There is a fine balance that a marketing team must strike when promoting a film – build excitement among potential viewers without giving too much of the plot away. I would argue that the team that works on Pixar films is one of the best at maintaining that balance. It looks like Toy Story 4 may just continue that, as the director of the film essentially said that the trailers have given away practically nothing.
Unfortunately, it is all too common for trailers and commercials to give away major plot points or spoil significant set pieces as a way to peak interest and fill theater seats. Then, when crowds pack the theaters, they find that “all of the good stuff” was in the trailers, and there was nothing left to surprise or wow them. Pixar values a different approach. Take a look at the marketing for Coco. If you have seen the film, you know just how great the film is – even if you watched the trailers, you were in awe of what you were watching, as you had no idea what was coming (it also helped that the story and the visuals were incredible). Not knowing what to expect is not just a nod to the filmmakers who make the film. The marketing team plays a key role as well.
Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley shared a tweet earlier this week that emphasized how little we have seen of the film:
I am so pleased with the restraint that Disney marketing has shown with the Toy Story 4 trailers. That was the last one, and I love that I can say you haven’t seen anything yet. pic.twitter.com/6ACrwtXS1H
— Josh Cooley (@CooleyUrFaceOff) May 21, 2019
“You haven’t seen anything yet.” It is always remarkable when trailers do not give away anything. Trailers for Pixar films regularly focus on the first act of the films, with only brief peeks at moments from the last two acts. Even if we see something from later in the film, it is either irrelevant to the plot (like a gag) or presented out of context, so that it spoils nothing. I often worry about watching trailers, out of fear that I will learn something that will spoil the story. I stopped worrying about the marketing for Pixar films a long time ago. I learned that Pixar is protective of its stories but will usually not give away too much to get audiences to go to the theater on opening weekend1.
So what do we know about Toy Story 4? You may think you know a lot (e.g. the film takes place in a variety of settings like an antique shop and a carnival, and we meet new characters along the way like Bunny, Ducky, Gabby Gabby, and Bonnie’s creation, Forky). What are the major story beats? That is what we don’t know. And that is what will hit you like a ton of bricks when you see it unfold on screen for the first time.
I would equate Pixar to Apple in its approach to secrecy. There is a connection there, between the two – both had Steve Jobs in their leadership at one point in time. Jobs was heavily invested in secrecy, which is what consistently made Apple keynotes a must-see event that garnered much publicity and hype. Pixar may not operate on the same level of secrecy. Apple does not have to release trailers or details about its products months or even years before they see release. The movie industry is a completely different animal than the tech sector. Still, Pixar seems to value the concept of “restraint,” as Cooley says, so that the story delivers when you see it for yourself the first time.
A sign of a good story is one that lives up to repeat viewings. Coco wowed you the first time and continues to leave you awestruck on each viewing because it features a great story. However, that first time you watched Coco is likely an experience you remember – that is the magic that Pixar is chasing when it holds significant plot developments close to its chest. Love at first sight is powerful – for a piece of art, like a film, that love could burrow into a special place in your heart and never leave. All of your next viewings may just affirm that love. Here’s to hoping that Toy Story 4 captures that magic as well.
- After the first weekend, though, more starts to slip through in forthcoming commercials. It is almost like a switch is flipped in an attempt to appeal to those who weren’t captivated enough to see the film yet. So, if you want to watch a Pixar film and not have anything significant spoiled, seeing it opening weekend is a good approach. ↩