After nearly three decades, four feature films, seven affiliated shows, and a spin-off film, “Lightyear,” released last weekend, “Toy Story” still warms hearts far beyond Andy’s childhood bedroom. . It is one of the few Disney series to still have merchandise made and sold in the Disney store. Disney’s Hollywood Studios includes “Land of Toy Story”, a space centered around the series and its characters. And the four films hold at least 90% of audience on rotten tomatoes (100% Tomatometer for three of the four).
Commercially, all four “Toy Story” films earned far more than their production budgets required, and the third and fourth films are still in Pixar’s top three grossing films at the box office. worldwide, according to Numbers.
But how did the Pixar team build a legacy with these movies? How did “Toy Story” have such an impact on animators, writers, and viewers that people are coming back to the original film 27 years later?
Pixar, then known as the “Computer Division of Lucasfilm” and owned by George Lucas himself, was purchased by Steve Jobs in 1986. Until then, the group’s primary mission was to “develop cutting-edge computer technology For the movie”. industry”, not the creation of films, according to the Pixar website. It wasn’t until five years later – after the team worked on Disney-commissioned animation software, the “computer animation production systemor CAPS – that Jobs would strike a deal with Disney to create a single, fully animated film featuring the new technology.
“Toy Story” became that movie, and it was the first of its kind. While the Pixar team had experience in storytelling working on their short films – “Tin Toy”, “Knick Knack” and “Luxo Jr.” to name a few – these “shorts” averaged about four minutes in length. “Toy Story”, by comparison, would end up being 81 minutes long and took four years to fully animate and polish, according to WIRED.
But Pixar had spent the previous decade working with Lucas to develop more advanced animation technology. Programs such as “Pixar Image Computer” and “RenderMan” would provide animators with the software requested by the “Toy Story” project. A faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, who wished to remain anonymous, shared his perspective on the “Toy Story” team’s innovation with the Deseret News.
“’Toy Story’ showed what was possible. It introduced workflows, techniques, and tools, and basically showed that if you can get into it, you can do it. It showed what computer technology (animation) was capable of at this point and it was only getting better,” he said.
But despite all of Pixar’s progress in animation, the professor explained, there were still standards and techniques in the art that were unaffected by time or progress.
“’Toy Story’ ended up being quite landmark in that it was the first very successful feature film and it helped set the bar for what things could and should look like. But when it comes to visual storytelling, (3D animation) didn’t have much of an impact on the fundamentals,” the professor said. “The story of a film is its story and the design is its design”.
Since “Toy Story” was their feature debut, Pixar’s original “brain trust” — the five directors, animators, and writers unofficially tasked with ensuring the quality and creativity of the project — were to work closely with Disney on the plot of the film.
An academic article on the film’s script describes how, at some point during the development of “Toy Story”, Disney representatives sat down with Pixar for an early story reel (storyboards set to voice performances by the actors.) The script original “Toy Story” was far darker than the final product, closer to being rated “R” than “PG”. At the end of this first presentation, Disney executives were dismayed and halted production on the film altogether. An ultimatum was given: if the Pixar team couldn’t come up with a better script, the film would be cancelled.
Following this meeting, John Lasseter and Pete Docter attended a writing seminar by screenwriting expert Robert McKee in 1992. It was while studying McKee’s writing methods that the Pixar team encountered a standard of writing that would be used in “Toy Story” and in each of their films that followed. They have learned to balance convention and innovation, according to Andrew Gay, author of the chapter, “The Cowboy, the Spaceman, and the Guru: Character and Convention in Toy Story Scriptwritingin the book “Toy Story: How Pixar Reinvented the Animated Feature”.
Gay, who is also an associate professor of digital cinema at Southern Oregon University, explained the effect of a drastic change of context in an otherwise realistic story in an interview with the Deseret News.
“There are a lot of other writers and storytellers who have more inventive narratives, new genres, new structures. That’s not really what Pixar has done for the most part. What they get so much ‘juice’ from , it’s this character perspective that we’ve never seen before,” he said.
Gay continued, “That’s where all the uniqueness comes from, is because they do good character work. They ask questions. … It’s not just about looking at what a human would do as a toy, but to actually ask, “What would a plastic toy astronaut do in this situation?” They really explore the identity of each of these characters.
After additional rewrites and story reels with Disney, writer Joss Whedon worked alongside Pixar’s mastermind to rebuild the film’s script. The brain trust would eventually see “Toy Story” approved for production by Disney and in 1995 the world’s first computer-animated feature film was released.
“Toy Story” grossed $362 million at the worldwide box office, and the following year it was nominated for Best Original Song, Best Original Score, and Best Original Screenplay. from Pixar. Additionally, in 1997, Walt Disney Studios agreed to produce five more films in coordination with Pixar over the next decade.
Seth Holladay, an associate professor at Brigham Young University and a former member of Pixar’s visual effects team, told Deseret News that Pixar’s success with “Toy Story” stems from the studio embracing new ideas. while using established technique, both in storytelling and animation.
“It’s important to be ready to dive into new things…and to have a solid foundation for telling successful stories. What the original “Toy Story” did well was they dive into new technology, which advances what you can create in your world. It really opened a lot of doors,” he said. “But they also stuck to the key storytelling elements, and they were willing to rebuild ‘Toy Story’ over and over again until they found something that was right. (New) technology doesn’t make them things in themselves, but it helps make the story possible.
With even newer technology and a brain ready to help, Pixar’s latest film, “Lightyear,” was expected to gross between $75 million and $80 million during its opening weekend at the box office. Although the film got off to a slow start after earning just $50.6 million over Father’s Day weekend, according to the Hollywood Reporterbig wins could still be within reach.
Business Intern drew a comparison to another Pixar movie, “Coco,” as the film debuted with nearly $50.8 million in 2017. It went on to gross $210 million in the US and $807 million in the world, giving hope that “Lightyear” can still go on to infinity and beyond.