Nearly 25 years have passed since a cowboy named Sheriff Woody and a spaceman called Buzz Lightyear teamed up for the ultimate film about friendship.
Toy Story, from a little-known company called Pixar, was a box office and critically acclaimed hit on its release in 1995. A sequel followed in 1999 then, after an 11-year wait, the third instalment landed.
Now fans are getting ready for Toy Story 4. Early reviews suggest the film, out on Friday, is going to be another huge hit and likely to make $1 billion at the box office. Here, Beth Hale takes a look at the story of Toy Story…
The newest Toy Story film (characters above) will show the team embarking on a road trip
In the new movie, Woody (pictured above) goes after a new toy name Forkey when it tried to run away
The pioneers of CGI
Toy Story transformed the face of film animation, being the first fully computer animated production. But its own story began in 1979 when a team of whizz-kids were hired by Star Wars director George Lucas to build a computer graphics division for Lucasfilm. In 1986, Pixar (a faux Spanish word meaning ‘to make pictures’) came into being as an independent business.
Lucas then sold his computer division for £4 million to Steve Jobs, recently ousted from Apple, who became the largest shareholder and CEO until Disney bought it for £6 billion 20 years later.
Jobs (below) joined computer scientist Ed Catmull and graphics pioneer Alvy Ray Smith with former Disney animator John Lasseter. Between them they devised a way of turning computer graphics into images (CGI) using a Pixar Image Computer, superseding hand-drawn ‘cartoon’ animation.
Pixar’s first success came in the very first year of Jobs’ reign with a two-minute short called Luxo Jr, showing two desk lamps playfully interacting. It earned an Academy Award nomination, and two years later a five-minute short, Tin Toy, became the first computer animated film to claim an Oscar in the newly created category.
In 1991, Pixar signed a £20 million deal with Disney to produce three computer animated feature films, the first of which was Toy Story. Pixar was yet to make one movie, let alone three.
‘There was something fresh about nobody knowing what the hell we were doing,’ co-founder and recently retired Pixar president Ed Catmull said. ‘The entire company was bet upon us figuring this out.’
With Disney keeping all merchandising rights, the 81-minute film not only needed to prove the new technology could work, it needed to be a smash to make money.
In the latest installement Woody finds himself in Second Chance Antiques, home to an adorable, talking pull-string doll from the 1950s and her crew of voiceless ventriloquist dummies
Big bucks at the box office
And, boy, did it hit the spot. Children and adults flocked to the cinema, making Toy Story the most watched film three weeks in a row.
It told the story of Andy, a little boy who loves his toys. It also showed the toys coming to life when Andy wasn’t there, and the jealousies over who was the boy’s ‘favourite’. Children loved the toys and adults loved the bittersweet theme of growing up.
Jobs had said Pixar and Disney would break even if the film was a ‘modest hit’ at £59 million. In the event, it raked in £296 million worldwide. Follow-up Toy Story 2 collected £394 million in 1999 and when it came along 11 years later, Toy Story 3 took £845 million — the first animated film to break the billion-dollar mark.
A new character Duke Caboom is voiced by Keano Reeves (Caboom pictured in the new movie)
Now No 4 is set to do the same. Then there are the millions made from merchandising, which ranges from replica costumes to toy versions of the film’s characters.
Merchandise for Toy Story 4, including Buzz Lightyear backpacks and Bo Peep pyjamas, is already flying off the shelves.
Pixar, meanwhile, has enjoyed both critical and popular acclaim — with 21 movies, 210 awards and total box office takings topping £11 billion. The northern California studio is behind some of the most successful animated films of all time, including Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Brave and Inside Out.
Toy Story also cemented Randy Newman as one of the most successful film composers ever. Famed for writing You’ve Got A Friend In Me (it’s back in the latest film), he won an Oscar for We Belong Together, from Toy Story 3.
Scandal and a VERY long wait
When Andy, all grown-up and going to college, handed his toys to a little girl named Bonnie in Toy Story 3, it was deemed the perfect end to the series.
Keanu Reeves (left) lends his voice to Duke Caboom, while Christina Hendricks (right( leads hers to Gabby Gabby
It won an Oscar for best animated feature and even Quentin Tarantino proclaimed it his favourite film of the year. There it seemed to end, until in 2014 Disney revealed plans for Toy Story 4.
What’s happened since has been a tortuous affair. First it was going to be released in 2017, then 2018. Amid shifting dates John Lasseter, who was going to direct it, was caught up in his own drama.
Initially, he announced he was relinquishing the director’s chair to former intern and directing first-timer Josh Cooley, then he was forced to resign from Disney/Pixar after complaints about unwanted touching in the workplace.
He admitted professional ‘missteps’ in his behaviour, without specifically acknowledging the allegations of sexual harassment. In the wake of his departure, two of the film’s writers quit, citing ‘creative and philosophical differences’. Rashida Jones said she left because of a culture at Pixar ‘where women and people of colour do not have an equal creative voice’.
Tom Hanks was at the most recent premier in Los Angeles (left). Veteran comedian Don Rickles (right) posed with a Mr. Potato Head doll in 2000 in a ceremony to honour him for his work as the voice of Mr Potato
Back on track
Tricks that are right are rain
If there is one clue to the advances in animation since the first film, it’s in its astounding depiction of rain.
In Pixar’s earliest films, it fell in dots or lines, but Toy Story 4 opens with an intense thunderstorm, in which droplets of water bounce off every surface they hit.
Advances in technology also helped with the creation of the dust-filled antiques store at the heart of the film, with artificial intelligence ‘spiders’ creating authentic cobwebs in murky corners — saving the animators the time of conjuring individual strands.
Other minute details only possible 24 years after the original include the almost unnoticeable grains of sand at the base of a playground slide, a subtle difference in the appearance of Woody’s stitching so we can see the new red thread used to mend his arm in Toy Story 2, ‘pilling’ on his shirt and subtle ‘cracks’ in the glaze on porcelain Bo.
Gabby Gabby, meanwhile, has scuffs on her shoes that only a doll that walked in a particular way would get.
Toy Story 4 was also shot in widescreen, to increase the cinematic effect.
THE new film picks up where the last one left off, with Woody, Buzz and their old friends in the hands of Bonnie Anderson. But there’s a new toy to contend with, Forky, a ‘spork’ made by Bonnie with pipe cleaners for arms.
Understandably, Forky’s undergoing an identity crisis: he’s not a toy — he’s a fork and a spoon combined. While he considers himself a disposable utensil, to Bonnie he’s a plaything.
Meanwhile, there’s the small matter of tracking down Woody’s lost love Bo Peep, who in between Toy Story 2 and 3 has been sold and is found in an antiques shop fending off a horde of ventriloquist dummies. This triggers another road trip buddy movie, with Pixar describing the film as a ‘standalone’ that is half adventure, half love story.
Little Bo Peep’s girl power
Porcelain shepherdess Little Bo Peep has undergone a transformation. ‘She’s gotten all wise and courageous. She is a fierce warrior,’ says actress Annie Potts, who voices her.
We discover, in flashback, that just before she went to live with another family, Bo invited Woody to run away with her. But he couldn’t abandon Andy.
When he meets her again in the new film, he’s stunned by her transformation, and she’s doing very well as a self-reliant shepherdess of lost toys. Gone is the pink dress and bonnet — now she’s decked out in a blue ensemble with ruffled trousers, a pink sash and a sleeveless top. The bonnet’s replaced by a big, pink bow. ‘Change is good,’ Bo tells Woody.
Director Cooley has said inspiration for the reinvigorated Bo came from a host of other female characters, including Mad Max’s Imperator Furiosa, Rey from Star Wars, Marion from Indiana Jones and even Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman’s character) in Casablanca.
Cracking fun with ‘eggs’
Pixar is known for hiding ‘easter eggs’ (hidden references) within its films, so buffs should keep their eyes peeled.
New toy on the block Duke’s appearance was heralded in an easter egg in last year’s Incredibles 2 film (the action figure could be seen lying in baby Jack-Jack’s playpen). Producers have said Toy Story 4 will feature an easter egg from every single Pixar film.
Many of the nods to the company’s past are to be found inside an antiques store that is at the centre of much of the action. ‘I swear, if you pause any frame in the store you will see something in the background,’ said director Cooley.
Caboom! Keanu joins the cast
Toy Story got off to a cracking start with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voicing the ultimate toy buddies, Sheriff Woody and space hero Buzz.
But there’s a dazzling list of stars behind the Toy Story characters. There are the stalwarts of every film — John Ratzenberger, of Cheers fame, as piggy bank Hamm and Princess Bride actor Wallace Shawn, as timid dinosaur Rex.
Joan Cusack, as cowgirl Jessie, is also back, along with a host of new characters. Arrested Development star Tony Hale voices the neurotic Forky, while Mad Men beauty Christina Hendricks is a vintage villain in the shape of 1950s doll Gabby Gabby, whose voice box has deteriorated and now she wants Woody’s. Then there’s Keanu Reeves, who is set to play new toy Duke Caboom — a 1970s creation based on Canada’s greatest stuntman (filmmakers had to get permission to use the Canadian flag) with a handlebar moustache.
Producers did a blind audio test to find their macho, but emotionally vulnerable, Caboom and Keanu’s voice leapt out.
Poignantly, the voice of the late Don Rickles, who died from kidney failure in 2017, will still be heard. Archive material — not just from the films, but from recordings for theme parks, video games and television specials — was used for his role as Mr Potato Head.
The number on the antique shop’s front door references the year Pixar was founded, the wine glasses were first seen in Ratatouille and there’s a bear carving from Brave.
There’s also a car with the licence plate RM-R-F*. That’s the keyboard command inputted by an unwitting Pixar employee that accidentally deleted Toy Story 2 from the company’s internal system. Fortunately, another employee, on maternity leave, had saved a back-up copy at home.
We nearly had a ‘creepy’ woody
It could all have been so different. Originally, Woody was not meant to be a very likeable toy at all. He was intended to be a large ventriloquist dummy, but was deemed so creepy producers put the whole film on hold so he could be recreated as a lovable doll who talks when you pull the string in his back.
Disney, of course, loves musicals. But early suggestions to deploy more songs were quickly shot down by Pixar.
Buzz was almost named Tempest, after the animator’s obsession with an Atari computer game, and he was only six inches high (not the ten he is today) with a red suit instead of his now famous green and white.
Tom Hanks ad-libbed many of his lines — and provided so many out-takes during recording the first film, they were scattered through subsequent instalments.
It’s going to be emotional…
A timelss story with some pretty fundamental values at its heart about friendship and acceptance of others, Toy Story’s appeal is enduring. What’s more, the humour is pitched at all the family, something that has become a Pixar trademark.
The fourth instalment is likely to be an emotional ride.
‘Final line, final session as Woody of Toy Story 4. We rode like the wind, to infinity and beyond,’ wrote Tom Hanks on a post he shared on Instagram alongside a picture of him in the recording booth alongside Cooley and Pixar’s chief creative officer Pete Docter, in January.
Tim Allen, meanwhile, wrote: ‘Finished my Buzz for Toy Story 4 today and it got emotional.’