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Toy Story Turns 20 Today

November 22, 2015
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You don’t have to go to infinity and beyond to find out these interesting facts about Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy, which made its debut on November 22, 1995—20 years ago today. A mean ventriloquist’s dummy Woody, a Sarah Connor-esque Barbie doll, and a sexy “Señorita Cactus” Jessie, anyone?

1. WOODY USED TO BE A TOOL.

In early drafts of Toy Story, Woody was—to put it lightly—a stone-cold jerk, verbally abusing Slinky Dog and intentionally pushing Buzz out the bedroom window into Sid’s yard. “He had to wind up selfless in the end, so our strategy had been, let’s make him selfish in the beginning,” co-writer Andrew Stanton said in The Pixar Touch. The Pixar team realized that no one would want to watch a kids' movie where the main character is so unlikable, so they altered Woody’s character to make him a well-meaning and kind—rather than cruel and tyrannical—leader of the toys.

2. WOODY WASN’T ORIGINALLY A COWBOY.

In addition to having a completely different personality, the original Woody was a ventriloquist’s dummy. Executives at Disney, which co-produced Toy Story, requested that he be changed to something else, as ventriloquist’s dummies were usually associated with horror movies, and they didn’t want their cute kids' movie to be terrifying. (Good call.)

3. JOSS WHEDON WANTED BARBIE FOR THE FIRST MOVIE.

Joss Whedon, who was brought on by Disney to do a script revision for the first Toy Story, wanted to include a butt-kicking Barbie, modeled after Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. She would roll up in her (pink, presumably) Corvette and rescue Woody and Buzz from Sid’s house, telling them to “Come with me if you want to live.” Mattel, however, refused to license the doll to Pixar. “[They] 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,” said Pixar camera artist Craig L. Good. “Obviously they later changed their minds,” as the Barbie brand appeared in both sequels.

4. TIM ALLEN WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE FOR BUZZ.

John Lasseter approached Billy Crystal to play Buzz Lightyear, but the actor/comedian turned the part down, noting in a later interview that the decision was “the only regret I have in the business of something I passed on.” The silver lining, of course, is that it freed Crystal up to later voice Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University.

5. JESSIE WAS ORIGINALLY “SEÑORITA CACTUS.”

You can thank John Lasseter’s wife Nancy for the character of Jessie in Toy Story 2, as she is the one who convinced her husband that the animated sequel needed a female character of more substance than the first Toy Story’s Bo Peep. Originally, Jessie was a Mexican woman named “Señorita Cactus” who (via The Pixar Touch) “was to sway Woody with her feminine wiles.”

6. TOY STORY 2 WAS ORIGINALLY A DIRECT-TO-VIDEO SEQUEL.

Seeing dollar signs after their 1994 animated sequel The Return of Jafar pulled an estimated $100 million profit, Disney originally wanted Toy Story 2 to bypass a theatrical release and go directly to DVD. However, during production it became clear that Toy Story 2 was good enough—and, importantly, expensive enough (direct-to-video movies are typically done on the cheap to maximize profits, and “cheap” isn’t something Pixar does)—that a full theatrical release was the better option. With less than a year to go before release, the Toy Story 2 team had to retool their story to add an extra 12 minutes of footage.

7. A MISTAKE ALMOST DELETED TOY STORY 2.

As we’ve written about previously, Toy Story 2 faced a pretty major hurdle when a stray computer command entered by an anonymous mischief-maker deleted 90 percent of the work done on the film a year before it was to come out. Luckily, the film’s technical director, Galyn Susman, had a copy of the film that she’d been working on from home, and disaster was averted.

8. TOY STORY 2 SOUNDS DIFFERENT OUTSIDE OF AMERICA.

International viewers of Toy Story 2 were treated to an extra Randy Newman song: The scene where Buzz gives a stirring speech in front of the American flag with “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing in the background was replaced outside of the U.S. with one featuring fireworks, a globe, and the instrumental track “One World Anthem.”

9. BUZZ LIGHTYEAR STARTED OUT AS A TINY TIN SOLDIER.

In original drafts of Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear was Tinny, the main character from Pixar’s 1988 Oscar-winning short film Tin Toy. Eventually, “it became clear that Tinny was too antiquated. So we started to analyze what a little boy would get these days that would make him so excited that he stopped playing with everything else,” director and Pixar honcho John Lasseter explained. First, Tinny morphed into a G.I. Joe-esque action figure and then into a spaceman, first called Lunar Larry, then Tempus from Morph. The name “Buzz Lightyear” is a tribute to astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

10. PIXAR HAD A HARD TIME GETTING REAL TOYS ON SHELVES.

Hasbro and Mattel both turned down the toy license for the Toy Story franchise, believing that they wouldn’t have enough time to put a toy line together in the 11 months they had before the film came out. Small, Canada-based company Thinkway Toys got the license instead and created Woody and Buzz toys; Pixar tried to get them to manufacture Sid’s nightmare-inducing “Mutant Toys“ (a.k.a. a baby doll head with Erector set spider legs), but for some reason they passed on the idea.

11. THE TOY STORY 3 ANIMATION TEAM SHAVED THEIR HEADS.

Several members of the animation team on Toy Story 3 decided to shave their heads early in production in order to get a “‘clean start’ on the film,” according to animator Victor Navone. “Even [director] Lee Unkrich joined in. I had never shaved my head before and I quite liked it. I’m not sure if my wife did …”

12. SID SHOWED UP IN TOY STORY 3.

As with any Pixar movie, the Toy Story trilogy has a ton of Easter eggs. A small sample: The sadistic child Sid from Toy Story is seen in Toy Story 3 as a garbage man (recognizable due to his distinctive skull shirt). Buzz’s batteries, seen in Toy Story 3, are BNL brand—as in Buy n Large, the mega-corporation from WALL·E. And a briefly seen corkboard in Toy Story 3 displays a postcard from Carl and Ellie Fredrickson of 2009’s Up.

13. THE “LOTS-O’-HUGGIN’” BEAR GOT DISNEY SUED.

In 2014, Disney was sued by New Jersey company Diece-Lisa Industries (DLI) over Toy Story 3’s evil bear antagonist, named “Lots-O’-Huggin’” a.k.a. “Lotso.” DLI, which had been selling their own “Lots of Hugs” toy bears since 1995, argued that their ability to market their own product was substantially affected by Toy Story 3’s use of such a similar toy. Further, DLI alleged that Disney knew about their “Lots of Hugs” toys before Toy Story 3, as they previously licensed their “hugging technology" to a Disney affiliate company.


Additional Resources
The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, by David A. Price

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Warner Bros., IStock
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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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