Toy Story 4 might still be over a year away, but the first movie came out over 20 years ago. It was a pioneer in computer animated feature films, and still holds up today. Toy Story brought Pixar into the mainstream, and their feud with Disney is legendary, so this week, you’ve got a friend in BD as he shows you that it wasn’t always the story you now know and love.
Toy story is a 1995 American computer animated buddy comedy adventure film produced by Pixar animation Studios for Walt Disney pictures.
The Directorial debut of John Lassiter, Toy Story was the first ever feature-length computer animated film and the first feature film produced by Pixar.
Taking place in a world where anthropomorphic toys pretend to be lifeless whenever humans are present, the films plot focussed on the relationship between Woody, an old-fashioned pull string cowboy doll voiced by Tom Hanks, and buzz Lightyear, an astronaut action figure voice by Tim Allen.
The pair evolves from rivals competing for the affections of Andy, their owner, to friends who work together to be reunited with Andy as his family prepares to move to a new home.
The screenplay was written by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow, based on a story by Lassiter, Pete Docter, Stanton and Joe Ranft.
The film features music by Randy Newman, and was executive produced by Steve Jobs and Edwin Catmull.
Pixar, which produced short animated films to promote their computers, was approached by Disney to produce a computer animated feature after the success of their short film Tin Toy in 1988.
Lassiter, Stanton and Docter wrote early story treatments which were thrown out by Disney, as they wanted the film to be edgier.
After disastrous story reels, production was halted and the script was re-written, better reflecting the tone and theme Pixar desired, that “toys deeply want children to play with them, and that this desire drives their hopes, fears, and actions.”
The studio, then consisting of a relatively small number of employees, produced the film under minor financial constraints.
Toy story was released in theatres on November 22, 1995, and was the highest grossing film on it’s opening weekend, earning over 373 million at the worldwide box office. The film was positively reviewed by critics and audiences, who praised the animations technical innovation, the wit and thematic sophistication of the screenplay, and the vocal performances of Hanks and Allen.
It is considered by many critics to be one of the best animated films ever made. The film received three Academy award nominations including best original screenplay, best original score, and best original song for “You’ve Got A Friend in Me.”
It also won a special achievement Academy award. It was inducted into the national film registry as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant in 2005, its first year of eligibility.
In addition to home media releases and theatrical releases, toy story inspired material has run the gamut from toys, video games, theme park attractions, spinoffs, merchandise, and two sequels, Toy Story 2 in 1999 and Toy Story 3 in 2010, both of which also garnered massive commercial success and critical acclaim, with a third sequel, Toy Story 4, slated for a 2019 release.
Director John Lasseter‘s first experience with computer animation was during his work as an animator at Walt Disney feature animation, when two of his friends showed him the light cycle scene from Tron.
It was an eye-opening experience which awakened Lassiter to the possibilities offered by the new medium of computer generated animation.
Lassiter tried to pitch “The Brave Little Toaster” as a fully computer animated film to Disney, but the idea was rejected and Lassiter was fired.
He then went on to work at Lucasfilm and later as a founding member of Pixar, which was purchased by entrepreneur and Apple cofounder Steve Jobs in 1986.
At Pixar, Lassiter created short, computer animated films to show off the Pixar image computers capabilities, and “Tin Toy”, a short story told from the perspective of a toy, referencing Lasseters love of classic toys, would go on to claim the 1988 Academy award for best animated short film, the first computer generated film to do so.
“Tin Toy” gained Disney’s attention, and the new team at the Walt Disney Company, CEO Michael Eisner and chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg in the film division, began a quest to get Lassiter to come back.
Lassiter, grateful for Jobs’ faith in him, felt compelled to stay with Pixar, telling cofounder Ed Catmull, that he can go to Disney and be a director, or he can stay and make history.
Katzenberg realized he could not lure Lassiter back to Disney and therefore set plans into motion to ink a production deal with Pixar to produce a film.
Disney had always made all their movies in house and refused to change this. But when Tim Burton, who used to work at Disney, wanted to buy back the rights to The Nightmare before Christmas, Disney struck a deal allowing him to make it as a Disney movie outside the studio. This open the door for Pixar to make their movies outside of Disney.
The original treatment for Toy Stor, drafted by Lassiter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter had little in common with the eventually finished film. It paired Tinny, the one-man band from Tin Toy with a ventriloquist dummy and sent them on a sprawling Odyssey. Under studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg, Woody was the main villain, abusing the other toys until they rallied against him.
However, after Disney executives saw the storyboards, they relinquished creative control to Pixar. The core idea of toy story was present from the treatment onward.
Katzenberg felt the original treatment was problematic and told Lassiter to reshape toy story as more of an odd couple buddy picture, and suggested they watch some classic buddy movies such as The Defiant Ones and 48 hours, in which two characters with different attitudes are thrown together and have to bond.
Lassiter, Stanton, and Docter emerged in early September 1991 with the second treatment, and although the lead characters were still Tinny and the dummy, the outline of the final film was beginning to take shape.
The script went through many changes before the final version. Lassiter decided Tinny was too antiquated, and the character was changed to a military action figure, and then given a space theme.
Tinny’s name changed to lunar Larry, then Tempus from Morph, and eventually Buzz Lightyear, named after astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Lightyear’s design was modelled on the suits worn by Apollo astronauts as well as G.I. Joe action figures.
In addition, the green and purple colour scheme on Lightyear’s suit was inspired by Lassiter and his wife, Nancy, who’s favourite colours were green and purple respectively.
Woody, the second character, was inspired by a “Casper the friendly ghost” doll that Lassiter had when he was a child.
Originally, Woody was a ventriloquist dummy with a pull string hence the name woody. However, character designer Bud Luckey suggested that what he could be changed to a cowboy ventriloquist dummy.
Lasseter liked the contrast between the Western and science fiction genres and the character immediately changed.
Eventually, all the ventriloquist dummy aspects of the character were deleted, because the dummy was designed to look sneaky and mean. However they kept the name Woody to pay homage to the western actor Woody Strode.
The story department drew inspiration from films such as Midnight Run and The Odd Couple, and Lassiter screened Miyazaki’s Castle in The Sky for further influence.
Toy Story’s script was strongly influenced by the ideas of screenwriter Robert McKee. The members of Pixar‘s story team, Lassiter, Stanton, Docter and Joe Ranft, we’re aware that most of them were beginners at writing for feature films.
None of them had any feature story or writing credits to their names besides Ranft, who had taught a story class at Cal Arts and did some storyboard work prior.
Seeking insight, Lassiter and Docter attended a three day seminar in Los Angeles given by McKee.
His principles, grounded in Aristotle‘s “Poetcs”, dictated that a character emerges most realistically and compellingly from the choices that the protagonist makes in reaction to his problems.
Disney also appointed Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, and later, Joss Whedon to help develop the script.
Whedon found that the script wasn’t working but had a great structure, and added the character of Rex and sought a pivotal role for Barbie.
The story team continue to touch up the script as production was underway. Among the late additions was the encounter between Buzz and the alien squeaky toys at pizza planet, which emerged from a brainstorming session with a dozen directors, story artists, and animators from Disney.
Every couple of weeks, Lassiter and his team would put together their latest set of storyboards or footage to show Disney.
In early screen tests, Pixar impressed Disney with a technical innovation, but convincing Disney of the plot was more difficult.
At each presentation by Pixar, Katzenberg would tear much of it up, giving out detailed comments and notes.
Katzenberg‘s big push was to add more edginess to the main character. Disney wanted the film to appeal both to children and adults, and asked for adult references to be added to the film.
After many rounds of notes from Katzenberg and other Disney executives, the general consensus was that Woody had been stripped of almost all charm.
Tom Hanks, while recording the dialogue for the story reels exclaimed at one point that the character was a jerk.
Lassiter and his Pixar team had the first half of the movie ready to screen, so they brought it down to Burbank to show to Katzenberg and other Disney executives on November 19th 1993, an event later dubbed “the Black Friday incident.”
The results were disastrous, and Schneider, who was never particularly enamoured with Katzenberg’s idea of having outsiders make animation for Disney, declared it a mess and ordered that production be stopped immediately.
Katzenberg asked colleague Thomas Schumacher why the reels were so bad. Schumacher had this to say.
Lassiter wasn’t thrilled either.
He asked Disney for the chance to retreat back to Pixar and rework the script in two weeks, and Katzenberg was supportive.
Lassiter, Stanton, Docter and Ranft delivered the news of the production shut down to the production crew, many of whom had left other jobs to work on the project.
In the meantime, the crew would shift to television commercials while the head writers worked out a new script.
Although Lassiter kept morale high by remaining outwardly buoyant, the production shut down was a very scary time.
Schneider had initially wanted to shut down production altogether and fire all recently hired animators.
Katzenberg put the film under the wing of Walt Disney feature animation. The Pixar team was pleased that the move would give them an open door to counselling from Disney’s animation veterans.
Schneider, however, continued to take a dim view of the project and would later go over Katzenberg’s head to urge Eisner to cancel it.
Stanton retreated into a small, dark, windowless office, emerging periodically with new script pages. He and the other story artists would then draw the shots on storyboards.
Whedon came back to Pixar for part of the shut down to help with revising, and the script was revised in two weeks as promised.
When Katzenberg and Schneider halted production on Toy Story, Steve Jobs kept the work going with his own personal funding. Jobs did not insert himself much into the creative process, respecting the artists at Pixar and instead managing the relationship with Disney.
The Pixar team came back with a new script three months later, with the character of Woody morphed from being a tyrannical boss of Andy’s other toys, to being they’re wise and caring leader.
It also included a more adult oriented staff meeting amongst the toys rather than a juvenile group discussion that had existed in earlier drafts.
Buzz Lightyear’s character was also changed slightly to make it more clear to the audience that he really didn’t realize that he was a toy.
Katzenberg and Schneider approved the new approach, and by February 1994 the film was back in production.
The voice actors returned in March 1994 to record the new lines. When production was greenlit, the crew quickly grew from its original size of 24 to 110, including 27 animators, 22 tactical directors, and 61 other artists and engineers.
In comparison, the lion King, released in 1994, required a budget of 45 million and the staff of 800.
In the early budgeting process, Jobs was eager to produce the film as efficiently as possible, impressing Katzenberg with his focus on cost-cutting. Despite this, the 17 million dollar production budget was proving inadequate, especially given the major revision that was necessary after Katzenberg had pushed them to make Woody to edgy.
Jobs demanded more funds to complete the film right and insisted the Disney was liable for the cost overruns.
Katzenberg was not willing, and Ed Catmull was able to reach a compromise.
There were two premieres of Toy Story in November 1995. Disney organized one at the El Capitan theatre in Los Angeles, and built a Funhouse, totally Toy Story, next-door featuring the characters.
Jobs did not attend and instead rented the Regency, a similar theatre in San Francisco, and held his own premier the next night.
Instead of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, the guests were Silicon Valley celebrities, such as Larry Ellison and Andy grove. The duelling premiers highlighted a festering issue between the companies, whether Toy Story was a Disney or a Pixar film.
Toy Story opened on 2281 screens in the United States on November 22, 1995, before later expanding to 2574 screens. It was paired alongside a reissue of a Roger Rabbit short called “roller coaster rabbit”, while select prints contained the adventures of Andre and Wally b.
Toy Story received critical acclaim. It remains, to this day, an international phenomenon.
The technology was brilliant, the casting was inspired and the Story was able to identify with everyone.
Here’s looking forward to Toy Story 4.
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