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Lasseter sprinkles Pixar dust over Disney Consumer Products, Imagineering

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Lasseter sprinkles Pixar dust over Disney Consumer Products, Imagineering

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When people talk about the impact that John Lasseter has had on the Mouse House, they tend to focus on Walt Disney Animations Studios as well as the Company’s Parks & Resorts division.

Which is a shame. Why For? Because these folks are really missing the bigger picture. You see, John isn’t just out to turn WDAS & the theme parks around. Lasseter wants the entire Walt Disney Company to reclaim its reputation for excellence & innovation.

Pixar Dust
Copyright Disney Enteprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Take – for example – what’s going on at Disney Consumer Products in regards to the Toy Story franchise. What with the Disney Digital 3D versions of “Toy Story” & “Toy Story 2” hitting theaters on October 2nd of this year and “Toy Story 3” debuting on June 18, 2010 … Well, DCP officials were planning on sending a ton of new merch out into stores that featured the characters from these beloved Pixar films.

Which was okay with John, given that he collects Pixar-themed toys. Except that – this time around – Lasseter insisted that any new Toy Story merchandise be film-accurate. So that the Sheriff Woodys & the Buzz Lightyears that kids can find in stores look just like the ones from the movies.

To their credit, the crew at Disney Consumer Products (partnering with Thinkway Toys) actually embraced John’s challenge. Which is why the Toy Story Definitive toy line … Well, there’s just no other way to describe it. This is the most film-accurate series of replica toys ever produced.

Buzz Lightyear toy
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Thinkway Toys.
All Rights Reserved

Take – for example – the Ultimate Buzz Lightyear . This 16” tall toy really brings the Space Ranger to life. Powered by 7 different motors as well as an amazing array of animatronic technology, Ultimate Buzz walks, talks and will even play laser tag with you.

What’s more, the Ultimate Buzz Lightyear comes with two different modes. When you first power this doll up, Buzz thinks that he’s still a real space ranger and will act accordingly. But if you then say “You’re a toy,” Lightyear’s entire demeanor changes. Realizing that he’s just a child’s plaything, Buzz still responds to 15 different voice commands. Only this time around, when you ask Lightyear to contact Star Command, his response is: “I wish I could. But that’s just a sticker. See?”

This is really cutting edge stuff that we’re talking about here, people. The Ultimate Buzz Lightyear features blinking eyes, a mouth that will “move” in sync to the more-than-150 sayings that this toy has been programmed to say. And did I mention that Buzz features puppeteering technology? Which allows you to move Buzz’s head, arms, legs & body in a specific manner and that this toy will then record these movements and replay them exactly as they’ve been programmed to.

Ultimate Buzz Lightyear
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Thinkway Toys. All Rights Reserved

This Ultimate Buzz Lightyear is obviously a collector’s dream. The only downside to this Toy Story Definitive toy is Buzz’s pricetag. This figure – when it hits store shelves later this Fall – will have a suggested retail price of $129.99.

Which I know (particularly in these tough economic times) sounds like an awful lot of money. But when you look at the careful stitching on these Toy Story Definitive toys, how the folks at Thinkway Toys have gone out of their way to sculpt film-accurate faces for all of the replicas. How even the boxes that these toys are shipped in looks just like the packages that you’ll see in the “Toy Story” movies.

This is obviously a passion project for the top guy at Disney·Pixar. And if you don’t believe that, check out the video below. Where Lasseter (as part of a new seven part series for DisneyLiving) talks about how much he’s looking forward to the Toy Story Definitive toy collection. So much so that John is planning on buy two each of this new product line, “… one to keep in the package and one to open up & play with.”

And it’s not just Disney Consumer Products that Lasseter is now asking to meet a far higher standard. The Imagineers who are working on those Audio Animatronic versions of the characters from “Cars” that will be appearing in DCA’s new “E” Ticket, “Radiator Springs Racers,” are finding John to be a pretty tough taskmaster as well.

Which is kind of understandable. Given that “Cars” is the last full-length animated feature that Lasseter personally got the chance to direct, he’s rather attached to this particular set of characters. Which is why – whenever Lightning McQueen, Mater et al roll out into the real world (EX: When Feld Entertainment recreated the characters from “Cars” for last year’s “Disney on Ice: Worlds of Fantasy” show) – John insists on signing off on their likenesses.

And given that the folks at Feld did such a nice job of creating versions of Lightning & Mater that could actually talk (as opposed to the drive-around versions of the “Cars” characters that currently appear in the Disney theme parks, whose mouths & eyes don’t move at all)…Well, Lasseter supposedly challenged the Imagineers. Reportedly insisting that the versions of the Audio Animatronic versions of the “Cars” characters that were to appear inside of “Radiator Springs Racers” be far better than the ones from “Disney on Ice: Worlds of Fantasy.” To be specific, that these oversized AA figures move, act and talk just like the CG autos that we all saw in Pixar’s Summer 2006 release.

Disney Cars on Ice
Copyright 2008 Disney / Feld Entertainment. All Rights Reserved

And from what I hear, the guys at WDI have really delivered the goods. The prototype versions of these “Radiator Springs Racers” AA figures allegedly move so well that … Well, Walt Disney Imagineering is supposedly thinking of using the 2012 opening of this new DCA “E” Ticket as an excuse to introduce a whole new class of Audio Animatronics. Which will then key off of the characters from “Cars.”

“And what exactly will this new class of AA figures be called?,” you ask. Well, according to the domain names The Walt Disney Company registered this past Wednesday, they’re reportedly going to be called:


Which is an interesting development, don’t you think?

Mater Animatronic concept art
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Anyway … Given all the “plussing” that’s going on these days at Disney Consumer Products & Imagineering, one wonders what’s going to happen within the other divisions of the Company once Lasseter starts slinging that Pixar dust around.

Your thoughts?

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  • This makes me unreasonably giddy.  He gets it!  He really gets it.

  • I'm also glad Lasseter has got the right idea vis a vis the Disney legacy.

    It's interesting though, that the consumer marketing stuff is shifting into high gear now. Could it be that because "UP!" and "WALLE" didn't have any merchandizing to speak of that the suits are getting antsy?

    Which is kind of ironic given the anti-consumerist theme of WALLE, as embarrassingly pointed out to Lasseter during his interview with the UK Guardian.

  • (Wipes drool off keyboard)

    For someone who's been actively collecting 'Toy Story' stuff for fourteen years, that Buzz Lightyear is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time.

  • From what I've heard, the term "Autonomatronics" is more related to the Lucky, Muppet Mobile Lab and Wall-E instead of any of the Carsland animatronics. I think the Carsland animatronic vehicles are not much more than the typical AA systems applied to the Cars characters.

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