The Hamptons International Film Festival hosted Toy Story 3 Director Lee Unkrich and Producer Darla K. Anderson earlier today. The 1-hour event featured clips from the film and an in-depth conversation about the filmmaking process. Beware, as crucial story points were discussed, you will encounter major spoilers below. Here is my recap:
First up was a clip of the very first scene from the Pixar film. The western action sequence was as exciting as during the first viewing of Toy Story 3, and the home-video style montage of Andy’s childhood as sentimental. It is a testament to the genius of the film that I wanted it to keep playing. Alas, that’s not why we were there. We were in attendance to listen to these brilliant minds speak about the challenges in bringing a project in development for years to the big screen.
Upon the end of the clip, the guests were introduced to the audience. As is customary, the importance of story to Pixar was the first topic of discussion. “Story is king” is an oft repeated theme at the studio and for Toy Story 3, screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) was instrumental in the development of the script.
The conversation shifted towards the pressure on the filmmakers to replicate the success of previous Pixar films and the first two entries in the Toy Story franchise. Lee Unkrich expressed how during the first year of production, he would wake every morning feeling as if he would vomit. Think about it. Would you want to be the one to end Pixar’s perfect streak? It seems that with every successive hit, pressure increases for Pixar to continue their incredible run.
Other topics discussed included Bonnie, the delightfully charming new owner of Andy’s toys, and artwork present throughout the film. The pieces of art posted around the daycare were drawn by children of many of the Pixar animators. Additionally, the drawn pictures seen in Bonnie’s room were drawn by Lee’s children.
While most of the points of the discussion I’ve listed above have been available through the Art of Toy Story 3 book from Chronicle Books and interviews conducted by various journalists, there were several topics not discussed in-depth before. Lee Unkrich has publicly made it clear in the past that he does not like to spoil the film for potential viewers. In fact, on his Twitter feed he has been adamant about maintaining a spoiler-free environment. With the panel being a thorough discussion of Toy Story 3, the safety rails were removed and major plot points were analyzed.
After watching the new Toy Story, there were many who mourned Bo Peep and how she was not there to share in the adventure with the other toys. Speaking about the need for displaying an imminent danger to all the other toys by removing Bo from the picture, Unkrich delved into his one ‘wish’ for doing things differently. If he had the chance to go back, he says he would have had Bo be a part of the wild-west opening. Bo still would have not been in the rest of the film, but by placing her in the scene representing Andy’s imagination, perhaps her absence later on would have hit the perfect note Unkrich was looking for (and appeased the character’s fans at the same time).
To introduce the closing scene from the film, Lee spoke candidly about his personal life. During the production of the first Toy Story, his grandmother learned that she had cancer. When he found out, he flew out to the Cleveland area to see her. Recounting their final encounter, he said he knew that the last time he looked at her before leaving would also be the last chance he would have to gaze upon her. As he left her side and headed out of the room, he turned around for one more look at her, and took a mental snapshot he could recall at will for the rest of his life. In the development process for Toy Story 3, he spoke to his animators about this exact experience to show what he was looking for in the final scene of the film.
The final scene began to play on the screen, and knowing these details about Unkrich’s life made the final scene even more emotional (if that is possible). I was extremely appreciative of his willingness to share his personal story with the crowd. He wanted Toy Story 3 watchers to feel a smidgeon of what he felt, and reading about the numerous emotional experiences had by moviegoers, it is apparent the idea was not lost on them.
The idea of mortality is present throughout the film, and is the driving nature as to why the filmmakers felt it was important not to scale back the garbage dump scene. According to Darla K. Anderson, they found that adults were actually more frightened at the possibility of the end of the characters than children were. Addressing some viewers’ opinions that the climactic scene may have been too gripping at times, both Anderson and Unkrich commented about the need to keep it as-is to show audiences that the toys were in a truly dangerous situation. Noting that it is difficult for audiences to accept the ‘illusion of spontaneity’ in animated films, it was important for them to prove to the audience that the characters were in a realistically challenging position.
While the clip of the final scene played, sniffles were heard throughout the theater. This is why Pixar is successful. Not because they have the ability to make us cry at will, but because the filmmakers show real care for their characters. Woody and Buzz may be just toys but how the entire Toy Story 3 crew can instill a comedic as well as a genuine nature to the characters in the film shows an incredible attention to care that is not seen often in films, live-action or animated. That care is apparent and translates to widespread love for the characters, as if they were actually real.
All this talk did was make me crave the home release of Toy Story 3 even more. Those special features on the sets should be a serious treat for fans of the film. Toy Story 3 comes out on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, November 2.