ASPEN, Colo.—You likely know the charming plot of the charming movie Toy Story: A boy named Andy has a beloved doll, a cowboy named "Woody." On his birthday, Andy gets a new toy: a spaceman action figure named Buzz Lightyear. Buzz becomes Andy’s new favorite; Woody gets jealous. The two toys fight; then, on an outing in the family car, a fight leads to the toys getting left behind. Adventures ensue.
It's a simple plot, but often the simplest things are the hardest to get just right. It took a long time—and testing, and tweaking, and work—for the Pixar team to get their movie right. In a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, put on by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, the creativity researcher Keith Sawyer, who has studied creative collaborations among students, businesspeople, jazz musicians, and improv actors, discussed the many ways the movie changed as it developed. The results of the collaboration—among the writers John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Doctor, as well as executives at Disney—are wildly different from what the creators had first intended. The original treatment for Toy Story, Sawyer writes in his book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Creativity, "had almost nothing in common with the movie that we know and love."
Woody, for example, started out as kind of a jerk. ("An early scene," Sawyer notes in the book, "had him abusing Slinky Dog, and another had him pushing Buzz out the window.") Eventually, the Pixar team rewrote the script to make Woody more likable. (So instead of Woody pushing Buzz out the window, Buzz fell by accident.) Barbie was going to be involved in the movie at one point; so was G.I. Joe. Mr. Potato Head was added to the cast of characters because of licensing snafus.
Here is a rough timeline of the path Toy Story took in becoming Toy Story.
- March 1991: The first draft of the script was released. It featured two main characters: a one-man band (Tinny) and a ventriloquist’s dummy. Sawyer describes this early plot:
The movie starts with Tinny waking up in his factory, and then he is given as a birthday gift to a young boy. The boy’s family goes on a road trip to the Southwest, and they take Tinny along. But early in the trip, he gets forgotten and left behind at a gas station. There, he meets the ventriloquist’s dummy, and they work together to find their way back to Tinny’s home. In a series of adventures, the two travel from the back of a truck to an auction, to a garbage truck, a yard sale, a couple’s house, and finally to a kindergarten playground—the happy ending in which the toys are reunited with the children.
- Summer 1991: Jeff Katzenberg, of Disney at the time, told Pixar to rewrite Toy Story as more of a buddy movie. He wanted, specifically, an odd couple movie in which two characters who disliked each other would be thrown together by luck—and then forced to work together.