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Looking back on the early, early days of the “Toy Story” franchise

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Looking back on the early, early days of the “Toy Story” franchise

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With “Toy Story 3” earning over $365 million worldwide since this Lee Unkrich film was released on June 18th (More importantly, with the “Toy Story” franchise having produced over $8 billion in global retail sales to date), it is sometime hard to remember that – just 15 years ago – there weren’t a whole lot of “Toy Story” fans working at the Mouse House.

Buzz Lightyear and Woody on the poster for the original Toy Story animated feature
Copyright 2010 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

In fact, to hear Tim Lewis (who previously posted here at JHM using his Aspiring Aspirer pseudonym) tell the tale …

Disney Publishing was virtually the only Disney Consumer Products Line of Business that had committed to supporting Toy Story (in early 1995), since it was a complete unknown at the time, and printed products could be produced much faster than toys and other licensed merchandise, which required physical sculpts, molds, dies, metal stampers, etc. for their manufacturing processes.

And given Lewis was working for Disney Publishing at that time, he recalls being …

Buzz Lightyear and Woody on the original Toy Story Poster
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… invited to fly up to San Francisco with Disney Publishing executives Jan Smith and David Haddad, to meet with this new little movie production company called Hi-Tech Toons, (which later became Pixar) and which was working on a new computer-animated movie called "Toy Story."

We flew on Southwest Airlines out of Burbank Airport (now Bob Hope Airport) on a gray overcast morning. Which worked for me because I lived close enough to walk to our offices in the Burbank Media District, so the airport was right up the street, a far cry from what people go through these days at LAX ... Anyway, the only reason I mention this detail is because the flight was very uncrowded, except for our little clandestine team, as well as one other team, literally ... A team of cross-dressing pool players who were flying up to San Francisco for a tournament.

(After we arrived in the Bay Area), we met with Ralph Guggenheim, (“Toy Story” ‘s) Producer, and Ralph Eggleston, the (film’s) Art Director, in a tiny little windowless conference room in a non-descript low-lying set of buildings on Cutting Blvd. in Richmond.

Buzz Lightyear and Woody meet on Andy's bed in Toy Story
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

The meeting was not that long and not that technical, as we didn't really realize at the time how little support these guys were getting from Disney internal lines of businesses (LOBs) up to this point, so it was much less about specifics and mostly just about them feeling happy that somebody at Disney was going to create product to support their movie since we showed up for the meeting, right?

I still have a tiny little white box of slides of reference publicity stills that Pixar had chosen to "make the printed proofs look like this."

Now let’s jump ahead to 1999, where Tim remembers his experience on “Toy Story 2” as being entirely different from what he went through with the original “Toy Story” :

All the toys are back in Toy Story 2
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

I was even fortunate enough to get to fly up to San Francisco and attend the Cast and Crew Wrap Party. “Toy Story 2” came out almost exactly a year after “A Bug’s Life”, which was a severely compressed production schedule at the time, and it had literally almost killed the production crew.

I watched John Lasseter literally in tears, thanking the crew for all of the sacrifices they had made to finish off the film on time, especially with all the detail that was required for the airport sequence at the end.

After the movie was screened at a historic San Francisco neighborhood movie theater, (I’m sorry I don’t remember the name of the theater and the Internet was no help on this one) everyone was bussed over to San Francisco City Hall in Union Square for the after-party. We all sat at circular tables and ate in the same room that Harvey Milk had been shot in, with Floyd Norman and Adrian Brown, my Disney co-horts from Southern California (Floyd had worked on Story for “Toy Story 2” and Adriennne was a contract digital painter for Disney Publishing at the time).

Jessie and Woody talk in Toy Story 2
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Our swag gifts included a special edition of the “Toy Story 2” CD Soundtrack with an extra hidden track, a wooden Woody’s Roundup yo-yo, as well as a snow globe shaped like the vintage TV set, with Woody and Bullseye inside, from the Woody’s Roundup merchandise at Al McWhiggin’s bachelor pad.

Anyway, that’s Tim’s take on the early, early days of the “Toy Story” franchise. FYI: Lewis feels that the first film in this trilogy is probably “ … the greatest piece of family entertainment since probably ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and ‘Star Wars’ and it started a creative legacy that has affected (The Walt Disney Company) as much if not more than Walt Disney's lifetime of work.”

Did you folks agree with Tim’s statement? If not, what sort of impact do you feel that the “Toy Story” films have had on the Disney Company?

Rex the dinosaur smiles out from a German Toy STory 2 poster
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Your thoughts?

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  • The effect? Wow! It's been absolutely amazing.

    Pixar really let Disney, and everybody else know, that "there's a new kid in town."

  • I worked at a Disney Store and was surprised at the lack of support Toy Story had. It's something that rang of the "Not Made Here" syndrome. You would have thought that a movie called Toy Story would have been good for selling toys.

    What was even worse was that support did not come in until Toy Story 2, so the video release of Toy Story was supported by....a plush or two. For a company that can market movies and product, Disney did not pay attention.

    As for effect, the Toy Story films pushed Disney in a new direction with CGI and refocused movies to story and character, and most importantly, heart.

  • I really liked today's story.  I have to say that Tim makes a great point.  If you look back at the films made during Walt's life, nothing comes remotely close to the quality and inventivness of the original Toy Story.

    Now as for the company overall, I think saying that nothing created in Walt's life matches Toy Story's legacy is a real stretch.  Disneyland may be the single most important thing the Walt Disney Company ever has - or ever will - create.

  • Agree with dravanos. Walt in his time pushed animation into an art forum, into innovation, into being a medium for all ages. THEN he pushed crude clockwork toys and puppets into audioanimatronics, and THEN he pushed shabby carnivals and amusement parks into 3D dreamscapes that allowed audiences to participate and immerse themselves into the fantasies that had once existed only on-screen or in their own imaginations.

    And is there any doubt that Pixar learned a great deal about storytelling, heart and character from Uncle Walt?

    That's why the Pixar purchase actually "plussed" the Disney brand. Unlike the other, ill-chosen purchases of late.

  • I came across your blog on the internet and I'm wondering if someone might be able to send me in the right direction...

    I am a high school drama teacher and I would like to produce a non-musical version of the original Toy Story at our school this fall.  The full screenplay is available online, but I need to secure permission to produce their work.  Lucasfilms allowed us to adapted and produce Star Wars a couple years ago, and we're looking to do something similar with Toy Story.  

    I'm having difficulty finding a good contact for Pixar or the authors of the screenplay.  Thanks for any help you can offer.

    Taunya Page

    Mountain Home High School

    Mountain Home, Idaho

    [email protected]

  • Iam trying to find the names of the characters in Toy Story 2 in 1999.

  • Iam trying to find the names of the characters in toy story 2 in 1999. Please e-mail me at [email protected]


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