Let's hear it for the toys
What happens to toys when their owner is no longer a child and is heading off to college? Will they be stored away in the attic, tossed out or end up in a day care center? That’s the choice facing the characters in “Toy Story 3,” the latest animated feature from Pixar, directed by Lee Unkrich and co-written by Pixar chief John Lasseter, “WALL-E” director Andrew Stanton and Unkrich.
Unkrich has a long pedigree with Pixar, having directed “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters Inc,” “Finding Nemo” and working on many other features as editor. During a recent visit to Tokyo with producer Darla K Anderson, he said his priority for the third installment was not to deviate too much from the world created by the first two films. “I had to be careful to stay true to the characters in the series who have been around for 15 years. They have become like family to me,” said Unkrich.
Once again, the “family” are voiced by Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Joan Cusack (cowgirl Jessie), Wallace Shawn (dinosaur Rex), and Don Rickles (Mr Potato Head). Worried about their future, they end up in a daycare center, much to their delight – children play with you all day and there will always be new kids coming through. Seems like heaven, or is it?
Unkrich said that the concept of toys having a rich, complex life when people aren’t around still holds up and resonates all these years later. “When we made the first film, we had no idea this would go on to become such a huge series and franchise,” he said. “‘Toy Story 3’ is no exception to our standards at Pixar. First and foremost, we set out to tell a good story and every time we finish a film is a profound experience.”
Unkrich said that working at Pixar is about more than just entertainment. “Everyone involved holds themselves to really high standards,” he said. “We all strive to raise the bar with each film and improve ourselves in the process. To work at Pixar, you need to be a team player; no one person is the star of the show.”
Japanese fans of the series will be amused to see a brief cameo by famed animator Hayao Miyazaki’s creation, Totoro, a cat-like creature and household name in Japan since appearing in the 1988 film, “My Neighbor Totoro.” Anderson explained the cameo, saying, “(Miyazaki’s) Studio Ghibli and Pixar have a long history together. We wanted to include one of his characters as a homage to his work, and he gave us the green light for Totoro.” Miyazaki and Lasseter have a long-standing friendship, and Lasseter has supervised Western releases for Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo” films.
Continuing a recent trend, “Toy Story 3” will be released in 3D format. “We thought long and hard about it,” said Unkrich. “We didn’t want it to just be a gimmick. If people leave theaters just saying ‘The 3D was cool,’ then we’ve failed. Like the previous Pixar film, ‘Up,’ we used 3D as a window into this fictional world so viewers can experience everything in depth. With any film, 3D or not, our first priority is to make a good movie.”
He added that with the technology available to movie makers today, there are almost no limits to what can be put on the screen. “Since young people bear the burden of our future, we think it’s important to show kids that anything is possible.”
One group of kids in Japan certainly didn’t need to be convinced—all-girl idol group AKB48 members Sae Miyazawa, Minami Takahashi, Rie Kitahara and Miho Miyazaki jumped at the opportunity to attend a “teach-in” held by Unkrich and Anderson at Ebisu Garden Hall.
The four girls said they were huge fans of the animated film series and asked Unkrich to cast them in a movie (last year, they asked “Star Trek” director J.J. Abrams to cast them as aliens in a future film). “Finish school first, and then you’re hired,” joked Unkrich.
“Toy Story 3” opens in Japan on Saturday.