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Toy Story is Back!

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Woody and the gang are back for the third movie in the fun-loving animated series -- and momlogic sat down with director Lee Unkrich to get behind-the-scenes dish.

toy story

Jeanne Sager: It's been 15 years since the first "Toy Story" movie made history as Disney's first feature-length film created entirely with computer-generated imagery. Now many of the kids who cuddled Woody dolls and Buzz action figures at night are pulling those toys out of the closet to share with their kids, because "Toy Story 3" will be blasting into theaters on June 18. It's Disney's first 3D digital feature.

Momlogic wanted to know if "Toy Story" has grown up, too. So we sat down with Lee Unkrich, the father of three (his kids are 12, 10, and 5) who took the director's chair for the third installment. After all, Unkrich is the man who inspired John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, to say, "There's nobody else I would trust 'Toy Story' to."

momlogic: You didn't have any children when you made the first movie. How was it different being a dad and making "Toy Story 3"?

Lee Unkrich:Wow. I don't know if I've ever thought about it that way. It's of course been really cool being a part of Pixar and having kids. To my kids, I've got the coolest job in the world. They love that I bring home toys all the time -- especially now that all these toys are coming out from different toy companies. They've been seeing me make "Toy Story 3" for the last four years, and they've been sworn to secrecy. But they know the story; they've seen it as we worked on it. So it's very exciting for them to start to see the actual toys that they've only seen as storyboard drawings and rough animation.

ml: How does this story touch you?

LU: I think to tell a really good story you have to have experience on some level of that story. "Toy Story 3" in many ways is about change. These toys are grappling with the fact that Andy is growing up, that he's moving on with his life. And Andy himself is grappling with being at that cusp between childhood and adulthood. And Andy's mom is dealing with the emotions of him going away to college. So everybody's dealing with this idea of change and how to grapple with it. I think for all of us, having kids of our own and just living life, you learn things watching your kids grow. My kids haven't gone off to college yet, but several of John [Lasseter's] kids have gone off to college. So he's gone through that experience, and I've witnessed him going through that experience.

ml: Do you have any favorite characters?

LU: I don't think so. People often ask us who our favorite characters are, and we say that's like asking us, "Who's your favorite kid? Do you like your daughter better, or your son?" I like them all in their own way; they're each so unique. And beyond just the characters, we've gotten to be friends with all the actors who play these characters. It's like a family. When you work on a movie for four years, you have to really love it. Otherwise, you know ... what a drag. I would never want to come in to work every day to work on a movie I didn't believe in or characters I didn't like. I like these guys. I know them so well that no matter what situation we cook up for them, I know how they're going to react. I won't say the movie writes itself, but in many ways the fact that we know these characters so well really informs how each character should behave.

ml: A lot of the toys in the movie are toys that were available when we were kids. Did you have any of them?

LU: Potato Head. I'm sure I had a Mr. Potato Head when I was a kid! We put some other toys into this movie, some of which we haven't announced yet, that I had when I was a kid. That was exciting for me, to get some of my own unique personal things in there.

ml: Ken appears in "Toy Story 3." You've said you really loved this certain Ken doll from the '80s. Why?

LU: We knew pretty early on that we wanted Ken to be in the movie. We thought that was just so ripe with comic entertainment potential. We didn't know what we were going to do with him, but we knew he had to be in the movie. So at a certain point we had to decide what he wanted to look like. There were so many different looks of Ken over the years that I had to settle on one. Thank God for the Internet. There's a guy who runs a site just completely devoted to Ken that shows every Ken doll and every outfit for decades! I just pored through them, and there was this particular one from the '80s called Animal Lovin' Ken -- who came in a little safari outfit.

ml: With the ascot?

LU: Yes, with the ascot. It's what he's wearing when you first see him in the movie. That Ken and that outfit was [based on] an actual Ken, so I recommend that people snatch them up from eBay while they can -- although we've been buying a lot of them. I just found him really funny. I thought his molded plastic hair was really funny, his washboard abs. It's just like everything about him is funny to me. We were happy that Mattel was okay with us going with that. At first they wanted us to use whatever their current Ken was. And we said no, we know that it's going to be funny this way.

ml: Were you worried about the fact that it's been 11 years since "Toy Story 2," and 15 years since the first "Toy Story"?

LU: I don't know that we were ever worried. The thing that surprised us that we weren't quite expecting is that now that the hype is building for the movie, there's a huge segment of the audience who were kids when "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" came out. And for them, there's this enormous nostalgia. They're excited to sort of touch base with their childhoods again. A lot of them are at that cusp of going into college or just leaving college, and some of them are even having their first kids. So there again we're tapping into that theme of change, that life's journey. I think we've got everyone on this one. The characters have never gone away for the kids.

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65 comments so far | Post a comment now
Chip February 17, 2010, 1:32 PM

Great interview! The original Toy Story was the first movie I saw in theaters, and I was 2 years old then. When Toy Story 2 came out, I was 6. When Toy Story 3 is out, I’ll be 17 heading to the 12th grade. These movies have so much nostalgia for me, and the best part is that they are still great movies. As a matter of fact, they’re better movies for me now because I understand the adult jokes.

This article makes me feel better about the movie as well. Not that I have any serious doubts, but you never know with a sequel, especially with a third movie. Judging from the new trailer and from this interview, this should be a really good movie. I’m certainly hoping so.

Beth February 24, 2010, 3:56 PM

Yes, it’s good to see this 3rd edition—both my boys loved Toy Story. Being a Barbie collector, I’m happy to see her and Ken so involved this time. And just to let Mr. Unkrich know, “the guy” who’s website he went to, that’s totally devoted to Ken, has a name. It’s Jef Beck, and the website is He’s “our Director” when it comes to Ken. I think he’s been very helpful to Mr. Unkrich in his research about this character. Hopefully, he will get the recognition he deserves, when the credits come out.

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