Have you seen the movie Toy Story 2?
Given that it is one of the highest-grossing animated movies ever, there is a pretty good chance you have. But there was a time when you weren’t going to be very likely to see it. Unless you are a consumer of straight to video movies.
That’s right, Toy Story 2 was not planned to ever be shown in theaters. At least not at first.
It was originally scheduled to be released straight to video. Right there alongside Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta! and Marley & Me: The Puppy Years. Yes, those are real movies.
In his book, Creativity Inc., Pixar president Ed Catmull tells the story of just how awful Toy Story 2 was in its early stages.
The original Toy Story was a worldwide hit and Disney wanted Pixar to create a sequel. As was common at the time, Disney planned to have the sequel be released straight to video (see Lion King II: Simba’s Pride)
Only problem was that the script for the new adventure featuring Woody and Buzz was lacking something. Something like plot, character development and anything else that makes a good movie. Catmull felt that his team was conscious of the direct to video release and made a product that reflected that quality.
Catmull decided that if they were going to make Toy Story 2, they were going to do it right. This meant a theatrical release and more importantly, a complete makeover.
They revamped the writing, souped-up the script, and nearly killed themselves to meet their deadline. Much like the movie, which featured struggle followed by a happy ending, Catmull’s team’s tumultuous journey was a success.
The movie was the highest-grossing animated film of 1999, earning $245 million domestically and $485 million worldwide. Both totals topped Pixar’s previous releases by a wide margin.
One of the most important points Catmull makes when retelling this story is that this process was not unique to Toy Story 2. “Early on, all of our movies suck,” wrote Catmull.
Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so-to go, as I say, from suck to not-suck.”
Yes, even the phenomenal stories of Monsters, Inc. or The Incredibles need work in the beginning. If you are like me, you just assumed that something as successful as Finding Nemo was perfect from day one. And that can be frustrating. How are they able to do it, when I struggle so much to make a decent fifth draft, let alone first?
Turns out, that Pixar is no different from you or me (expect in myabe the size of their budget and the crazy magic they have that makes their characters so lifelike). Their writing takes work.
Pixar even has a term for this. They call their first drafts, “ugly babies.” They recognize that their first draft may not be much to look at, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to give up. Just as a mother wouldn’t give up on a baby who looks like it could have used a little more time in the oven.
What makes Pixar special is their ability to put in the effort needed to develop that baby from ugly to something whose picture is worthy of being put up on the fridge. They do not get discouraged by a crummy first draft. They simply keep working until their story goes “from suck to not-suck.”
And we can do the same.
Photo credit: Wikipedia