'Toy Story 2': Deconstructing Woody
From caterpillar cameos to a Van Gogh homage, we uncover the Pixar sequel's secret jokes.
If you’re a patriotic American, you did your duty over Thanksgiving weekend: You saw Toy Story 2, and contributed to the film’s record-breaking $80.5 million take. Question is, How much of the Disney/Pixar hit did you really see? Less than you think. In keeping with a long animation tradition, the mischievous folks at Pixar studios packed the movie ”just as full of…inside gags as we could,” codirector Lee Unkrich says. (Note to Jack Valenti and the religious right: They swear they kept the hard-to-spot yuks G-rated.) We persuaded the Toy makers to let us in on their little games. Here, a crib sheet to the secret life of TS2.
Get out your magnifying glasses: There are a bunch of uncredited cameos by the teeny cast of A Bug’s Life, last year’s Thanksgiving-weekend Disney/Pixar hit. Heimlich the caterpillar shows up chomping a leaf in the underbrush just before Buzz and company cross the road. Little Life pests can also be spotted in a cubist painting in the apartment of villainous Al (though they’re barely recognizable, since they’ve been rendered Picasso-style). ”You’d need freeze-frame for that one,” says director John Lasseter.
Hey, kids! Toy Story 2 features no fewer than two hidden jokes about mutilated ears. Remember the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em boxer robots in Al’s Toy Barn? ”We gave one of them a partially missing plastic ear in homage to Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield,” says codirector Ash Brannon. ”Pretty gross, I guess, but that robot never turns and faces the camera, so you can’t really see it.” Also in the toy store, hidden away, are boxes of ”French Impressionist Action Figures,” including a Van Gogh doll with detachable ear.
Even those of us with a life noticed the blatant salutes to Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey in Toy Story‘s opening galactic battle scene. You also might have spotted the Jurassic Park rearview-mirror tribute when Rex the dinosaur is running after his pals through the toy store. But did you notice that the Barbie gang’s hip-swiveling dance steps were based on Ann-Margret‘s moves in Viva Las Vegas?
As Tour Guide Barbie passes a row of Buzz Lightyear dolls in the Toy Barn, she explains that ”in 1995, shortsighted retailers did not order enough toys to meet demand.” To paraphrase Homer Simpson, it’s funny because it’s true: The line is a dig at the too-little, too-late merchandising of the first Toy Story. ”That was John’s brilliant line,” says codirector Brannon. ”He really wanted that in there.” Says Disney animation president Thomas Schumacher: ”It’s a problem we’ve since discussed to the point of nausea. And we’ve redressed it.”
More evidence of behind-the-scenes negotiations can be glimpsed smack-dab on Buzz’s butt. After Toy Story, Pixar and Disney worked out a new contract that splits merchandising revenues 50-50 (previously, Disney alone got the tchotchke lucre). Which means that Buzz Lightyear’s glutes are now inscribed with the copyright logo ”Disney/Pixar”—a fact the animators proudly display by having Buzz bend over as he watches television.
TS2 is a virtual family reunion of past Pixar players. The famed desk lamp Luxo Jr.—featured in the company’s very first 1986 short—appears in a constellation of stars in the movie’s first shot (keep your gaze up and to the right). Likewise, the grumpy old guy who fixes cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks) is the same grumpy old guy who played chess in the 1997 short Geri’s Game. In fact, you can briefly spot chess pieces in one of his repair-kit drawers. “It’s there as a surprise for kids, who get it right away,” says Lasseter. “They explain the joke to their parents.” Finally, when Hamm the pig (voiced by Cheers‘ John Ratzenberger) goes channel surfing, shots fly by from several Pixar TV ads and shorts, including 1988’s Tin Toy.
Listen carefully in the airport scene, and you’ll hear an announcement for “Lasset Air, Flight A-113.” That would be a play on TS2 director Lasseter’s name. The flight number, incidentally, refers to a famed classroom at Cal Arts college, the alma mater of many a Pixar animator. Ha!