Toy Story was the first feature-length computer-animated film and the first theatrical film produced by Pixar. Toy Story follows a group of anthropomorphic toys who pretend to be lifeless whenever humans are present, and focuses on the relationship between Woody, a pullstring cowboy doll (voiced by Tom Hanks), and Buzz Lightyear, an astronaut action figure (voiced by Tim Allen). The film was written by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, and Joss Whedon, and featured music by Randy Newman. Its executive producers were Steve Jobs and Edwin Catmull.
Pixar, which produced short animated films to promote their computers, was approached by Disney to produce a computer-animated feature after the success of the short film, Tin Toy (1988), which is told from a small toy’s perspective. Lasseter, Stanton, and Pete Docter wrote early story treatments which were thrown out by Disney, who pushed for a more edgy film. After disastrous story reels, production was halted and the script was re-written, better reflecting the tone and theme Pixar desired: that “toys deeply want children to play with them, and that this desire drives their hopes, fears, and actions.” The studio, then consisting of a relatively small number of employees, produced the film under minor financial constraints
Plot of the story
In a world where toys pretend to be lifeless in the presence of humans, Woody, is the leader of a group of toys that are owned by a boy named Andy Davis. With his family moving away one week before his birthday, Andy is given a week-early party to spend with his friends, while the toys stage a reconnaissance mission to discover Andy’s new presents. Andy receives a spaceman action figure named Buzz Lightyear, whose impressive features see him replacing Woody as Andy’s favorite toy. Woody becomes resentful, especially when he notices that Buzz also gets attention from the other toys. However, Buzz believes himself to be a real space ranger on a mission to return to his home planet, while Woody tries to convince him that he is just a toy.
As Andy prepares for a family outing at Pizza Planet, his mother allows him to bring only one toy along. Fearing Andy will choose Buzz, Woody attempts to trap Buzz behind a desk, but the plan ends in failure when Woody accidentally knocks Buzz out the window, resulting in the other toys turning against Woody by accusing him of eliminating Buzz out of jealousy. Now that Buzz is missing, Andy reluctantly takes Woody to Pizza Planet, but Buzz climbs into the car and confronts Woody when they stop at a gas station. As they argue, they fall out of the van, which drives off and leaves them behind. While Buzz still believes he is a real space ranger, Woody spots a Pizza Planet delivery truck and convinces him that it can take him to a spaceport. As Woody looks for Andy at Pizza Planet, Buzz sees a rocket-shaped skill game and jumps inside, mistaking it for a real spaceship. Woody follows him in it, but Andy’s toy-abusing neighbor, Sid Phillips, arrives and operates the machine, maneuvering the claw to snag Buzz and Woody who are then taken to his house.
At Sid’s house, Woody and Buzz try to escape before Andy’s moving day, encountering Sid’s abused toy creations and his vicious bull terrier Scud. During an attempt, Buzz sees a commercial for Buzz Lightyear action figures and realizes that he is actually a toy himself. Disbelieving, he attempts to prove that he could fly, but falls and crashes down the stairs, breaks his left arm off and becomes depressed. Woody sees Andy’s other toys from a distance, but fails to convince them that Buzz is alive. After Sid’s toys fix Buzz’s arm to Woody’s surprise, Sid decides to blow up Buzz with a firework rocket, but a thunderstorm delays the plan. That night, Woody tells Buzz that he can bring joy to Andy as a toy, reinvigorating his spirit. The next morning, Woody and Sid’s toys rescue Buzz and scare Sid into no longer abusing toys by coming to life in front of him. Woody and Buzz then leave Sid’s house just as Andy’s mother drives away toward their new house.
They manage to climb onto the moving truck, but Scud chases after them and tries to pull Woody off the truck. Buzz tackles the dog and is left behind. Woody tries rescuing Buzz with Andy’s RC car, but the other toys, still thinking Woody is eliminating fellow toys, attack the cowboy and toss him off the truck. Having evaded Scud, Buzz and RC pickup Woody and continue after the truck. Upon seeing Woody and Buzz together on RC, the other toys realize their mistake and try to help them get back aboard but RC’s batteries become depleted, stranding them. Woody ignites the rocket on Buzz’s back and manages to throw RC into the truck before they soar into the air. Buzz opens his wings to free himself from the rocket before it explodes, gliding with Woody to land safely into a box in the van, right next to Andy.
On Christmas, at their new house, Woody and Buzz stage another reconnaissance mission to prepare for the new toy arrivals. As Woody jokingly asks what might be worse than Buzz, they discover Andy’s new gift is a puppy, and the two share a worried smile.
Director John Lasseter‘s first experience with computer animation was during his work as an animator at Walt Disney Feature Animation, when two of his friends showed him the lightcycle scene from Tron. It was an eye-opening experience which awakened Lasseter to the possibilities offered by the new medium of computer-generated animation. Lasseter tried to pitch the idea of a fully computer-animated film to Disney, but the idea was rejected and Lasseter was fired. He then went on to work at Lucasfilm and later as a founding member of Pixar, which was purchased by Steve Jobs in 1986.
At Pixar, Lasseter created short, computer-animated films to show off the Pixar Image Computer’s capabilities, and Tin Toy (1988) —a short told from the perspective of a toy, referencing Lasseter’s love of classic toys— would go on to claim the 1988 Academy Award for animated short films, the first computer-generated film to do so. Tin Toy gained Disney’s attention, and the new team at The Walt Disney Company—CEO Michael Eisner and chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg in the film division —began a quest to get Lasseter to come back. Lasseter, grateful for Jobs’ faith in him, felt compelled to stay with Pixar,
telling co-founder Ed Catmull, “I can go to Disney and be a director, or I can stay here and make history.” Katzenberg realized he could not lure Lasseter back to Disney and therefore set plans into motion to ink a production deal with Pixar to produce a film. Disney had always made their own movies in the house, and refused to change this. But when Tim Burton, who used to work a Disney, wanted to buy back the rights to The Nightmare Before Christmas, it was made a deal that he could make it as a Disney movie outside the studio. Which also opened the door for Pixar, which could make their movies outside Disney.
Both sides were willing. Catmull and fellow Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith had long wanted to produce a computer-animated feature. In addition, Disney had licensed Pixar’s Computer Animation Production System (CAPS), and that made it the largest customer for Pixar’s computers. Jobs made it apparent to Katzenberg that although Disney was happy with Pixar, it was not the other way around: “We want to do a film with you,” said Jobs. “That would make us happy.” At this same time, Peter Schneider, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, was potentially interested in making a feature film with Pixar. When Catmull, Smith and head of animation Ralph Guggenheim met with Schneider in the summer of 1990, they found the atmosphere to be puzzling and contentious. They later learned that Katzenberg intended that if Disney were to make a film with Pixar, it would be outside Schneider’s purview, which aggravated Schneider. After that first meeting, the Pixar contingent went home with low expectations and were surprised when Katzenberg called for another conference. Catmull, Smith and Guggenheim were joined by Bill Reeves (head of animation research and development), Jobs, and Lasseter. They brought with them an idea for a half-hour television special called A Tin Toy Christmas. They reasoned that a television program would be a sensible way to gain experience before tackling a feature film.
They met with Katzenberg at a conference table in the Team Disney building at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Catmull and Smith considered it would be difficult to keep Katzenberg interested in working with the company over time. They considered it even more difficult to sell Lasseter and the junior animators on the idea of working with Disney, who had a bad reputation for how they treated their animators, and Katzenberg, who had built a reputation as a micromanaging tyrant. Katzenberg asserted this himself in the meeting: “Everybody thinks I’m a tyrant. I am a tyrant. But I’m usually right.” He threw out the idea of a half-hour special and eyed Lasseter as the key talent in the room: “John, since you won’t come work for me, I’m going to make it work this way.” He invited the six visitors to mingle with the animators—”ask them anything at all”—and the men did so, finding they all backed up Katzenberg’s statements. Lasseter felt he would be able to work with Disney and the two companies began negotiations. Pixar at this time was on the verge of bankruptcy and needed a deal with Disney. Katzenberg insisted that Disney be given the rights to Pixar’s proprietary technology for making 3-D animation, but Jobs refused. In another case, Jobs demanded Pixar would have part ownership of the film and its characters, sharing control of both video rights and sequels, but Katzenberg refused. Disney and Pixar reached accord on contract terms in an agreement dated May 3, 1991, and signed on in early July. Eventually the deal specified that Disney would own the picture and its characters outright, have creative control, and pay Pixar about 12.5% of the ticket revenues. It had the option (but not the obligation) to do Pixar’s next two films and the right to make (with or without Pixar) sequels using the characters in the film. Disney could also kill the film at any time with only a small penalty. These early negotiations would become a point of contention between Jobs and Eisner for many years.
An agreement to produce a feature film based on Tin Toy with a working title of Toy Story was finalized and production began soon thereafter.
The top-grossing film on its opening weekend, Toy Story went on to earn over $361 million worldwide. Reviews were positive, praising both the animation’s technical innovation and the screenplay’s wit and sophistication, and it is now widely considered by many critics to be one of the best animated films ever made. 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“, as well as winning a Special Achievement Academy Award. It was inducted into the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 2005, its first year of eligibility. In addition to home media releases and theatrical re-releases, Toy Story-inspired material has run the gamut from toys, video games, theme park attractions, spin-offs, merchandise, and two sequels—Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010)—both of which also garnered massive commercial success and critical acclaim, with a third sequel, Toy Story 4, slated for a 2018 release.