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Ever Wonder How Pixar Was Able To Feature So Many Brands In The 'Toy Story' Movies?

Ever Wonder How Pixar Was Able To Feature So Many Brands In The 'Toy Story' Movies?

"Toy Story" created its own toy universe when it was released in 1995, as well as its 1999 and 2010 sequels. Along with the fictionalized world of Woody and Buzz Lightyear, a plethora of real-life toys joined the Walt Disney Co (NYSE: DIS) and Pixar universe.

But getting those particular toys in there wasn't as easy as you might think. A Quora user wondered how this was done: "For instance Etch-a-Sketch, Mr. Potato Head, etc. Aren't these toys trademarked? If there was product placement, what process was involved?"

Related Link: Another 'Toy Story' Sequel Around The Bend

Oren Jacob, CEO and Co-Founder of ToyTalk, worked at Pixar for 20 years and gave his best recollection of how it happened.

[note: this is not an area of the studio that I'm particularly familiar with, so I'm sure others will have more details/anecdotes to share than I will.]

I don't know nor remember the specifics of each of the deals you are asking about, but each of the deals was unique. If memory serves, sometimes the owners of the trademarks and copyrights in question granted Pixar permission to use the characters, maybe we paid a small amount for others (although probably not) and maybe some paid us some money (but probably not). These deals weren't like product placement of a BMW into a Bond movie, where multiple millions of dollars are involved.

I think the issues centered more around whether a particular manufacturer wanted to participate in the film series because they saw it as advantageous to their future business prospects, or if they didn't. I believe Pixar reached out to all the toys that were in the script, many said yes (look at the film for the list) and a few said no, like Barbie and Mattel with the first ToyStory film.

Heck, even after Toy Story came out and did what it did at the box office and for the toys that were included in the film, Mattel was still quite fussy about Barbie in Toy Story 2 if memory serves. And it took until TS3 to get Ken to show up.

Craig Good, another Pixar employee who worked on "Toy Story", "Finding Nemo" and "Monsters Inc.", also weighed in on the question.

There was no product placement anywhere in Toy Story with one exception: In the Japanese release, Panasonic paid to have their batteries appear in the baby monitor. Many brand-name toys were scripted in, and clearance had to be obtained for each one. We even wrote in a Federal Express truck at one point but, luckily, that was cut. (Buzz Lightyear was going to show up that way as a last-minute gift from Andy's dad.)

Some flat turned us down. We couldn't get G.I. Joe, so had to invent Combat Carl. Mattel in those days didn't want Barbie in any kind of animated film because they felt it was important for her to be neutral, allowing girls to imprint any personality they wanted. Obviously they later changed their minds. In this case it helped us make the story stronger. Barbie was going to show up driving her Corvette in Sid's house and tell Woody, "Come with me if you want to live." Yeah, a Sarah Connor reference. In the process of writing her out, John Lasseter (director) and the story team realized that she would have been deus ex machina and that Woody needed to be in charge. That's when the whole complicated "wind the frog" sequence was born.

I can remember our producer, Ralph Guggenheim, updating us by saying, "I just got off the phone with Mr. Potatohead's lawyer." There really was (probably still is) a lawyer dedicated to Mr. Potatohead licensing. It was touch and go for a while, but we landed him. To the best of my recollection we didn't pay cash for any clearances, but did offer credit at the end of the film.

Image credit: Marco, Flickr


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