Anyone who thought that Disney/Pixar‘s “Toy Story” franchise would really be kaput following “Toy Story 3” (a movie that practically crow-barred tears out of even the most hardened misanthrope) were, of course, out of their collective minds. Since the third film was released, we’ve had three dazzling theatrical short films (“Hawaiian Vacation,” “Small Fry,” and “Partysaurus Rex“) and idle chatter of a fourth film. And come Halloween, we’ll get something even more special – a 22-minute TV special called “Toy Story of Terror,” the first image of which debuted today. Also, former Pixar director Brenda Chapman weighs in on the controversy surrounding her “Brave” character Merida becoming an official Disney Princess.
The first image from the special – featuring Woody (Tom Hanks) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) huddled around a ominously glow-in-the-dark Buzz (Tim Allen) – is appropriately atmospheric, and along with the image, some details have emerged about the special’s tone and plot. “Bonnie is on a road trip to go see grandma with her mom and the toys are in the trunk,” producer Galyn Susman told TV Guide. “Mom gets a flat tire and they have to spend the night at a motel and all kinds of chaos ensues.” Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Trixie (Kristen Schaal) and Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) are all set to return, as is a returning character from the very first movie – the doomed, GI Joe-like Combat Carl (this time played by Carl Weathers). Susman said that the special will primarily be focused on Jessie, adding “it was Jessie’s turn to really show some growth.”
The special was animated at Pixar’s Canadian campus and references everything from “Psycho” (obviously) to “Aliens” to “Predator” in its brief runtime. “There was some support to make a scary, but not necessarily Halloween-themed half-hour ‘Toy Story’ special for television,” director Angus MacLane, who directed the terrific “BURN-E” short film as well as “Small Fry,” told TV Guide. “There was some concern early on about not making it too scary for kids. I think we’ve done a good job of balancing staying true to ‘Toy Story’ and staying true to the genre. As far as adults are concerned, I’ve always thought that we make these movies for ourselves. I think it’s funny and like the other ‘Toy Story’ films, I think there is plenty of stuff in there that only adults will get.”
“Toy Story of Terror” airs sometime this October and don’t count out a fourth “Toy Story.” Recently word has trickled down that Disney, lenient but only willing to bend so far, has demanded that for every crazy, pie-in-the-sky Pixar movie (like “The Good Dinosaur,” which takes place in an alternate earth where the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs missed the planet completely or “Inside Out,” which takes place inside the mind of a young girl), that the studio deliver at least one spin-off, sequel, or prequel. There are only so many Pixar properties, so the “Toy Story” brand will get another entry soon enough.
Meanwhile, in a less bucolic parcel of the Pixar landscape, a firestorm of controversy as erupted over the induction of Merida, the lead character from Pixar’s 2012 Oscar-winner “Brave,” into the Disney Princess licensing brand. It isn’t that Merida is becoming a part of the Disney Princess line is all that controversial, since the separation of Disney and Pixar has becoming increasingly blurry following Disney’s purchase of the animation studio in 2006 for $7.4 billion, a tidy sum of money Disney has yet to recoup. (Although, for a character to strive for independence to be grouped in with this bunch does strike us as off.) The bigger issue is Disney’s 2D redesign of the character. Merida has been slimmed down in both the face and waist, her trademark bow-and-arrow traded for some kind of gaudy belt, her lips plumped, her wild mane of hair smoothed out, her dress turned from a utilitarian matte color to a glittery dress (complete with gilded embellishment) that emphasizes her newly pert breasts and bare shoulders, and her eyes turned into doe-eyed fuck-me orbs.
In response, feminist website A Mighty Girl set up a petition to convince Disney to leave Merida the fuck alone (it currently has more than 175,000 signatures) and Peggy Orenstein, feminist author of the influential (and highly readable) look at the culture of the Disney Princess mindset, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” took to her blog to bemoan the redesign. “Because, in the end, it wasn’t about being brave after all,” Orenstein wrote. “It’s about being pretty.” One person that did sign the petition was Brenda Chapman, the original director of “Brave” who was unceremoniously fired from the studio 18 months before the film came out. She spoke to the Marin Independent Journal about the makeover and she was none too pleased.
Chapman, who accepted the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature with her hyper-macho replacement Mark Andrews in March, called the Disney Princess makeover “a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money.” She then said that she gave Disney president Bob Iger hell about the decision and said, “When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible! Merida was created to break that mold — to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.”
Originally “Brave” was an incredibly personal story that Chapman based around her relationship with her teenage daughter, who Merida is modeled after. The new Merida is something different, with Chapman calling the redesign “atrocious” and noting that (bitingly), “I forget that Disney’s goal is to make money without concern for integrity. Silly me.” What makes this whole thing even more interesting is that Chapman, not too long ago, had taken up a post at LucasFilm Animation, where she was working on an undisclosed “mystery project.” Now that Disney owns LucasFilm, we assume that Chapman has left for parts unknown. We hope somebody recognizes her immense talent and hires her forthwith. Maybe someone whose name rhymes with Beffrey Batzenberg. Just saying.