Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Toy Story at Twenty: To infinity and beyond!

Toy Story / A great story with great characters.

With the release of The Good Dinosaur over Thanksgiving weekend, it's hard to believe that it's been 20 years since the debut of Toy Story, the memorable tale of a group of toys that come to life which was the first feature-length computer-animated film and the first theatrical film produced by Pixar.

At San Francisco International Airport, I recently happened upon SFO Museum's newest curated exhibition, "Toy Story at Twenty," which tells the story behind the story of this wonderful buddy-comedy adventure film through a variety of artifacts -- early sketches, toys and sculptures of the unforgettable characters Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll, and Buzz Lightyear, an astronaut figure -- as well as sharing backstories from many of the principals at Pixar such as director John Lasseter, producer Ralph Guggenheim, and story co-creator Andrew Stanton, who were involved in the production that forever changed the landscape of feature animation.

Toy Story / A buddy movie where the buddies are toys.
"It'll be a buddy movie: a banter-laden tale of a bitter alliance blossoming into a true friendship," said Toy Story director John Lasseter, as quoted in the exhibition. "It'll have a few unusual twists. First, the buddies will be toys. And second, it will be the first time an entire movie will have been created using computer animation."

According to Toy Story producer Ralph Guggenheim, "Nobody knew what skills we'd need when we started. It was a completely new series of combinations that had to add up to more than the sum of its parts." Added story supervisor Joe Ranft, "If the story isn't there, all the breakthrough computer graphics in the world piled onto it won't matter. You'll have made a piece of passing fashion."

Fortunately, the vivid, entertaining and moving story was there and it resonated with its audience. The iconic and timeless Toy Story had its theatrical debut on November 22, 1995, and went on to earn over $361 million worldwide.

Toy Story / An early sketch image of Woody.
The voices Woody and Buzz Lightyear are familiar ones belonging to actors Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.

"Getting a line reading from Tom Hanks is like getting this big, incredibly wet sponge," remembered animator Glenn McQueen. "It's overflowing with different possibilities for you to wring out." Meanwhile, as John Lasseter described it, "Casting Tim Allen to voice Buzz gave us that quality we wanted of a macho guy with a soft underbelly. Tim's perfect at doing an everyday guy."

Toy Story story co-creator Andrew Stanton said: "We never thought Woody and Buzz's repartee would hold the spotlight in and of itself. But once they were animated, suddenly the chemistry between them was the highlight of the movie."

Toy Story / A prototype of Buzz Lightyear.
The film received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song for "You've Got a Friend in Me" written and performed by Randy Newman. It won a Special Achievement Academy Award.

"Randy (Newman) turned out to be a great help to us when we needed a lot of emotion told to the audience, and accepted by the audience in a short amount of time," said Andrew Stanton.

"'You've Got a Friend in Me' speaks volumes about the love between Andy and Woody, better than we ever could tell it in dialogue. The way you feel it at the end of the song, we would have needed two more sequences without a song to get that point across."

Peter Schneider, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, summed it up best: "At the end of the day, it's not the technique that the audience cares about; it's a great story, a visual feast, and great characters. They want to be taken on an emotional journey they've never been on before."

"Toy Story at Twenty" opened last week and it's on continuous display daily through May 22, 2016, for free, pre-security, in the SFO International Terminal main hall departures lobby. It is accessible to all airport visitors, and I highly recommend it.

To infinity and beyond!

Images: Courtesy of Pixar and Toy Story at Twenty.

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