Directed by Angus MacLane (BURN-E), Small Fry serves as the latest addition in the "Toy Story Toons" series. Upcoming Pixar was able to screen this hilarious short, in which Buzz gets trapped at a group therapy session for discarded ‘Fun Meal’ toys, in preparation for the interview that follows. Naturally, we had quite a few questions for the long-time Pixarian behind the project.
Abridged interview below, click here to skip to the full interview.
Upcoming Pixar: Can you tell me a little bit about the concept of the short and where it came from?
Angus MacLane: When John Lasseter asked us to figure out what we could do with the "Toy Story Toons", he was really adamant that we should be exploring new areas of ‘toy truths’ in the toy universe. I had wanted to do some sort of group therapy or family therapy with some of the characters, but I couldn’t figure out a good way that didn’t seem forced. We had to figure out what ‘genre’ of toys had yet to be explored just so we didn’t do the same thing over and over again with the universe. I settled on doing Happy Meal toys just because I always enjoyed them— in their history, a lot of them have been really great toys, inexpensive but of really high quality. For me, you really have to love what you’re working on because it takes so long to make these movies, but it was easy to do it about the fast food toys because I care about them so much as a toy fan.
UP: As the director, how did you balance the established world of Toy Story with your artistic sensibilities?
AM: I have a lot of respect for the Toy Story universe, it’s very personal to me and there’s a lot of importance in making [Small Fry] appropriate for the universe but at the same time wanting it to be different enough to justify its existence. So, what I tried to do was— if you have a short where it has an arch or a character moment for every single Toy Story character, it’s really hard to do that, it just takes a while. So I wanted to focus on one of the major characters, in this case being Buzz and then giving him something to do. It was just trial and error to see what felt like the right amount of time to spend with each universe. You don’t want to spend too much time away from our Toy Story toys back in Bonnie’s room and it just became a back and forth discovery of seeing what was too much, what wasn’t enough. Hopefully we struck a balance. We did end up cutting out whole scenes here and there because they wouldn’t fit with the amount of time you wanted to be with each group.
UP: What were some unique challenges on this project? Were there any technical and story challenges that you never faced before?
AM: It was a challenge to do— there was a lot of writing in this short. The script was pretty long, like 14-15 pages for a 7-minute short. The big challenge was, as we go from each step, going from story to layout, or layout to animation, to not ‘break’ the jokes because the jokes were so fast and furious on this short that they needed to read at each stage of the process. There’s a sensibility that I like— animation is not a very spontaneous medium— the support group is documentary style, shot like ‘off the cuff’ acting, naturalistic performances, and that’s hard to get into animation so there was a lot of balance there of trying to make sure that it was appropriate for each scene. It was just a question of keeping it funny and not breaking the movie.
Thanks goes out to Angus MacLane and the Pixar folks who made this interview possible. Click here to read six more Small Fry questions answered by Angus MacLane.
Small Fry opens with The Muppets in US theaters on November 23.