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Could a ''Toy Story'' sequel be released straight-to-video

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Even Woody and Buzz wouldn’t debate the commercial sense of producing a sequel to Toy Story, the No. 3 movie of 1995. But eyebrows shot up around Hollywood when Pixar announced Jan. 2 that its executives were in talks with Disney to produce a follow-up that would go straight to video.

Why make a sequel in a medium that historically has involved lower-quality production values? The answers are, of course, economic. Pixar launched an initial public offering in November, only to see the stock plummet before the new year. ”An easy way to drive small movie stocks is [to announce] their next film,” says Larry Gerbrandt, a media analyst for Paul Kagan Associates. (Even so, the week after the announcement, the stock price continued to fall.) Also, a quickie direct-to-video sequel would enable Pixar and Disney to reach audiences still smitten with the first film. Though the original Story took four years to complete, Pixar now has a trove of computer-stored character data to work with.

The early announcement took even Pixar staffers by surprise. Some wondered how they could manage to make another movie while working on Bugs, the company’s next theatrical feature, to be released by Disney in 1998. ”We’re talking to Disney about it,” says a spokeswoman. ”There are no contracts.”

Disney, meanwhile, refuses to comment on a Toy Story sequel. ”A lower-quality knockoff for video is not an editorial choice I would make,” says one Disney executive, ”but you can make huge amounts of money by going into sell-through.” (Videos intended for sale rather than rental — usually big-budget family films — are often priced as low as $12 and can quadruple a film’s revenues.) This exec’s opinion notwithstanding, Disney has aggressively pursued the direct-to-video sequel market; indeed, Disney started the trend in 1994 with The Return of Jafar. Even without Robin Williams as the Genie, the Aladdin follow-up moved 10 million copies at $22.99 each, making it one of the 15 top-selling videos of all time. Disney says it will release four video sequels a year, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves for 1996. For its part, MCA/ Universal has released two successful video sequels to The Land Before Time.

While Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have not yet committed to a Toy Story sequel, video could keep Woody and Buzz coasting in style.

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