The Legacy of Pixar’s Toy Story
This November Pixar Animation will release their nineteenth full length feature, Coco. The film is being met with high expectation and skepticism. This has been par for the course for Pixar as of late.
This past summer Cars 3 did well among critics, but suffered at the box office in large part due to Cars fatigue and backlash over the poorly written Cars 2.
2016’s Finding Dory did well at the box office and okay among critics but did not garner even a nomination for Best Animated Feature at this last years Oscars. Of course prior to that there was 2015’s Good Dinosaur which was a technical and visual masterpiece but suffered at the box office from a lack of depth and production problems.
With some of the perceived missteps by Pixar, many have asked questions like:
“Has Pixar lost it’s magic?”
“Has the acquisition of Pixar by Disney taken the ‘it’ factor away from Pixar?
“Why is Pixar producing so many sequels?”
One can not deny Pixar has not been as dominant in the feature animation world as it once was. Illumination and Dreamworks studios have been able to catch up with Pixar in quality. But why is that? There is no simple answer, but I believe what Pixar started in 1995 with the release of the first full length computed animated feature, Toy Story, began a trend of incredible story telling in animated films.
The legacy that Toy Story has left in Hollywood can not be understated. Toy Story was the first full length animated feature, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself, but its legacy is so much deeper than the pioneering of a new animation medium.
This legacy hit me in the face this week as I began film school. One of my classes is Narrative Storytelling. We are studying what makes a good story a good story and our opening case study was Pixar’s Toy Story.
I honestly was completely taken aback by this. I was 13 years old when Toy Story was released and now 22 years later (yeah I’m old and I’m going to film school at 35) I’m reading and listening to lectures on the genius that is Toy Story.
Many of us Disney and animation fans are familiar with the process that was the making of Toy Story. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn more about Toy Story and the early years of Pixar to watch the documentary The Pixar Story or read Creativity INC. by Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull.
In short, Pixar had a difficult time getting Toy Story made. Story writers John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft couldn’t seem to give Disney what they wanted. Essentially, what Disney was asking for was an animated movie with adult “edge”. Many have lamented that Disney Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg would keep pushing for more “edge” as he was pitched the treatments for Toy Story. Katzenburg, who would later go on to be a cofounder of DreamWorks Animation Studio, essentially wanted an R rated Toy Story, which I know my kids today are thankful did not happen.
Eventually, the creative team at Pixar was able to create a great story that didn’t depend of having “edge”. Why, because the crew at Pixar learned how to tell a great story. Whether is was taking the screenwriters workshop from Robert McKee or getting help from the likes of Joss Wheaten, they knew they could not depend on this amazing technology of computer animation they had helped pioneer. They had to tell a compelling story.
If you’re sitting in your minivan, playing your computer animated films for your children in the back seat, is it the animation that’s entertaining you as you drive and listen? No, it’s the storytelling. That’s why we put so much importance on story. No amount of great animation will save a bad story. – John Lasseter
Toy Story never set out to be a good kids film. It never set out to be a good animated film. Toy Story set out to be a great FILM.
We relate with the struggle of Woody and Buzz discovering who they really are and their position in the world. We’ve all dealt with jealousy, betrayal, meaninglessness, hopelessness, loss of friendships and belonging. The essence of Toy Story is very relatable.
After the release and subsequent success of Toy Story there were rumblings within the animation industry that to be successful you had to do computer animation. Studios focused on computer animation and not good stories. As such we didn’t see any good computer animated films outside of Disney/Pixar until Dreamworks Shriek in 2001. Since then we’ve got some great stories like How to Train your Dragon and Despicable Me.
Film goers don’t want to see a movie because is was made with computer animation or is shot on IMAX or has the latest Hollywood star. We go to the movies because we want to be told a compelling story. We want to relate with the hero and see our own struggles in life personified as the villain. We want a good story. That is the lasting legacy of Toy Story that has rippled through Hollywood. Toy Story has been a high tide that has raised all ships.
It’s My Story.
It’s Your Story.
It’s an Awesome Story!
Andy Herndon is a husband, dad, film geek, Disney nerd, video editor, YouTuber, host of the DCast Podcast and film student at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, OR. You can follow him on all the various social media networks at @andyherndon, listen to him on www.thedcast.com or see him on YouTube at youtube.com/andyherndon.