Andy, the toys end up at Sunnyside Day Care.

Regardless of what our detractors say, this plot line offers a nice, natural trajectory in connection with the life of a child-turned-young-adult and a handful of beloved toys; it provides a proper, heartfelt note on which to end this charming, silly symphony that is TOY STORY.  And certainly by the movie’s end, Pixar shows they know that this should be and will be its fond full-length farewell to one of the most beloved animated film franchises in the medium’s history.  The group at Pixar has treated it with love, tenderness and care from the first fame of the first film to the last frame of the last film.  There may have been a small trip up here or there along the way, but to ask for much more than was delivered is to demand almost more than mere mortals are capable of.
Heck, all I really know is that Comic Book Guy would dig it.  That’s good enough for me.
TOY STORY 3 (Pixar Animation Studios/Full Circle Releasing/Walt Disney Pictures; 2010; 103 min.) Directed by Lee Unkrich.  Screenplay by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich, and Michael Arndt.  Produced by Darla K. Anderson and John Lasseter.  Production Design by Bob Pauley.  Direction of Animation by Michael Stocker.  Supervision of Animation by Bobby Podesta and Michael Venturini.  Music Composed by Randy Newman.  Edited By Ken Schretzmann.  Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Betty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Emily Hahn, Laurie Metcalf, Blake Clark, Teddy Newton, Bud Luckey, Beatrice Miller, Javier Fernandez Pena, Timothy Dalton, Lori Alan, Charlie Bright, Kristen Schaal, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, John Cygan, Jeff Pidgeon, Whoopi Goldberg, and R. Lee Ermey.  MPAA Rating: G for general audiences.
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Toy Story 3 & Jonah Hex: The Cinefantastique Podcast 1:19

Jonah Hex (2010)
This week, the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast takes you from the sublime to the ridiculous, as Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski review TOY STORY 3 and JONAH HEX. Does TOY STORY 3 live up to its predecessors? Is JONAH HEX the biggest bomb of the summer or simply two films in one? Also on the menu, a round up of recent news, a calendar of upcoming events, and a preview of the week’s home video releases.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

By the high standards of Pixar, the new TOY STORY 3 falls slightly short – which means it’s still better than anything else in the computer-animated sweepstakes.

Toy Story 3 (2010)After a while, it becomes a bit predictable, almost boring, to proclaim each and every new film from Pixar Animation Studios as a yet another masterpiece. Their consistently high quality has created a situation roughly analogous to Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, in which (thanks to the number of cards each player has in common) the difference between the winning hand and the losing hand is often very slight; that is, trying to rank a new Pixar film on a scale from best to “worst” in the company catalogue is a matter of choosing between the ace-high straight and the king-high straight. By that high standard, TOY STORY 3 can be reckoned a minor disappointment: unlike recent efforts WALL-E and UP, which surpassed their predecessors, the new TOY STORY falls slightly short. Which means it’s still better than anything else out there in the computer-animated field, especially the deadly dull SHREK FOREVER AFTER.
This time out, the plot has Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang contemplating their own mortality, or at least their obsolescence. Andy is packing to head off to college, and the fate of the toys is uncertain, with storage, donation, or eBay among the likely possibilities. Through a mix-up, most of the toys end up sent to Sunnyside, a day care center, and Woody (who was set aside to accompany Andy to college) races to retrieve them. However, Buzz and company are not so sure they want to go back. Their new home seems like a utopia. Certainly, a life among playful children and other toys is preferable to storage in a dark attic, hoping for the unlikely day that Andy retrieves them?

Toy Story 3 (2010)
The toys arrive at their new home, the Sunnyside day care center.

The brilliance of the TOY STORY 3 scenario is simple and elegant: although it is loaded with action set-pieces, and eventually morphs into a prison-break movie, the plot mechanics are grounded in a dramatic conflict that gives both sides an understandable point of view while putting them in conflict. The ever faithful Woody (Tom Hanks) firmly believes that the toys’ primary purpose is to always be there in case Andy ever needs them. Buzz and the others are more willing to see the writing on the wall: Andy has moved on, and does not need them any more. In traditional, safe Hollywood story-telling, Woody would be obviously right, and the entire plot would be contrived to preserve the essential situation carried over from the previous films, restoring the status quo for the next sequel. Instead, TOY STORY 3 dares to confront the sad reality of the need to move on when your time is done.
Fortunately, the film does so without resorting to bathos. Its drama is realized through some exciting action and suspense sequences; for the first time, Pixar even extends its reach into horror territory, with some dark and even disturbing  scenes. The baby doll that acts as an over-sized henchmen to the film’s villain is a twisted spoof on movie monsters, a little bit funny and creepy at the same time – a little bit scary but still fun. The finale, aboard a conveyor belt in a trash disposal facility dragging the toys down to what looks like certain doom – more than that, it looks like the gate of hell spewing forth flames of destruction – ceases to be an amusing roller-coaster thrill ride and turns into something terrifying, even heart-rending, as the toys join hands and face the approaching immolation. The moment when Jessie turns to Buzz, the hero who is supposed to be able to effect rescue from any situation, and all he can do is silently take her hand, is guaranteed to choke up even the most hard-hearted cynic.  (This is the kind of scene I like to call “The Money Scene” – the one so good that even if the rest of the movie totally sucked, you would walk out of the theatre feeling you had gotten your money’s worth. And by the way, isn’t it amazing that these CGI toys generate more audience empathy than live-action characters in the week’s other big fantasy release, JONAH HEX?)
Where TOY STORY 3 falls short is in pacing and sub-plots. The central conflict (stay at Sunnyside or return to Andy) is short-circuited when there turns out to be a dark side to the day care center: the apparently friendly Lotso the Bear (Ned Beatty) is really a villain who consigns the new toys to younger, age-inappropriate kids, who thrash the helpless playthings with wild abandon. Sunnyside turns out to be not utopia but a prison, and Woody must devise a way to help his friends break out. It’s fun stuff, but it’s not always as exciting as it should be, and it renders the initial conflict somewhat moot (the decision to leave is forced on the characters by the unpleasant circumstances).
Barbie, who first appeared in TOY STORY 2, reappears in Part 3, this time with Ken
Barbie meets Ken

Interpolated but not quite fully integrated into this is the appearance of  a Ken doll, who falls head over heals for Barbie (the two feel “made for each other”). Ken is on Lotso’s team, however, so Barbie dumps him to stand by her friends. It hardly requires a spoiler alert to say that Ken has a change of heart; unfortunately, the Barbie-Ken sub-plot is squeezed into the larger story in a way that feels slightly short-changed, as if this were a short-subject that should have been developed more fully.
Toy Story 3: Buzz goes SpanishThese developments offers some interesting bits, such as a friendly faced toy phone whose handset speaks in the voice of a tough convict. We get the wonderful scene of Buzz Lightyear in “Spanish mode” (with Tim Allen’s voice briefly replaced by that of Javier Fernandez Pena) – which allows him to express his heretofore repressed attraction to Jessie. And Barbie gets the most memorable line, quoting Thomas Jefferson to Lotso to remind him that the authority of government proceeds from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of violence.*
These bits feel like pieces mixed in with the familiar, lovable shtick (Wallace Shawn’s lovably nervous T-Rex, John Ratzenberger’s hilariously intelligent piggy bank). They’re good, sometimes great, and the script does not fully unify into a satisfying whole. Consequently, the pacing occasionally feels a bit off, as we wait for the next gag to reawaken our slightly flagging interest.
Fortunately, that wait is rewarded. TOY STORY 3 saves its best sequences for the third act, which delivers everything you could have hoped for – not just the bang but the melancholy tears as well. In a beautiful combination of the sad and the uplifting, we see the torch passed on to a new generation in a way that suggests the flame continues to flicker inside the previous generation. Toys are not just inanimate objects, mere possessions, says the film. Toys are an integral part of imagination and fantasy and creative (realized on screen through a mini-movie depicting one of Andy’s playtime scenarios). By keeping that love of toys alive, the TOY STORY films – and particularly TOY STORY 3 – celebrate and help preserve the Sense of Wonder that enriches the lives of all of us who enjoy cinefantastique.
One final note: As has become de rigueur today, TOY STORY 3 is being presented in 3D (Disney Digital 3D, to be precise). The computer-generated animation looks beautiful with the extra third dimension, but overall the process does not add immeasurably to the film, and you would not particularly shortchange yourself if you saw it in old-fashioned 2D.

DAY AND NIGHT: SHORT SUBJECT

TOY STORY 3 is playing withe a Pixar short subject titled DAY AND NIGHT. More a concept than a story, the film presents two characters (flatly rendered in the style of old hand-drawn animation) who are seen in a black void; however, within their silhouettes we see lovely background scenes that express the characters’ moods and feelings. One silhouette reveals day time scenes; the other reveals night time scenes. At first antagonistic, each learns to appreciate what the other has to offer. It’s an impressive visual conceit, but once the concept becomes clear, the episode is a bit flimsy – more clever than brilliant.
FOOTNOTE:

  • At times TOY STORY 3 sounds like a deliberate attempt to beat Pixar rival DreamWorks Animation at their own game. Barbie’s quoting of Jefferson recalls DreamWorks’ ANTZ, which quote Karl Marx (“The workers control the means of production”). In the manner of DreamWorks, there is also some double entendere dialogue between Ken and Barbie, meant to fly over the heads of younger children while eliciting laughter from adults. “Nice leg…warmers,” says Ken to Barbie, who responds, “Nice ass-cot.” There’s even a throw-away bit suggesting one character thinks Ken, who is presented as a bit of a metro-sexual, is a cross-dresser.

toy story 3

TOY STORY 3 (June 18, 2010). Directed by Lee Unkrich. Written by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich. Voices: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberg, Wallace Shawn, Bonnie Hunt, Timothy Dalton, R. Lee Ermey, Don Rickles, Ned Beatty.
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John Lasseter on Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 2

Toy Story 3 (2010)
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

TOY STORY 3 puts the familiar characters into a new situation.
TOY STORY 3 puts the familiar characters into a new situation.

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

Toy Story 2 (2000)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.

Barbie, who first appeared in TOY STORY 2, reappears in Part 3, this time with Ken
Barbie, who first appeared in TOY STORY 2, reappears in Part 3, this time with Ken

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.