Lee Unkrich

I’m far from a Pixar fanboy, and in fact my position as resident cynic here at FSR has usually found me arguing against the perceived perfection of the critically acclaimed animation studio. And yet Disney’s panel for Pixar’s upcoming Toy Story 3 was one of my favorites of the convention. The reason why can be summed up in two words… John Ratzenberger.

The “Cheers” alum and singular constant throughout all of Pixar’s eleven feature films also happens to be a doppelganger for my dad. Those three factors alone make seeing him live one of the coolest sightings of this past weekend, but the fact that he was there in service of a movie I’m actually excited to see made it even better. The original Toy Story is a beautiful film about the joys of friendship, youth, and imagination, and the second sequel ranks high on my list of movies to see this summer.

Ratzenberger was joined onstage by director Lee Unkrich and they brought up completely random members of the audience to take part in a voice demonstration for a scene from the movie. Some goofy guy who actually seemed like a professional plant was teamed up with random audience member #1, Jeff Garlin, and random audience member #2, Kristen Schaal, and the trio showed how not to do voice-work for an animated film. Garlin and Schaal are very funny people and it seems almost a guarantee that they’ll be appearing in future Pixar films. After the demonstration the scene was played again with the actual audio in place.

A young girl has given Woody a seat at her tea party alongside some dolls we’ve never met before, and when she leaves the room for a moment Woody comes to life in an attempt to find out where he is exactly. Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) repeatedly shushes Woody and the other toys, but Buttercup (Garlin) and Trixie (Schaal) inform him that they’re “either in a Cafe in Paris or a coffee shop in New Jersey,” and that she’s “pretty sure I just came back from the doctor with life-changing news.” It’s funny stuff, especially when Garlin comments on their penchant for improvisation… something the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” actor is very familiar with.

The second scene finds Woody and the rest of the gang from the prior Toy Story films being dropped off at a daycare. We see several new characters as the daycare residents rush to meet the new toys, but the standout is easily Michael Keaton’s Ken doll. Wearing tight shorts, an open shirt, and an ascot, he exits his dollhouse mansion via an exterior elevator and begins to introduce himself to the newcomers… until he spots Barbie and falls instantly in love to the sweet, sweet sounds of Gary Wright’s classic “Dream Weaver.” Ned Beatty steps up as the group’s informal leader, Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, and gives the straight-arrow Buzz Lightyear a giant bear hug. He tells Woody and friends that toys are never left behind here, that as kids grow up they’re replaced with new youngsters eager to play with and love the toys all over again. The news is welcome to everyone but Woody who holds onto the ideal that he belongs to Andy.

Someone asked Unkrich who the film’s villain would be, and while he wouldn’t say in any detail he did acknowledge that all is not as it seems at the daycare. That sounds way too ominous for a Toy Story movie, but I still look forward to seeing what Woody, Buzz, and the rest have in store for their new adventure. Andy’s all grown up now (and voiced again by John Morris in a nice bit of unexpected continuity) and his relationship with the toys of his youth is completely different. Will Woody find another happy ending, and will it be his last? We’ll have to wait until this summer to find out.

Toy Story 3 hits theaters on June 18th.

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