If there's one thing we've learned from the Toy Story franchise, it's that there's a definite hierarchy to toys. And Angus MacLane (BURN•E) plays off this brilliantly in Small Fry, when Buzz Lightyear gets left behind at a fast-food restaurant when Bonnie inadvertently takes home the collectible.
Small Fry marks the second Toy Story Toons short, and currently screens in front of The Muppets. However, unlike Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry was made at Pixar Canada in Vancouver, which debuted with Air Mater.
Toy Story vets Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz), John Ratzenberger (Hamm) and Joan Cusack (Jessie) return for the seven-minute short. And Teddy Newton (Day and Night) voices mini-Buzz.
"A lot of these toys are mash-ups of different genres inspired by toys I grew up with," recalls MacLane. "For instance, Super Pirate is a superhero and a pirate. It would really be challenging to make him work as part of a narrative, but as a castoff toy, he's part of a support group at this fast-food restaurant dealing with the fact that they are unloved toys."
So they meet regularly in therapy sessions, of which Buzz is now a member. Among the most prominent are T-Bone (a steak force influenced by transforming toys of the '80s) and group leader Neptuna (voiced by Glee's Jane Lynch). The fact that they're only three inches tall contributes to their lowly status.
Then there's Condorman (culled from the '81 Disney cult movie of the same name). "I thought it would be funny if you took a character from Disney's history that a lot of people didn't know about and would not feel out of place in the line-up of forgotten toys. Plus then if they make toys of Condorman, it would make it a win-win. "
MacLane, who helped design the original Emperor Zurg in Toy Story, was primed for such a subject. "I thought in the alternate reality that we created it would be really fun if the mini-Buzz and Zurg could be friends since they're locked in that display case."
Of course, living in a display case is the worst existence of all because you have the lowliest status. You can't even be taken home to be played with. You just stand there for the world to see and not have.
"You get to see all the people that look like you given away to kids and presumably played with," he adds. "And even though some of the toys might end up being thrown away in the trash, display toys don't see that. All they see is that they're not being played with. And I think there's a fast-food truth to there being the coolest toy, which usually sells out really quickly, and then there are the ones that are not cool, which usually stick around a lot. So you'll see in our display, the mini-Buzz, which is the coolest one, and the Zurg belt buckle, which is the least coolest.
"I remember going to a restaurant and seeing the crown jewel in the assortment on display and asking if I could have that one, and they'd say, 'No, that's just for display.' That logic never made any sense to me since they're not going to get anymore of these toys on display. Just give the kid the display model. That's a really weird obscure joke."
Small Fry alludes to similar themes in the Toy Story universe. And Buzz has already been through this process of feeling discarded, so he's frustrated about being a part of this support group. "There are a string of problems that toys would have and a string of problems that humans would have," he continues. "In this case, the toys don't have a say in what happens to them because they're so small and powerless. And they have this ethics code of staying motionless when humans are around. And so I was riffing on that but with characters that have even less of a shelf life than regular toys."
As far as working with the new animation team up in Vancouver, MacLane says it was a great learning curve for them to learn more about the Pixar way of working while also getting acquainted very quickly with the Toy Story universe. "This had to be a short that looked as good as three feature films," he suggests. "They really rose to the occasion and it shows onscreen. They're a smaller studio, they have a great energy to them to try things out and, with more than 20 new characters, they always delivered consistently."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.