Day 6

The first Toy Story script starred a creepy dummy, and Woody was 'a jerk,' says researcher

25 years since the film's Nov. 1995 premiere, the processes behind the groundbreaking film's development are considered a case study of creative collaboration, according to psychologist Keith Sawyer.

Filmmaker's openness to make changes key to creative collaboration, says psychologist Keith Sawyer

In the original Toy Story script, Woody was a ventriloquist's dummy, not a cowboy. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney and Pixar)

When the team at Pixar started work on Toy Story nearly three decades ago, the iconic animated film looked and sounded far different.

In the film's original 1991 script, the writers imagined a buddy comedy starring Tinny, a one-man band tin toy, and Woody, a ventriloquist dummy. Both were eventually considered either too old-fashioned or too creepy to be the film's stars.

As the story and characters evolved the pair eventually morphed into Woody — now a stuffed, loyal cowboy — and Buzz Lightyear, an overly confident space ranger.

Twenty-five years since the film's Nov. 1995 premiere, the processes behind the groundbreaking film's development are considered a case study of creative collaboration, according to psychologist Keith Sawyer.

"I think the reason why Toy Story is so successful is because of the wandering creative process that went into it," said Sawyer, who researches creative practices and came upon the film's origin story as part of his book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Creativity.

The character of Buzz Lightyear, centre, was developed after Hasbro refused to license the G.I. Joe action figure to Pixar. (Disney Pixar/Associated Press)

Pixar's Toy Story was the first fully computer-animated feature film and received near universal acclaim when it hit theatres. It also became a merchandise juggernaut for Pixar and Disney, spawning an entire world of toys and paraphernalia.

Since the release of the first film in the franchise, Pixar has released three sequels. In total, the company has released nearly two dozen feature films. 

Without the writers and producers' openness to trying new things, however, Sawyer believes that could have been far different.

"I don't think it would have been as successful if we took the original script in 1991 and just made it exactly that way," he told Day 6.

"It requires this creative process where things change constantly, where people are receptive and open, and we have these iterations where the characters change non-stop."

'Woody just seems like a jerk'

It wasn't just that characters were replaced — their personalities were rewritten and voice actors were reconsidered.

Buzz Lightyear, for example, was originally meant to be voiced by Billy Crystal. The character was written to sound arrogant and self-aggrandizing. 

Psychologist Keith Sawyer researches creative practices in the workplace. (Submitted by Keith Sawyer)

Crystal, however, was unavailable for the film. That's when director John Lasseter brought in Tim Allen, who would eventually bring Lightyear to life. But there was one problem: the dialogue written for Crystal no longer fit.

"Pixar had to rewrite every line that Buzz Lightyear says and completely reconceive his whole personality," Sawyer added.

Woody, too, was rewritten from scratch late in the film's production when the creators and executives at Disney deemed him too unlikeable.

"In an earlier script, Woody was abusing the slinky dog character," Sawyer explained. "In another scene, Woody was pushing Buzz Lightyear out the window."

"So there were several scenes where Woody just seems like a jerk."

Try, try and try again

At Pixar, says Sawyer, no one claims ownership over ideas, instead choosing to work collaboratively to develop the best end product.

Filmmaking is not "a linear path that goes from a brilliant genius creator who comes up with the brilliant genius product and then it gets made into a movie," he said.

The success of Toy Story has turned the franchise into a merchandising juggernaut. (John Parra/Getty Images for Disney)

Another key approach is to try things without committing to them. When Tinny the tin toy was deemed too outdated for a film made in the '90s, producers considered G.I. Joe as a lead character instead.

But when toy giant Hasbro wouldn't offer newcomers to feature films a licensing deal to use the action figure in their film, they tried out the lead as space hero Lightyear.

"It's not a permanent decision, right? No one ever says, 'This is it, it's going to be this space hero. We're never changing it,'" said Sawyer.

"That's not the way creativity works."

Sawyer says while that approach may sound inefficient to some, it's all part of a healthy process.

"You might look at Pixar and say, what a shame you wasted all this time on the ventriloquist dummy idea. You guys lost a year of valuable time…. But no, absolutely not. No one at Pixar thinks that," he told Day 6.

"You have to make some mistakes, you have to go down some dead ends, and unless you think of a ventriloquist dummy first, you're not going to think of the cowboy."


Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Annie Bender.

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