How Pixar was able to Feature Brand Named Toys in the Toy Story Series

Have you ever wondered how Pixar was able to feature brand named toys in the Toy Story series?  If you love behind-the-scene details like me, then you're in luck!

Pixarian Craig Good and Toy Talk's Oren Jacob (Previous Pixarian) answered this question on Quora back in July. Below are their answers along with many interesting details including how Barbie almost made an appearance in the original Toy Story at Sid's house.

Craig Good stated:

There was no product placement anywhere in Toy Story (1995 movie) 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 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 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.

By the time we made the sequels it was much, much easier to convince people it was a good idea to let their toys appear in the movie. In all fairness they had no particular reason to think so when we were making the first one.

Oren Jacob stated:

[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 ToyStory came out and did what it did at the boxoffice and for the toys that were included in the film, Mattel was still quite fussy about Barbie in ToyStory2 if memory serves.  And it took until TS3 to get Ken to show up.

Pixar's website features two great behind-the-scenes videos on the toys of Toy Story series. The first one features how the Pixar team became Accidental Toy Makers. The second video features some of the animation and development of the toys from Toy Story series.

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Pixar Post: How Pixar was able to Feature Brand Named Toys in the Toy Story Series
How Pixar was able to Feature Brand Named Toys in the Toy Story Series
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