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I was extremely fortunate to attend an event earlier this week in which Disney Consumer Products launched dozens of new toys from Mattel, Thinkway Toys, LEGO, Hasbro and JAKKS Pacific, just some vof the licensees for Toy Story 3 products with the aid of some very special guests.
Held at Gotham Hall in the Herald Square area, the space was magically transformed into the Sunnyside Daycare Center featuring oversized props, shrinking us all down to toy size. An over-sized chair provided an appropriate photo opportunity while Woody, Jessie and Buzz Lightyear were on hand to greet guests and to take complimentary photos.
To kick off the presentation, Mary Beech, Vice President/General Manager for Global Studio Franchise Development at Disney Consumer Products, talked about the previous night’s event at the Toy of the Year Awards in which John Lasseter was inducted into the International Toy Hall of Fame. We were shown the mini-documentary that was shown during the awards show which focused on Lasseter’s contributions to the industry and featured many of his colleagues at Pixar as well as his wife, Nancy, and his three sons who spoke of receiving a Buzz and Woody for Christmas after Toy Story
had first been released.
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Lasseter took the stage next and talked about the genesis of the toy story franchise — how the idea was hatched after witnessing his niece’s approach to toys and wondering how the toys would react if they were alive. After implementing some of the concept in the Pixar short Tin Toy
, he talked about how the story was made to be able to reach an older audience by giving the toys neuroses such as Rex’s expectation to be the fiercest creature on earth despite his tiny little arms or Mr. Potato Head’s chip on his shoulder because his body parts are always being removed and re-arranged. Of course, Lasseter says, a toy’s biggest fear is being outgrown, leading into a key plot point in Toy Story 3
in which the toys are led to believe that a daycare center is nirvana — a ‘retirement home for toys’ — in which there will always be a steady flow of children needing the toys and no need to become emotionally attached to the kids as they come and go.
Lasseter also spoke on a theme which appeared to be common between all of the presenters which is how Toy Story 3 parallels their own personal lives, many of them having children who have grown up since the original film (or have had children since the original film) and how it’s reflected in the new film with Andy having grown up.
He then introduced Darla Anderson, senior producer at Pixar and producer of Toy Story 3
, but was quick to note with some humor that the senior title simply meant she had produced more Pixar films than any other, and didn’t speak to her age. Anderson responded to the comment by noting that she and director Lee Unkrich had to reconcile that one of their current team was 8 years old when the first Toy Story
was released. She spoke a bit about the film, noting there was about ten more weeks of production left, and reflected on how personal the project had become to her as well.
Next, Toy Story 3
director (and co-director of Toy Story 2
) Lee Unkrich offered his presentation which included the freshly released trailer for the film. He spoke of how they had kept in contact with the cast throughout the years and was repeatedly asked when Toy Story 3
would be made and how they were able to reunite the entire cast from the first two films for the third, save for Slinky Dog’s Jim Varney who had passed away several years ago. Slinky Dog will be voiced by veteran comic and character actor Blake Clark (arguably best known as Shawn Hunter’s father, Chet, on Boy Meets World
). Unkrich then went on to talk about new characters such as Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) who Unkrich said was a part of the project ever since the cabin retreat in which the concept of the film was conceived and that Keaton had immediately come to mind as well. He noted that Ken was based on a ‘perfectly-coiffed’ specific doll from the 1980s and was gracious to Mattel for allowing them to bring back the iconic image. The belle of the ball of the event, however, turned out to be one of the film’s new stars Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear (aka Lotso) to which Unkrich acknowledged the technical achievements of his team in making Lotso appear to be as plush as he is and noted that Lotso had even been intended to appear in the earlier films.
Unkrich then introduced Pixar’s ‘lucky charm,’ John Ratzenberger, linking the facts that Ratzenberger has appeared in every Pixar film and every Pixar film has been a huge box office and critical success. Ratzenberger’s presentation was short but sweet, waxing poetically about Pixar, until it was disrupted by a green army man who immediately commandeered the stage. Propelling down ropes, a squadron of green army men took the stage to introduce the new upcoming toys.
As the event drew to a close, John Lasseter was presented with a LEGO brick bust of himself constructed by LEGO Master Builders to commemorate his Hall of Fame induction.
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