You’d be hard-pressed to find someone, child or adult, who doesn’t like Pixar – at least peripherally. Why? Because animated films or not, they’re some of the greatest storytellers in Hollywood right now, which is what made their panels at D23 Expo (the Disney convention from this past weekend) some of the best.
I was lucky enough to attend two Pixar panels at the expo – In Conversation with the Filmmakers and the Emotion Behind Inside Out and Toy Story: 20 Years Later, the Original Crew Looks Back. Yup, they were just as amazing as they sound.
Inside Out has proven to be one of the biggest hits of the year, and with good reason.
When director Pete Docter, producer Jonas River, and actress Phyllis Smith (voice of Sadness), took the stage to talk about the processes and evolution of the film, everyone in the audience knew what an honor it was.
As with any film, a lot of ideas were left on the cutting room floor of Inside Out. Did you know some of the emotions considered as characters were Hope, Pride, and Love? Once upon a time, there was also going to be a villain – Depression, as a malevolent ooze spreading throughout headquarters.
Even when they finalized the five emotions that would command Riley’s brain, the story wasn’t set. In the beginning, it was Fear who was meant to go on the journey with Joy, not Sadness.
When this changed, Sadness had to evolve as well. Starting out more blobbly (and male), before becoming the character we now love, both Docter and Smith discussed the importance of Sadness having layers. It wouldn’t do for the character to simply be wailing the entire movie. Sadness is experienced in different ways and they wanted the film to reflect that.
Of course, we all know the real MVP behind Sadness is her voice. Which is why it was so great when the trio performed an impromptu read-through of the script!
It was Rivera who thought of Smith for the role, after seeing her in Bad Teacher, and I’m so glad he did. Smith talked about how the character, and working on the film, helped her discover herself more fully, and I think the same can be said for most audience members.
Then, Saturday night, it was time to take a trip down memory lane with the Toy Story panel.
I was three years old when Toy Story premiered and when the third film came out, I was getting ready to head off to college – just like Andy. To say these films have influenced me growing up is an understatement, so when I had the chance to learn more about the franchise from the brilliant minds behind it, I leapt at the chance.
John Lasseter, director of the film and current CCO of Disney and Pixar, first took the stage, joined by writers Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, and editor Lee Unkrich, who have all gone on to direct their own Pixar films.
The panel was full of anecdotes and trivia from the making of the film, which was inspired by Pixar’s 1988 short Tin Toy. In fact, Toy Story was originally supposed to have Tinny as one of their leads before the film evolved into a buddy film starring a cowboy and a spaceman action figure.
One of the best moments was easily when they showed us early footage from the film – with Woody as a massive, ventriloquist-like cowboy doll with a deep, villainous voice akin to something out of a 1950s western. This was not the character from my childhood, this was a truly mean toy who was unlikable. Luckily, that’s not how the film turned out.
Another massive change to the film was the music. The quartet revealed they never imagined the film with songs, rather just with a score, and when a Disney representative asked them about the music, they panicked. However, the songs they ended up developing with Randy Newman have become classics to generations across the board.
They invited other crew members on stage, and regaled us with more stories, like the time when Stanton snuck a hand-held camera into the recording studio to tape Tom Hanks (Woody) recording some lines or the fact that Buzz Lightyear’s purple and green color scheme come from Lasseter and his wife’s favorite colors.
Did you know Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) was a writer for Toy Story? He was! He wrote the line “You are a sad strange little man and you have my pity.”
Do you know what wasn’t written? The speech Woody gives to the toys in Andy’s room when Buzz throws up his arm when they’re trapped at Sid’s house. Tom Hanks ad-libbed that!
Since we’re all about collectibles, I’d be amiss not to tell you that Wal-Mart first passed on carrying Toy Story merch, which is why there’s a dig at big retailers in the second film.
This is what the panel boiled down to – Pixar people having a conversation with each other and reminiscing while the audience simply held their breath and listened. There’s only one word to describe what these panel inspired in me: awe (along with some great bits of humor). It’s easy to see why Pixar has become the respected and renowned company they have. The passion they possess is astounding, and it was a privilege to hear them talk about their projects. I certainly can’t wait to see what they do next!
Toy Story Panel Photos: Disney