Just how does the creative braintrust at Disney’s Pixar Studios keep delivering instant classics that will be charming audiences to infinity and beyond?
With the arrival of “Toy Story 3” on Blu-Ray and DVD – easily the best-reviewed film of 2010 thus far and an odds-defying third sequel that’s as creatively and commercially successful as the original – PopcornBiz posed the question to the film’s director Lee Unkrich.
“We have this collective of filmmakers, of directors at the studio – Pete Docter [“Up”], Brad Bird [“Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles”], John Lasseter [“Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2,” “Cars”], etc. – and we regularly get together and look at each other’s work,” offers Unkrich. “We’re really hard on each other’s work; we’re very honest, critically. And that just grew out of when we were the people making the first ‘Toy Story,’ that’s just how we worked together. We trusted each other and we were all comfortable giving hard notes. You leave your egos at the door and it’s all about trying to make a good movie. I don’t think there’s any other studio that has a system like that in place.”
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Unkrich said Pixar’s secret formula also works because of the specific mix of individuals manipulating the digital pixels in Emeryville, Calif. “We have the right people,” he says. “I don’t think you could engineer it again if you wanted to. It’s like any great band: why did that band come together the way it did? Because you had the right people to create that thing that people responded to. A lot of people try to do it and fail, and there was just something lucky about the people at the studio who came together at that moment in time. We complement each other well.”
But the enduring success of the studio’s films didn’t mean Unkrich and his creative team accepted the “Toy Story 3” assignment assuming it would result in an instant out-of-the-park home run.
“We were really, really nervous about having to make a third ‘Toy Story’ for a lot of reasons,” he says. “And I’m oh-so-happy to be sitting here now, on the other side of it. For me, I’m so happy that people love the movie as much as they do and that it’s done really well, but ultimately the thing that I’m most relieved at is that we didn’t screw it up! We didn’t make a film that sullied that experience in any way, because I know the ‘Toy Story’ films are so special to a lot of people. There were people who were kids when ‘Toy Story’ came out who are now in college or beyond, and they hold it very dear.”
In the end, the Pixar artists/technicians delivered that rarest of feats, an exciting, moving and deeply satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, a feat only equaled by the likes or “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
“It makes us so happy to hear people talking about it that way,” says Unkrich. “It felt completely masochistic of us to take on doing a third one. 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, because we came into work every single day not resting on our laurels at all, trying to make it be the best movie that it could be.”
Ukrich admits that the original “Toy Story” film means as much to the Pixar team as it does to the fans – and even a little more.
“That movie represents for us, who have been part of the studio for a long time, the beginnings of the studio,” he says. “John and Ed [Catmull] had dreams for years of making feature films using computer graphics when nobody thought that was anything that could be done, that it wasn’t realistic. And of course we did it with ‘Toy Story’ and were the first to do it. And so that film will always remain especially special to us, even though we’ve made a lot of different films over the years that we’re proud of. ‘Toy Story’ was the beginning of it all, not only for Pixar but for the whole the whole industry.”