Step one: Follow your heart and make a great movie. Step two: Ignore test audiences. Step three: ???? Step four: Profit!
By Adam Clarke
Ever wonder why so much Hollywood product is about as unique as a slice of Wonderbread while Pixar continues to make memorable films? A large part of their success is that they don’t listen to you. That’s because they know you’re horrible!
North American films are regularly screened privately in front of test audiences before receiving a wide release. These test audiences of fifty or so random people (heretofore known as CHUDs) scrawl their opinions on comment cards. Films are subsequently re-shot or re-edited based on their reactions and then released to the public.
I once participated in a test screening for a film called Mambo Italiano. The version screened to myself and the rest of the CHUDs was a badly-paced, stupid comedy that made you feel sorry for all involved. When the film was released in theatres, it had been miraculously transformed into a slightly different badly-paced, stupid comedy that made you feel sorry for all involved. My suggestion to add an accident-prone, jive-talking robot named Azztar to Mambo had fallen on deaf ears.
As crazy as it sounds, film studios have been doing this for decades and it never works. Just look at last year’s The Wolfman, which was re-cut, re-scored and had new footage shot only to be reviled by critics and audiences upon release.
Pixar, as a rule, shuns this process and it shows. The acclaimed studio mass-produces each and every one of their blockbusters with love. Sure, Pixar’s a Giant Company owned by an Evil Computer Genius, but I defy you to tell me that films like The Incredibles, Wall-E and Up weren’t created by people who cared. If anything, the gang at Pixar care too much, as evidenced by the fact that I can barely get through one of their movies without getting all misty-eyed. That damn Luxo Lamp mascot of theirs is an emotional dictator who brings you to your knees before commanding you to “weep before Luxo!”
The studio’s latest release, Toy Story 3, is a welcome return of the plastic figurines who graced the past two movies. Part of the reason that return is welcome is because this film is a sequel rather than another damned remake. Mostly, however, it’s because Pixar has a largely unbeatable track record at this point, so they can more or less coast on their legacy if they wanted to. If Pixar produced a film called Poo On A Stick In Heatwave, it would make $70 million on its opening weekend from audience goodwill alone. I’m fairly certain that was the case with Cars.
Toy Story 3 begins as Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks), Rex the dinosaur (voiced by Wallace Shawn), spaceman Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Grunt-Bot 5000) and all of the other toys steal their owner’s cell phone. If Andy (voiced by John Morris) finds all of his old toys, he’ll want to play with them, right? Except Andy is now getting ready for college and is stuck with the chore of clearing all of his old toys out of his room before he leaves. Struck by sentimental pangs, Andy elects to take Woody with him, leaving the other toys safe in the attic so they don’t get sold or thrown away.
A series of coincidences too convoluted to recap results in all of the toys being dropped off at Sunnyside Daycare. Woody is hostile to remaining there and sets off to return home while the rest are welcomed by the Sunnyside toys. Unfortunately, Sunnyside is ruled with cotton fist by a bitter toy bear (voice by Ned Beatty). Can Woody rescue the gang? Will he be able to return to Andy in time? Would it matter if he did?
Toy Story 3 is a superbly-made film that’s heartbreaking, funny and, at times, legitimately suspenseful. That’s the kind of film that can be made when you don’t have to please randomly selected people off the street. While other studios continue to release boring, downright embarrassing films that cater to the CHUDs with cards, Pixar succeeds without influence from burnt-out execs and thoughtless marketing chotches. Toy Story 3 deserves all the praise it’s sure to get from audiences.
Also, the title character from My Neighbor Totoro appears in the film, which more or less made my week. What more could you ask for?