The story behind Toy Story

In a small back room of the then independent Lucasfilm studio in Emeryville California, a small team of writers, story boarders and animators sat down and planned out the next 18 years of what would be known as Pixar Animation Studios.

Responsible for films like;  The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Toy Story and well….Cars. The studio has created some of the finest pieces of animated cinema at a prolific rate over the past four decades.

Pixar Studios in California. Photograph: Rotoscopes

Pixar have established themselves as a studio which is known for producing well-loved and successful animated films, but also for pushing the envelope in relation to possibilities with animation and cinematic storytelling.

However, it began with a simple story about a toy cowboy with some serious abandonment issues.

Toy Story was Pixar’s first animated feature film and whilst I would normally spend the next 50 words or so telling you what the film is about, the film has become such a staple for modern children’s entertainment I’ll skip that part and get right into the good stuff.

What strikes first time viewers of the film (there are literally dozens of them) is its maturity and multifaceted storytelling. Highlighting for the first time that family entertainment could be for the whole family.

Kids who watch it are entertained by the zany antics of woody, buzz and all of the supporting cast and learn to feel real empathy for the cast as they go through their respective arcs ( I swear if you didn’t shed a tear at the ‘Buzz trying to fly scene’ as a child you are not human).

Meanwhile, parents are given a nostalgic ride through their own childhood with a bittersweet reminder that the world is always being reshaped, but that doesn’t mean you have to let go of the past.

The Toy Story gang minus Buzz Lightyear. Photograph: Google

The movie is also a loving homage to the changing nature of Hollywood cinema. Buzz’s replacement of Woody as the new cool toy represents the explosion of science fiction in the late 70’s and early 80’s, which eclipsed the previously dominant Western genre.

Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon around the time of this films’ conception way back in 79, and it’s clear that this sudden change was something significant to the creative minds as Pixar.

That change is such a core theme of the film brings forth an eerie sense of foreboding, as rival animation studios were quick to adopt 3D animation as the primary way of creating their feature films. This marked an irreversible change in the genre as traditional 2D movies were left behind.

In the subsequent 38 years a lot has changed in the studio. Pixar and its father studio Lucasfilm have been acquired by entertainment behemoth and animation rival Disney for a combined cost of over $12 billion, and the studio is now in charge of producing not only their own creative works, but also the annual animated works of their new creative overlords.

However, it is clear that throughout this journey they have only ever been concerned with one thing: producing animated films that push the limits of human creativity in an ever evolving art form.

And on the notion of change I’ll leave you with this quote from Pixar founder Ed Catmull: “Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”

The main building, including Brave art, at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California. Photograph: Deborah Coleman / Pixar


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