Sunday, November 24, 2013

This Day in Pixar History: Toy Story 2 Theatrical Release

14 years ago today, on November 24, 1999, Toy Story 2 hit theaters. The film became one of the few sequels that matched, and many would say exceeded, its predecessor. It made over $485M worldwide at the box office, spending its first 3 weeks of release in the #1 spot and stayed in theaters for 35 weeks. In addition, it is one of very few films to hold a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (along with Toy Story). Toy Story 2 was directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon.

Toy Story 2 had quite a roller coaster of a ride to release. It was originally planned as a direct-to-video sequel originally scheduled to be released in late 1998. But Disney management was so impressed with the story that in February, 1998 they upgraded it to a full theatrical release, requiring the story to be reworked and expanding the film length from 60 to about 90 minutes.

One of my favorite Toy Story 2 production stories is how they almost lost the entire film when someone accidentally ran a command on the file server that began removing all the Toy Story 2 files. I first heard this story in The Movie Vanishes Studio Story that can be found on the Toy Story 2 Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The story is narrated by Oren Jacob, who previously was Pixar's CTO and a technical director on Toy Story 2, along with Galyn Susman who was the supervising technical director of the film. I love the animation of Oren Jacob as he and Susman describe how they watched as more and more of the film was deleted and that their backups were bad. As a previous system administrator, I can imagine the panic they were feeling! Recently, Oren Jacob, now co-founder and CEO of ToyTalk, confirmed on Quora that this story is in fact true (the Quora page includes a link to The Movie Vanishes on YouTube).

Back to the production of Toy Story 2. While Disney was very happy with its story, the folks at Pixar realized there were serious problems with the story and with the team developing the film. So at the end of 1998, immediately after the release of A Bug's Life and only 9 months before the film had to be completed, they stopped production of the film and basically started from scratch with re-boarding the entire film. The team worked long hours but delivered the film on time. In a speech to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Pixar president and co-founder Ed Catmull talks about the lessons learned from making Toy Story 2. Besides talking about the changes implemented afterwards to reduce stress and hours, and the importance of quality, he discusses how critical it is to have the right team, something I have personally experienced in my own career. Catmull states the basic premise or idea of the film never changed, but that the team that came on board at the beginning of 1999 took the good premise and turned it into the fantastic result that Toy Story 2 is. He also speaks of the misconception in the press and by people that a movie, or any product, is often thought of as being a single idea. But in fact, a film or product is comprised of many ideas, and that to have a successful film/product, you need to get the majority of these ideas right, which is another reason why you need to have a strong team that works well. I strongly recommend you listen to the entire presentation as it is full of great ideas for how to run any creative business. If you're interested in the part on Toy Story 2, it begins at about 14:30 of the talk.

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