by the Toy Story Fanatic Devo
There’s no such thing as a perfect movie. That’s what I would have said to you in 1994, though at that time it might have sounded like unintelligible baby talk. But then in November of 1995, 25 years ago, Toy Story was released.
Ok, realistically speaking Toy Story isn’t a perfect movie either. But Toy Story is my life and if I don’t go ahead and give a Toy Story retrospective, full of fun facts and lore, on the first movie this year then I don’t know when I’d be able to.
The Toy Story Story
Toy Story started life as an award-winning short film called Tin Toy. The short is available in a lot of places, Disney+, The Pixar Short FIlm collection (vol 1), and it was a pack-in for the first Toy Story for a long time. The short followed the story of a one-man-band toy who’s torn between his own self-preservation and filling his role as a plaything for the creepiest baby in film history. Tin Toy was so popular, that Pixar went to their new partners at Disney about producing a 30 Christmas special for the character. They were given a feature-length movie instead.
So now we have a small team of Disney animation rejects computer buffs, and even more computer novices trying to make a movie. A lot of ideas went onto the board and then came off. Some ideas came off the board to only come back on later. In the Ultimate Toy Box DVD collection (2002), There was a bonus on the DVD for Toy Story that shows off the original beta story pitch. On there we see such gems as pre-cowboy Woody character losing an arm, the characters ending up at a junkyard, a scary day-care center, lots of things that would appear later.
But after a ton of work from everyone, the story was condensed into a toy losing his status as head of the playroom, getting lost with his rival, and coming home a better person. The story was there, the toys were there, and now let’s show the movie to Disney!
Black Friday- The Hero’s struggle
Looking at Disney’s priorities at the time, it’s a miracle that Toy Story survived at all. 1995 was right in the center of Disney’s renaissance era and if anything Pixar was seen as the alternative to your happy-go-lucky Disney musical. Rather than making a family-friendly animated feature, Pixar was told to make Toy Story a gritty, adult-oriented movie. Pixar followed all the specifications from Disney executives and pitched a storyboard sample called the “black Friday reel”. The humor was inappropriate, Woody was a jerk, Buzz was pathetic, it was violent, mean spirited, and just not very good. The Pixar brain trust went back to their startup studio heartbroken with the bad news that the movie was cancelled.
Enter Roy Disney- Walt’s nephew. He made a suggestion based on Disney’s own history. If you want the best work from your artists, you need to give them free reign to make the movie that they want to make. Roy’s argument was sound and the movie was then uncancelled over a phone call. Pixar was given another chance. This time, they could make the movie the way they wanted. A lot of steps were taken to fix the movie, including the future Avengers director, Joss Whedon, to come in and help with the script.
In November 1995, Toy Story was released. Back then, Disney would often offer a double feature early to reporters so they could get their reviews out in time for the showing and the story goes that they showed Toy Story and no one stuck around for the second one because they had to be the first to talk about Toy Story, the “most talked about movie of the year”. (what was that second movie? I’m not sure. I think it might have been The Westside Story but with Native Americans.)
But now came Pixar’s second problem. Their deal with Disney meant that Disney got 100% merchandising and roughly 70% of the box office intake. While Toy Story was a runaway success, 30% barely covered Pixar’s expenses. Disney didn’t want to lose a company that proved themselves viable and Pixar didn’t want to lose their standing with Disney. So Steve Jobs, executive producer moneybags of Pixar, was able to negotiate an equal 50/50 partnership which Disney readily accepted. This deal continued until 2006 when Disney bought the studio outright.
To Infinity and Beyond
I tried calculating it once. If you were to watch all of the officially released Toy Story movies, short films, and spinoffs, you’d be glued to your TV for about 2 days straight. The success of Toy Story led to a sequel in 1999, a spin-off movie and TV show that same year, 2010 had Toy Story 3, several short films in the years that followed, and Toy Story 4 in 2019. 24 years after the original! There were successful comic book series, Video games, a prominent appearance in Kingdom Hearts 3, and there’s a thriving toy collecting scene as well.
And heck, we’re all about theme parks here. Disneyland Paris has a Toy Storyland, There’s a full Toy Story land in Disneyworld, Shanghai really capitalized on it, a third of Tomorrowland is Toy Story-based and Pixar Pier in California Adventure has its main attraction, and most of its restaurants based out of Toy Story (there’s also the defunct Bugs Land which sported a giant-sized Cowboy Crunchies box as one of its entrances).
Now as for me personally, Toy Story has had a HUGE impact. I’m a film student because of the background of how Toy Story was made intrigues me. Because of Toy Story, I volunteered to host an animation workshop and met all of my life-long friends that way. My other obsession is comic books and the first comic book I remember reading was the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command pack-in on the videocassette. I served a two-year religious mission and the back of my nametag? Yeah. Toy Story stickers. I owe a lot of who I am to this movie and its subsequent franchise.
Anyway, this movie is important to me and I just wanted to make sure I talked about it a bunch for its 25th anniversary. I’d love to hear about what movie drives you nuts in the comments below and hey, until next time, remember to keep wishing on stars.