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Shorts like Pixar's "Small Fry" help extend the shelf life of Disney's biggest franchises

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Shorts like Pixar's "Small Fry" help extend the shelf life of Disney's biggest franchises

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Here's an interesting question for all of your Pixar trivia buffs out there: Which "Cars" film do you think was seen by more people? The original from 2006 or this summer's sequel (which was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 1st).

And the answer is ... neither. Truth be told, but the "Cars" -related production that's been seen by the largest audience to date isn't the original "Cars" or "Cars 2." But - rather - is Pixar's "Cars Toons." Which are run upwards of 15 times a week on the Disney Channel.

Copyright Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved

Which I know may sound kind of hard to believe. But while "Cars" -- during its original theatrical run -- was seen by 40 million people (more importantly, 20 million DVDs & Blu-ray units of this John Lasseter film have been sold since 2006). But that's nothing compared to the 68 million people who have seen a "Cars Toon" since this series of shorts was officially launched back in October of 2008.

And given that these "Cars" -themed animated interstitials which air on the Disney Channel have proven to be a highly successful way for this particular set of Pixar characters to remain connected with their target audience (not to mention providing inspiration for further expansion of the "Cars" product line ...

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... as well as fodder for a continuing line of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment releases) ...

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... is it any wonder that the folks at Pixar are now looking to do something similar with their new "Toy Story Toons" series? The first of which, "Hawaiian Vacation" ...

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... premiered in front of "Cars 2" back in June while the second film in this series, "Small Fry" ...

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... bows later this month in front of "The Muppets."

Earlier this year, I got to talk with Galyn Susman (i.e. who's been with Pixar Animation Studios for over 20 years now and - most recently -- served as the producer as "Hawaiian Vacation") and asked her about how she and Gary Rydstrom (i.e. the director of this 6 minute-long film) put together the first-ever "Toy Story Toon."

"Gary and I initially thought that we'd use the 'Mater's Tall Tales' cartoons as our template. By that I mean:  Just use a  handful of characters from the 'Toy Story' universe to tell our story, rather than the entire cast," Susman explained. "But John Lasseter had a very different idea in mind."

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To John's way of thinking ... Well, this introductory "Toy Story Toon" was going to be the very first time that we'd seen these characters since the end of "Toy Story 3." Which was when Andy gave all of his beloved playthings to Bonnie.

"And what John told Gary & I was that people were really going to want to know what had happened after 'Toy Story 3.' How Andy & Bonnie's toys were now getting along. Who had paired up with whom," Galyn continued. "Which meant that we now had to come up with a story that - in just six minutes time - allowed 18 different characters to each get their own moment in the spotlight."

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Luckily, among the 8 different scenarios that Jason Katz and Pixar's story team had already mapped out for possible "Toy Story Toons" was the storyline of "Hawaiian Vacation." Which John immediately got excited about because of all the comic possibilities (EX: How would the characters dress while they were staffing this faux resort where Ken & Barbie were staying on their romantic get-away). Which is why Lasseter quickly ordered this particular short put into production.

But once work was complete on "Hawaiian Vacation" (more importantly, once all of the public's questions about how all of the toys in Bonnie's room were now getting along were answered) Pixar's shorts department could then revert to Susman's original plan for the "Toy Story Toons" series. With each of these shorts now built around an adventure that starred just three or four members of the "Toy Story" cast of characters.

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Take - for example - "Small Fry." Which reveals what happens when Bonnie accidentally leaves the full-sized action figure version of Buzz Lightyear behind when she visits Poultry Palace (i.e. a local fast food joint) and - instead - brings home the Happy-Meal-Toy version of this Space Ranger. Who then tries to pass himself off as the version of Buzz Lightyear who's always been in Bonnie's bedroom.

Meanwhile, once Poultry Palace closes for the night, Buzz frantically searches for a way to escape from this fast food restaurant. But then - after falling through a hole in the building's HVAC system - this Space Ranger finds himself a reluctant participant in a support group meeting for discarded Fun Meal toys.

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And speaking of toys ... Disney Consumer Products has high hopes that the "Toy Story Toons" series - just like the "Cars Toons" series before it - will soon become an excellent jumping-off point for brand-new lines of "Toy Story" products. Witness the "Hawaiian Vacation"-inspired items that Toy R Us is offering its customers as exclusives over the 2011 holiday shopping season.

And given that Pixar Animation Studios - through its new Pixar Canada facility in Vancouver - plans on producing two new "Toy Story Toons" short per year at least for the foreseeable future ... Well, we should probably expect to see the first Blu-ray / DVD collection of "Toy Story Toons" from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment in late 2014 / early 2015.

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And just so you know, Walt Disney Animation Studios will soon be testing the waters when it comes to using animated interstitials (which WDAS will be producing for the Disney Channel) as a way to keep Disney Princess fans excited about the latest additions to this $4-billion-a-year franchise. Toward that end, the folks in Burbank are currently working on "Tangled Ever After," a brand-new 6 minute-long short which details what happens on Rapunzel & Flynn Rider's wedding day.

Mind you, as of this moment, there are plans to only make one Disney Princess short. The folks at Walt Disney Animations Studios (as well as - of course - executives at Disney Consumer Products) will have measure the public's response to this "Tangled" follow-up before they then put another Disney Princess short into production.

The Disney Princesses at last month's "Rapunzel's Royal Celebration" event at
Kensington Palace. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which brings us to today's question: If Walt Disney Animation Studios were to put some more Disney Princess shorts in production, which characters would you like to see this 6 minute-long films built around? More importantly, would you like these Disney Princess to be produced using CG or hand-drawn animation?

Your thoughts?



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  • I really hope Pixar isn't working on Toy Story 4. Spill the beans Jim!

  • I agree - it helps keep things fresh in people's minds. Small Fry is good - people are going to like it. Just like the Muppets, there is a lot of play off nostalgia for the older set (i.e. parents), but enough to make the kids laugh, as well.

  • like the way Disney is keeping the pixar characters still fresh in fans mind mostly like with the toy story characters fullfilling fans demands for more adventures of the characters plus also like cars keeping them fresh so fans may want to see a new movie. as for the idea used for Disney princess. Disney should use their current  ones like from tangled.   and maybe revisit some of even the classic ones. though using the shorts with too  many of their stuff may wind up back firing and hurting the shorts in the end.

  • If it's done with quality, ok, but keep an eye on keeping anything quality.  Otherwise, it's too easy to wander back into the days of cheapquels for the sake of keeping the characters fresh in people's minds.

  • The best shorts (and the most memorable) are the funny ones. The problem with that is that won't lend itself very well to most of the Princesses. It might work for a few (Rapunzel, Ariel), but won't work as well for others.

    I'm just glad they are doing shorts again. It gives Disney an opportunity to push the boundaries of animation more than they can in a full length film and it gives up and coming animators and directors the opportunity to get more experience.

  • The short-subjects I feel are a great way to satiate some of the fandom that want 'more.' You have to admit that at this point, if it was a stomach-churning step to make a 'Toy Story 3' that worked, to make a 'Toy Story 4' would probably cause someone at PIXAR to have a stroke.

    I'm slightly intrigued by the upcoming short from 'Tangled,' as it'll give people see more of Rapunzel with her new, shorter brown locks. At the end of the film, it felt there wasn't enough time to fully digest the changes made to her appearance. Just as long as it doesn't turn into some kind of *shudder* Cinderella II affair where she's being harangued about what is to be expected from a Princess, before it's revealed at the end that she's fine just as she is.

  • I really like that Pixar is making quality shorts. As far as shorts actually being made at the mouse house: sounds cool. Just remember that THE STORY is the thing and keep away from the cheapness of the recent past.

  • I know Pixar doesn't think an idea is valid until they think it up but I had actually contacted them several years ago about doing shorts like this that were based on characters from their feature films. It's a great way to keep in touch with the characters without the weight of another full-fledged sequel.

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