A History of Toy Story

A history of the production of the three Toy Story movies.
July 02, 2010
Hey guys, it's me again. In light of the new Pixar movie, Toy Story 3, I'm going to take a break from my Disney-related articles and write an article on the production history of Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3.

In 1988, John Lasseter (co-founder of Pixar and former Walt Disney animator) and Pixar wrote, produced and directed a short film called Tin Toy. This short was about a little toy named Tinny who reluctantly allowed a baby to play with him so he won't cry. This was the fourth Pixar film to be made using only computer animation. It won the 1988 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

Tinny is reluctant to play with Billy, the destructive baby.

In the 90s, Disney approached John Lasseter to create a sequel to Tin Toy, a Christmas special. Pixar, thinking 6 minutes wasn't enough, asked Disney if they could make it 30 minutes. When President of Walt Disney Studios Peter Schneider heard about this, he suggested they make it full-length instead. Many of the employees at Pixar were surprised. This new movie's working title was Toy Story.

Realizing that Tinny wasn't a well-thought out enough character for Toy Story, John Lasseter changed him to a military-like figure, a space ranger. This character was called Lunar Larry but later his name would be changed to Tempus the Morph and eventually Buzz Lightyear. Lasseter didn't want to do a Disney fairytale with songs, he wanted to do a buddy film. So John Lasseter created a ventriloquist dummy known as Woody. He would later become a stuffed cowboy doll.

The original concept art for Woody

Toy Story was the very first feature-length computer animated film. In this movie, a toy named Woody is scared he'll be replaced by a new space ranger toy, who was delusional and thought he was a real space ranger. Originally, the character called Buzz was fully aware of the fact that he was a toy. Instead of being a military-like space ranger, he was an easy-going and happy toy who only wanted to impress his owner Andy. The songs were written by Randy Newman, who would write the songs for the next two sequels for Toy Story as well. "You've Got a Friend In Me" became a staple in many children's lives.

The evolution of Lunar Larry to Buzz Lightyear

There was only one person Lasseter wanted for Woody and that was Tom Hanks. Originally when showed an example of what Woody looked like, Hanks didn't understand the character. He didn't think it was animation, he thought it was plasticine. He couldn't explain how animation was like in the movie but when he read the script, he knew he had to be involved in the film. Billy Crystal was asked to be Buzz Lightyear but he declined, a decision he would later regret. Tim Allen, fresh from filming Home Improvement, was asked to be Buzz and he accepted. Cheers alumni John Ratzenberg plays a wisecracking piggy bank. John Ratzenberg would later play a character in every single Pixar film, becoming a good-luck charm for them.

Early concept of Woody and Buzz.

When Head of Walt Disney Studios Jeffrey Katzenberg heard about this movie, he wanted more edge to it. He wanted the movie to be more adult-like. As a result, he reworked the character of Woody, making him into a cynical and bitter toy who would berate and insult all the other toys and would stop at nothing for Buzz to be eliminated. As a result, the movie started to suffer. Katzenberg took Peter Schneider aside and asked him why the movie was doing so badly. Peter said the movie 'wasn't their's anymore'. He gave the movie back to Pixar and they made Woody a likable character again. At first, Roy E. Disney couldn't understand the appeal of this movie but after watching the finally cut, he told his wife, "I get this movie".

The original cynical Woody

The movie was an instant hit and many praised this new form of animation. It was an instant classic. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both gave it two thumbs up, praising the computer animation and the buddy film storyline. John Lasseter got a Special Achievement Oscar for the film. It was the first in many universally acclaimed Pixar films.

At this point, Pixar had some financial problems. It was in hard times. At the same time, Disney was trying to coax John Lasseter back to their studio to direct a film. Most of this financial problem came from the fact that Pixar didn't get any merchandising profit. Steve Jobs, chief executive of Pixar, knew they couldn't just be a production company, they had to be a studio. Toy Story turned from a $10 million investment into a $100 million profit. Steve Jobs used this money to establish Pixar into a studio. Steve Jobs told Disney that they would only extend their 5 movies contract with Disney if they became 50/50 partners. Disney agreed.

In 1997, a sequel to Toy Story was being created. It was going to be a direct-to-video movie but Disney saw the potential of this movie when looking at the storyboards and decided to release it theatrically. At the time, the story was lackluster, it was failing. Fresh from the European promotional trip of A Bug's Life, John Lasseter looked at the film and he also thought the movie wasn't as good as it should be. Lasseter asked Disney if Pixar could redo the film from scratch, Disney didn't let them, they thought it was good enough. Therefore, Lasseter reworked the film in the next nine months with the original team from Toy Story, pitched the whole movie in a week and co-directed the film with Lee Unkrich, despite the fact he was extremely exhausted from A Bug's Life and hadn't seen his family for months.

Courtesy of Floyd Norman
A new sequel to Toy Story!

What the film was like before John Lasseter's involvement.

Courtesy of Floyd Norman
Courtesy of Floyd Norman
Concept art after John Lasseter's involvment.
This film was another masterpiece. The only Pixar film to score 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it became one of the very few sequels to have been as good, if not better than their predecessor. The film was animated by Pixar employees but also by long-time Disney employee Floyd Norman. Floyd had worked at Disney since the 50s and he still worked there today. He was one of Walt Disney's closest employees, but I digress. Floyd was a story artist for Toy Story 2 and he helped come up with the concept of Senorita Cactus, who would soon evolve into Jessie the Cowgirl. Jessie the Cowgirl was one of the most important characters because of her past. She was forgotten by her owner Emily after she grew up. Because of this, she wanted Woody to stay with her, Stinky Pete and Bullseye, not wanting Woody to experience the same pain with Andy. The majority of the film were Andy's toys trying to rescue Woody from Stinky Pete, who wants them all to go on display in a museum in Japan. The animators at Pixar thought children weren't going to stay and watch the montage of Jessie's past but it was the highlight of the movie. Even though Tom Hanks and Tim Allen knew everything about the film, when they sat down together and watched the movie, they bawled at the 'cowgirl scene', the most heartwarming part of the film.

Courtesy of Floyd Norman
Floyd Norman jokingly pitches the story with a cane.

Jessie the Cowgirl thinks about Emily.

Toy Story 2 defined who Pixar were. It said that the important thing wasn't the idea, it's the people. Knowing this, Steve Jobs was worried. He was worried that Pixar would divide into company divisions, he knew the people separating was bad. He wanted one roof for all employees so he used his money to create the new animation studio building. Many employees were extremely excited at this new building, like storyboard artist Joe Ranft, may he rest in peace. The new Pixar Animation Studios was built and it represented the imagination inside children, allowing each office to be an empty canvas for the employee to do with however they liked.

John Lasseter in his office at Pixar Animation Studios, filled with oh-so-many toys.

By 2004, Pixar's relationship with Disney had soured over the argument of whether Toy Story 2 was one of the films included in the five-movie contract. Michael Eisner wanted to create another sequel to Toy Story but the people at Pixar refused to cooperate. They knew that if a sequel was to be made, a great story had to be made. They had not come up with a good story at that point. Eisner didn't care, he went ahead and formed a division of Disney called Circle 7, which exclusively made Pixar sequels. Pixar was horrified, they felt that the original creators should carry on the sequels. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, said that it "was like turning your baby over to someone else".

Promo image for the original Toy Story 3 concept.

Michael Eisner resigned in 2005 and Circle 7 had died out. New CEO of Disney Bob Iger purchased Pixar in 2006 and John Lasseter became the new Chief Creative Officer of Disney. Because of this newly-improved relations, plans for Toy Story 3 were underway. When Eisner was in charge, the film was to be about Buzz Lightyear malfunctioning and all the Buzz Lightyear toys being recalled to Taiwan and the rest of Andy's toys went there to rescue him. Tim Allen was interesting in returning to voice Buzz even though Pixar wasn't involved. After the purchase of Disney, the film completely changed. It was written by Pixar employees Andrew Stanton (also director of Finding Nemo) and Michael Arndt. All the original voice cast from the first two films came back for this film, with the exception of Jim Varney (Ernest P. Worrell) who had died of lung cancer in 2000. He was replaced by Blake Clark, a very good friend of Jim's and who sounded exactly like Jim Varney. This new version was about Andy turning 17 and having to go to college and the toys going to a daycare center ruled by a dictatorial teddy bear. The toys try to escape in the manner of The Great Escape and reunite with their owner who hadn't played with them for years. This film was to be an end to the Toy Story saga and it allowed people who watched the first Toy Story as children to reunite with their childhood one last time before growing up with Andy. A great ending to a great saga, this film was the ultimate nostalgia for many people in the theater the day it came out.

Concept art of the Sunnyside Daycare toys.

Concept art of Lots-O'-Huggin-Bear confronting Woody.

Courtesy of @leeunkrich at Twitter
Tom Hanks records the part of Woody with director Lee Unkrich.

Courtesy of @leeunkrich at Twitter
Pixar's good-luck charm, John Ratzenberg reprises his role as Hamm.

Courtesy of @leeunkrich at Twitter
Randy Newman records the score and songs for Toy Story 3.

Courtesy of @leeunkrich at Twitter
"C'mon, we're bustin' outta here!"

Courtesy of @leeunkrich at Twitter
Director Lee Unkrich puts the final touches on Toy Story 3 in an airplane.

Concept art of Woody's good-bye.

Fortunately, a Toy Story short will be released in front of the Cars sequel, Cars 2 so the saga had not necessarily ended yet. We will see Woody and the gang one last time before we depart them for good. Until then, we have all our fond memories of playing with our toys as children. I'm sure many of us went home to play with our dusty toys after watching Toy Story 3. I'm sure many of us cried as well. All three Toy Story movies were truly great movies and they represented the essence of Pixar and its ideals the best. We will all fondly look back on these days with a smile and in the corner of our eye, we may even catch a glimpse of one of our toys moving.

Reach for the sky, guys.
More Articles From darkclaw1256
An unhandled error has occurred. Reload Dismiss