Hear from the directing and producing team of the hit animated film...
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We continue our Toy Story 3 home video release celebration with an intimate chat with two of its creators: Director Lee Unkrich and Producer Darla K. Anderson.
FIGURES.COM: What are your feelings about Toy Story and the fifteen year history we've all had with the franchise - and now with Toy Story 3 rounding it out?
FIGS: What's the secret to the storytelling at Pixar that makes it so treasured by the audience?LEE UNKRICH: That movie represents for us, those who have been with the studio a long time, the beginnings of the studio. John [Lasseter] and Ed [Catmull] had dreams for making feature films using computer graphics when nobody thought that was anything that could be done. It wasn't realistic. And of course, we did it with Toy Story and we're the first to do it so that film will always remain especially special to us even though we've made a lot of different films over the years. Toy Story is the beginning of it all, not only for Pixar, but for the whole industry.
Of course when John asked me to direct Toy Story 3 and Darla to produce it, it was a responsibility we didn't take lightly at all. We were really, really nervous about having to make a third Toy Story for a lot of reasons and we're both so happy to be sitting here now on the other side of it. Thank God. [laughs]
For me, I'm so happy that people love the movie as much as they do and I'm happy it's done really well but ultimately the thing I'm most relieved at is that we didn't screw it up. We didn't make a film that sullied that experience in anyway. I know that the Toy Story films are so special to a lot of people - they hold them very dear. We had people reaching out while we were making the movie saying, "Don’t screw this up!"
When we were making Toy Story 2, we knew we were doing that against all odds. At the time we would say, "Well, what good second movies are there?" and there weren't very many. There's the Godfather Part II and Empire Strikes Back.
In the case of Toy Story 3, it felt completely masochistic of us that we would take on doing a third one.
DARLA K. ANDERSON: But we both wanted to. We've been at Pixar for so long we both wanted to be custodians of these characters and the franchise.
LEE: Right. But it was honestly that fear of screwing it up on some level that helped make it good or at least primed it for success. We came into work every single day not resting on our laurels, trying to make it be the best movie it could possibly be.
FIGS: What is it about Pixar that really sets it apart from Hollywood?LEE: Well, it's a lot of things. On one level there's the nostalgia factor. People have a lot of satisfaction watching the characters interact together after so many years. For us they feel like family members. It's like any great sitcom too, you enjoy seeing that mix of characters interact so we had that going for us. But on another level we tried to infuse our own lives into the movies as much as we could, tried to have universal ideas. We all have to say good-bye to things that we love in life, no one can escape that, so we saw this as an opportunity to explore that idea, that universal human experience. People love that they can go to a Toy Story film and they know they're going to hopefully laugh their butts off and it'll be crazy and wildly entertaining, but at the same time it'll pack in an emotional wallop. I would never want to make a movie that was just funny. It's fine, but it's disposable. Like eating potato chips. But when you can give them something more, something they can think about or relate to, that's the kind of movie that ends up sticking and feeling worthy of being in the world.
DARLA: These characters are so real to us and we try really hard to make them entertaining.
FIGS: What can you tell us about the Toy Story 3 toys? Anything new coming our way?LEE: You know what I think we have that other studios don't focus on? We have this collective of filmmakers and directors at the studio: Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Brad Bird, John Lasseter... And we regularly get together and look at each other's work. And we're really hard on each other's work. We're very honest critically. That just grew out of when we were the group of people making the first Toy Story, that's just how we worked with each other. We trusted each other and we were all comfortable giving hard notes. You know, you leave your egos at the door and it's all about trying to make a good movie. I don't think there's another studio that has that kind of system in place where you have different filmmakers getting together and looking at each other's work regularly. I mean, we do this every few months on every project at the studio.
We have the right people. I don't know if you can engineer it again if you wanted to. If you look at any great band, why did that band come together the way it did? You have the right people to create that thing that people responded to. A lot of people try to do it and fail. There's just something really lucky about the right people at the studio that came together at that moment in time. We complement each other well but there's no guarantee. Just because we've done it doesn't mean we'll be able to continue to.
People think that we know what we're doing because we've had the success; we know how to do some things or at least we've learned from a lot of our mistakes over the years. We've just managed to fix our mistakes and fix our problems before the world has seen them. We've gone through the same thing everybody goes through in trying to craft a story and make a movie. We just have a safer environment to screw up, fix it, and move on making it better. Not every one has that.
DARLA: Nothing is precious. Even if you've worked many, many years on something, it's hard to let it go if it's entertaining on its own, but if it's not working for the story as a whole, we get rid of it. That's strength because it's not easy to do that. Even if we spend a lot of time and money on it, if it's not working for the film we nix it.
FIGS: What are you working on now?LEE: Yeah, I don't know about all of them but definitely. I'm hoping we see more of the new characters. Toy companies are often scared of new things but now that the film is such a huge success... I'd like to see a full sized Big Baby.
LEE: We're still riding the wave of Toy Story 3 and having fun with that. Darla and I are going to work together again on another movie.
DARLA: What?! [laughs]
Toy Story 3 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD wherever fine home video is sold.
By David Yeh. Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.