‘Toy Story 3’ reaches box office milestone, MovieMaker remembers ‘Tin Toy’

Posted by · 11:12 am · August 14th, 2010

Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” is pretty much the only sure-thing contender for Oscar’s 10 at this stage, and with good reason.  It was the high mark of the summer movie season, a beautiful send-off to a beloved franchise that just got better and better.  Fitting, then, that the film has become not only Pixar’s reigning box office champ, but the highest grossing animated feature film of all time.

With $920 million in the bank and climbing, the film sits at the top of that perch, just a few days after passing what I still believe to be Pixar’s most accomplished effort, “Finding Nemo,” and leaving other films like “Shrek 2” and “The Lion King” in the dust.  It will also surely be one of only six $400 million earners from the last decade (though talk to our resident box office analyst Chad Hartigan and you’ll get a different story, as he prefers figures adjusted for inflation).  Combined with nearly blanket critical approval, you have a perfect awards storm.

While on vacation last week I read a piece by Eric Kohn in the latest issue MovieMaker Magazine that ties in nicely here.  It was a look back at Pixar’s Oscar-winning 1988 animated short “Tin Toy,” which of course planted the seeds for the “Toy Story” franchise.  Unfortunately, it’s not available online, but I’ve transcribed a section after the jump that I felt was worth passing along.

Perhaps sensing the looming threat of corporate obliteration, [John] Lasseter held a meeting with [Steve] Jobs where he pitched “Tin Toy.”  Drawing inspiration from the tin toy museum in Yokohama and a home video of his toddler nephew, Lasseter outlined the plot for his boss.  It worked: Jobs gave the green light.  “John really knew how to sell the story from just a bunch of storyboards,” says [fellow Pixar founding member William] Reeves.  “The climate was, ‘We’ll give you guys a chance, but we’re certainly not going to fund this in a big way.’

The clock was ticking.  Lasseter and the rest of the Pixar animation team worked late nights tweaking “Tin Toy” with the small handful of digital tools they had at their disposal.  “It was the most complex film we’d ever made,” recalls [Pixar’s former vice president of feature animation Ralph] Guggenheim.  The modeling software Menv (short for “modeling environment” and later retitled Marionette), served to fill in the character animation between various poses.  Pixar’s PhotoRealistic RenderMan software allowed the animators to render every layer of the animation at once, avoiding the lengthy (and costly) task of dealing with each layer separately.  RenderMan affected not only the animation community, but Hollywood blockbusters as well, many of which still use the software for digital effects…

To this day, the impact of “Tin Toy” remains potent.  Lasseter, once responsible for saving Pixar, currently oversees production at Disney–a role many perceive to be the company’s saving grace.  Meanwhile, with “Toy Story 3” in theaters now, [“Tin Toy”‘s central character] Tinny’s influence looms larger than ever.  “Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich even references the short in his upcoming production.  When the dinosaur Rex runs wildly across the room in one scene, we catch a glimpse of toys fearfully huddled under a sofa–the same toys that Tinny encountered while fleeing his infant oppressor in “Tin Toy.”  Noticed or not, the legacy lives on.

Shortly after “Toy Story 3” opened in theaters, I made a case for the film potentially capitalizing on enough goodwill for the franchise to secure a surprise, first-ever win for an animated film.  The odds are stacked heavily against it, of course.  This is an Academy biased in favor of live action.  And if an animated film has yet to surprise in the screenplay categories, a Best Picture victory would be out of the ordinary to say the least.  But when considering the impact of things like RenderMan on the industry, not to mention the consistent commercial success of Pixar at a time when Hollywood is looking for fiscal answers, it still looks like it could be one of the more attractive options the ballot come February and hardly an arbitrary one.  It would be a salute to an important aspect of cinema history.

Meanwhile, the MovieMaker piece is a nice reminder of this monster studio’s humble beginnings and the tenacity of creative passion.  Pick it up and give it a read if you can.

→ 24 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

24 responses so far

  • 1 8-14-2010 at 11:33 am

    Brady said...

    The thing that Toy Story 3 really has going into the Oscars for Best Picture is exactly the whole “having the Oscar narrative” thing that people like voting for. It represents an industry, the humble beginnings to the big success, AMPAS members children growing up… I think it has a lot more potential to win than I want to give it credit for.

  • 2 8-14-2010 at 12:36 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    so far it has my vote for best of the year. it also has everything alse you say going for it, and its not just a tip of the hat win, or giving an oscar where its due, it is giving an astounding movie an award it deserves. Ill root for it up until i see something that i think is more deserving in the year, but that is certainly no guarantee of happening

  • 3 8-14-2010 at 1:14 pm

    Al said...

    The way I judge films is, call me crazy, actually based on the film itself. Plot, laughs, characters, dialogue, etc. etc. Needless to say, a Toy Story 3 win would have me very disappointed. The only thing truly saddening by it was that the original franchise that started it all has come to an end. I happened to really like the film, but its getting pushed along for the wrong reasons. Its just when films only win for the story behind the making of the film, I lose trust in the academy.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a-ok with thought provoking films, or movies that inspire after thought, but thats not what I’m talking about here. It feels like this is going to be one of those times where we hear “What a nice time to finally award one to animation!” I’d love to see that happen, but zeroing in on something just because there is an overdue award? falling in love with the story behind it? rewarding revolutionaries in their area of expertise? When you think about it, there is actually nothing more ‘academy’ than this.

  • 4 8-14-2010 at 1:58 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Don’t shoot the messenger. The awards season and Academy thought patterns are what they are. I’m only reporting/anticipating here.

  • 5 8-14-2010 at 5:05 pm

    red_wine said...

    Stratospheric critical acclaim(likely to end up the most acclaimed film of the year) + Audience Favorite(likely to end up highest-grossing film of the year) + Tear-jerker/heartbreaker = Slam dunk Best Picture winner(take the trophy already to the bank)

    But Animation = Oscar Fail

    So yeah, it won’t win. A token nomination, sure.

  • 6 8-14-2010 at 5:06 pm

    Hans said...

    That’s a good point, Al. It’d be “The time has come for a WOMAN to win Best Director” all over again. And whilst her win was certainly deserving, it was all overshadowed by the woman thing. Hell, the orchestra was ready at a moment’s notice to play “I Am Woman”.

    But, you know what, if that’s what it takes to carry Toy Story 3 to a BP win, then I’d be all for it. The Oscar really is just a big game, and those who play it best come out on top.

    BTW, Kris, I’m curious to know as to what your current thoughts are on Inception, both as a film and its awards chances. Have you watched it again? What’s your thoughts on the all the perceived backlash? Has it held up well for you? I just saw a third time the other night, and it has obviously struck a chord with me, because each time I can’t help but love it even more.

  • 7 8-14-2010 at 5:14 pm

    Al said...

    I wasn’t trying to be on the attack here, (and certainly didn’t mean for it to be that long of a rant) just sharing my thoughts that it might not be so against the grain.

  • 8 8-14-2010 at 6:25 pm

    m1 said...

    I just thought…this movie has reached amazing heights, whereas Jonah Hex, which came out on the same weekend, is…

  • 9 8-14-2010 at 6:44 pm

    Tye-Grr said...

    In my opinion, if ‘Toy Story 3’ wins Best Picture, it’ll be both timely and a great story, but completely deserving as well. It and ‘Inception’ are far and away the year’s best so far.

  • 10 8-14-2010 at 8:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Hans: I think Inception is low on the list of possibilities. I’d be tempted to take it out of my predix when I update them (8.30), but it’s starting to look like a thin year.

    Al: I guess I didn’t understand properly. Apologies.

  • 11 8-14-2010 at 11:45 pm

    Glenn said...

    “The way I judge films is, call me crazy, actually based on the film itself. ”

    You must be new to Oscar watching then, yes? :)

  • 12 8-15-2010 at 5:09 am

    m1 said...

    10-Yes! Please take Inception out of your predix! It has little chance of being nominated!

  • 13 8-15-2010 at 7:36 am

    Andrew M said...

    I would love if TS3 won Best Picture, even if it is for the wrong reasons like Al said, it would still be a deserved win in my opinion. The more interesting thing, though, would be Lee Unkrich getting a director nom.

  • 14 8-15-2010 at 9:06 am

    head_wizard said...

    So far it is the best movies I have seen this year and would be my choice to win best picture, but that will only happen if the other nine contenders stay as uninspired as they appear so far. And even then the bias is strong. Still it will be satisfing to see it win Animated feature.

  • 15 8-15-2010 at 10:01 am

    Tyler said...

    The only way I see TS3 or any other animated film winning is if it somehow got a Director nomination.

  • 16 8-15-2010 at 10:38 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    Toy Story 3 has now more than 940 million dollars at the box office! That means Toy Story 3 need 200 million dollars and than it will become the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time after Avatar and Titanic! Thats a plus point for the Academy Awards!

    I think that Toy Story 3 will earn nominations for:
    Best Picture
    Director (?)
    Score (?)
    Song (?)
    Animated Feature
    Sound (?)

  • 17 8-15-2010 at 10:42 am

    tintin said...

    A Director nod will be great…

  • 18 8-15-2010 at 11:10 am

    Hans said...

    That would be pretty great if TS3 would become the first animated film to break the big $1B, although as the years go on, that milestone starts becoming less and less impressive. Will TDK be the last non-3D film to break it?

  • 19 8-15-2010 at 11:52 am

    Andrew M said...

    @Hans Maybe Batman 3 will break it, after that I don’t know if 2d movies could

  • 20 8-15-2010 at 12:32 pm

    Voland said...

    $1B is locked for T3, but theres no chance it will top Return of the King. And Batman 3 will be huge for sure, the success of Inception and the growing number of IMAX theaters will help a lot, i guess everything between and $1B and §1,3B is possible.

  • 21 8-16-2010 at 10:44 am

    Melechesh said...

    Toy Story 3 is once again a hit. We are treated to our favorite familiar characters and reminded again why we like them so. They are heroes who share the same values of team spirit, bonding and camaraderie. No one gets left behind. The technical aspects are again flawless. This is one series of sequels i do not mind seeing for Toy Story 4, 5, 6…this is coming from someone who adamantly refused to watch Toy Story 1 & 2 and UP..up and until last week i forced myself to..and i was so blown away by all three i have never been gladder to be proved wrong.

  • 22 8-16-2010 at 2:37 pm

    JP said...

    I really doubt there will be a more deserving Best Picture winner than Toy Story 3 this year. At the moment, it has Animated Film locker and has a reasonable shot at winning Adapted Screenplay, Picture, Score and Song.

  • 23 8-16-2010 at 4:52 pm

    Jor said...

    Inception better be nominated or I’ll kill every member of the academy

  • 24 8-17-2010 at 1:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Thanks for that, Jor. Really enriching the conversation there.

    (By the way, are you planning to kill every member — including the ones who did vote for Inception? Seems a little harsh.)