In the first portion of our exclusive, two part interview with the director of Toy Story 3, we focus on the film’s production and its subsequent mega-blockbuster success. Any regrets; surprises? Read on to find out!
Upcoming Pixar: At what point did you know that Toy Story 3 was going to work?
Lee Unkrich: Well, I never allowed myself to really relax until the film was finished, and the positive reviews had started to pour in. However, we never had any disastrous screenings of the in-progress versions of the film, and that was very encouraging. Not that we didn’t have story problems along the way, but by and large, the story always felt more or less on-track, and the general sentiment at the studio was that we were telling a really good story. Despite that, I always remained fixated on what was not working in the film, and that drove us to always try to find a way to make it even better, and to not screw up what was already working.
UP: Were there any unexpected reactions to the film?
LU: We knew we were telling an emotional story, but we were caught off guard by how many people confessed to crying during the film. We certainly never set out to make anyone cry, but it was really rewarding to know that we had a created an experience for the audience that they found so entertaining and moving.
UP: Are there any moments in the film where you just step back and wonder how you pulled it off?
LU: I’m continuously amazed by the effects work during the climax of the film. My effects crew spent over a year-and-a-half developing the technology to simulate all the trash at the dump in its different forms. They did an absolutely incredible job. When it was all done, I joked with them that they had done such a good job, and had made it all look so believable and natural, that no one would ever know the hell they had gone through to create it.
I’m also so happy with the human acting at the end of the film, in the scene where Andy is giving the toys to Bonnie. I always knew that the scene would be made or broken by the quality of the acting, as well as the appeal of the characters, and I had many concerns for a long time about whether we’d be able to pull it off effectively. Looking at the finished film, I’m happy to say that everyone on my crew did a beautiful job designing and bringing Andy and Bonnie to life.
UP: Would you make any changes to the released product?
LU: I’m completely happy with the finished film. However, if I could turn back time, I might make one adjustment, and that would be to include the character of Bo Peep in the big Western opening of the film. The reason she wasn’t included is that the opening of the film was originally intended to be a visualization of the toys re-enacting their glory days, after Andy had already grown up. Since Bo Peep was no longer with them, it didn’t make sense to have her be a part of that.
As we continued to develop the story, we made the decision to have the opening be a purer expression of how it felt like for the toys to be played with by Andy when he was young, and to then follow that sequence with the home video montage of Andy’s childhood. At the point when we made that change, however, we felt it would have been too much work to rewrite the opening to include Bo, as well as too difficult to re-create her model.
We had bigger fish to fry to get the film finished on time, so we made the decision to stick with the opening as is. I don’t think the film suffers at all, but the moment when Rex later points out Bo Peep’s absence might have had a bit more resonance if we had seen her in the opening of the film.
UP: Did you expect the response to be so huge?
LU: Well, we certainly hoped people would like the film and that it would do well, but we never in our wildest dreams expected what ended up happening. At best, I thought we could maybe squeeze past Finding Nemo to become Pixar’s biggest film, but even that seemed like a long shot. I’m still pinching myself about the success of the film. It’s very surreal. In the end, I’m really happy that so many people enjoyed the film so much that they went to see it multiple times, because that’s the only way you can achieve this level of success.
I would like to extend a huge thank you to Lee Unkrich (follow him on Twitter) for his thorough and engrossing answers. Also, a big thanks goes out to the Pixar PR team for making this interview possible.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two of our exclusive interview with Toy Story 3 director, Lee Unkrich! In the second portion, we talk about the upcoming Blu-ray and Lee’s unique relationship with the fans. You won’t want to miss it!