Meet the new toys. Are they the same as the old toys? In Pixar Animation Studios’ “Toy Story 3,” new characters are introduced alongside returning characters in the continuing animated story of toys that come to life. In ‘Toy Story 3,” the main toys from the first two movies are faced with a challenge: Their human owner, Andy (voiced by John Morris), is about to move away from home to go to college. He has long since outgrown the toys. Will they be abandoned and left to collect dust in an attic? Will they be thrown away? Given away?
The toys’ uncertain future leads them on an unexpected adventure that is both heart-warming and terrifying for them. But if the character of the spunky cowgirl doll Jessie has anything to say about it, the toys won’t go down without a fight. Joan Cusack voices the Jessie character, which was introduced in “Toy Story 2.” Two of the new characters that make their first appearances in “Toy Story 3” are the unicorn Buttercup (voiced by Jeff Garlin) and dinosaur Trixie (voiced by Kristen Schaal), which are toys owned by an imaginative little girl named Bonnie (voiced by Emily Hahn). Cusack, Garlin and Schaal sat down to talk about their roles in “Toy Story 3” during this roundtable interview at Pixar headquarters in Emeryville, California.
What did you think when you heard there was going to be a “Toy Story 3”? Did you roll your eyes? Were you concerned it wouldn’t be as good as the first two “Toy Story” movies?
Garlin: Are you serious? First of all, when Pixar calls, if anyone’s eyes are closed, they open and they’re wider. Here’s the thing: If you’re in the first “Saw” movie, you have to think to yourself, “Will this ruin my career?’ Let alone “Saw 12” or whatever number they’re on. But “Toy Story”? Come on! I’m so honored to be in this. My gosh! I’m thrilled. There’s no rolling of my eyes on any end.
Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Mr. Pricklepants (voiced by Timothy Dalton), Buttercup (voiced by Jeff Garlin) and Trixie (voiced by Kristen Schaal) in “Toy Story 3”
What do you say to people who wonder if Pixar is ever going to have a dud movie?
Garlin: Have you seen [“Toy Story 3”]? It’s fantastic. It’s moving and great. This is not going to be [a dud].
Cusack: They have a good process that a lot of other places could model to make better movies, which is to be thoughtful and care about what you’re doing and take your time and employ people and trust them. There’s a lot of good pieces to the puzzle that they have. I think they took a risk with this movie, because they really made it be about something. But they had the thoughtfulness to back it up, because they really took time to think, “Let’s really make it a meaningful movie.”
Garlin: Pixar makes movies to make money, whereas I think most studios make money by making movies. Does that make sense? In other words, they don’t care what the movie is, as long as they make their money. But if you make a movie to make money — they’re a business; they want to make money, but they’re interested in making the movie to make the money.
Cusack: They don’t even want the movie to make money after the first weekend, because they don’t even get money after the first weekend, most movie companies.
Jeff Garlin at the “Toy Story” Los Angeles premiere after-party
Jeff, when you first heard that about possibly voicing the Buttercup character in “Toy Story 3,” did you envision changing your voice to sounding like a rugged G.I. Joe?
Garlin: Why would they think they would have me play a rugged G.I. Joe? Thank you! I should take it as a compliment … I was thrilled when they said, “We want you to play Buttercup, I knew they wanted me to use my regular voice.
Cusack: Therein lies the genius of Pixar.
Garlin: Because you would think that Kristen [Schaal’s] voice would be the voice of the unicorn, and I would be the voice of the big dinosaur.
Schaal: The unicorn is my spiritual animal. [Laughter]
Garlin: So anyway, no, I was thrilled, not shocked.
Voice actors in animated films typically do their work separately from the rest of the cast. Did you have any interaction with each other when you were doing the voice work on “Toy Story 3”?
Schaal: No, you’re alone in a studio.
Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) and Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) in “Toy Story 3”
Is it harder to work that way?
Garlin: Of course it’s more difficult. It’s way more difficult, but the room has air conditioning, they have nice snacks, everyone’s nice to me, and I know when I’m done, I’m going to get a check. So the level of difficulty is to be interpreted, but for me … at the end of a four-hour session, my head hurts.
Schaal: [She says jokingly] I’m usually done in 20 minutes, because I get it.
Did you record your voices before or after any animation was done for the film?
Garlin: No, we don’t see anything.
Schaal: Before. They match the animation to our voice.
Garlin: They also videotape you and take some of your facial movements.
Joan Cusack unveils Disney Store’s Jessie Doll to celebrate “Toy Story 3” at the Disney Store in Chicago, June 2010
How do you see the evolution of “Toy Story”?
Cusack: I think they [the people at Pixar] have this great place and this great think tank and this great creative environment, and I think they really went for it in this movie. They said, “Let’s make a movie about something.” It’s interesting to me, because on a lot of levels, how do you stay relevant? How does anyone relevant over time? Obviously, something that’s new has its own power to it, but over time, how do you stay relevant. And it’s something that everyone deals with.
I think the message in the movie, underneath it all, is that if you love someone, if someone’s loved, they are relevant, but they have to believe it. If you forget it for a little while, you can get lost and maybe make some mistakes. But if you really believe that you’re valuable, then you are valuable. I think that’s kind of a cool message for a company that’s trying to have some longevity to it.
Schaal: That’s a great point you’re making, Joan, to “Toy Story 3”: that you’re revisiting these toys again. I think the plot line reflects that, too. Can you go back go back to something you love as you grow older? Can society embrace this toy again?
Garlin: Society is so into youth and new. I find, as a 48-year-old comedian, that age is not as important as relevancy. Relevancy is everything. You can be 90 and be relevant, because people hear what you’re saying.
Cusack: Because you believe it!
Garlin: Yes, that’s the key thing. The bottom line is you’ve got to believe you can be relevant and are relevant. But relevancy is so important in the themes. But you know, Pixar has never been about, “Let’s put this out and we can cash in on it.” Cash does flow in pretty freely … but this movie is arguably the best “Toy Story” movie. I say “arguably,” because they all are wonderful and everybody has a favorite. But I wouldn’t be surprised if for some people, this really is their favorite “Toy Story” movie. That says a lot. It really is great.
Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack) in “Toy Story 3”
Is “Toy Story 3” your favorite “Toy Story” movie?
Garlin: Actually, yes. It is my favorite of the three.
Cusack: “WALL-E” is pretty good though.
Garlin: “WALL-E” is my favorite Pixar movie. Obviously, because I have a lot to do with it, but “WALL-E” just blows me away every time I see it on a personal level. I love all [of Pixar’s] movies!
Schaal: It’s a silent movie.
Garlin: The first 45 minutes, not a word. All of [Pixar’s] movies have some feeling like … Like my favorite ending is in “Monsters, Inc.” Every movie is different.
Cusack: And how weird is it that that movie [“Monsters, Inc.””] came out after 9/11? When everyone was like, “What is the monster in the closet?” [Pixar] has a weird societal synchronicity, I think.
Garlin: They do. I know.
A movie still from “Toy Story 3”
What was your favorite toy when you were a child?
Garlin: [He says jokingly] I had a Barbie head that I would put makeup on.
Cusack: No, he had a Captain America.
Garlin: Yeah, a Captain America doll.
Schaal: I had a scary relationship with a toy. The toy actually looked like Big Baby in the movie. You know when those life-like newborn [baby dolls] were popular? I had to have one. It just sat on a shelf and stared right in my eyes. Somebody told me a story about how a doll would scratch your eyes out after you touch it three times. I was sure I touched it three times. It tormented me, actually.
Garlin: My Captain America protected me.
Schaal: That’s good
Garlin: It was probably in the late ‘60s. I had a Captain America that didn’t scare me at all.
Kristen Schaal at the Los Angeles premiere of “Toy Story 3”
Schaal: I wanted a Pound Puppy and a Cabbage Patch Kid, and my parents bought me fake knock-offs both times! Great parents, but come on! I know the difference!
Cusack: The only one I remember was the Barbie head, to do makeup on.
Garlin: A big Barbie had. Not a little one that she tore off and did the makeup. It was a big Barbie head.
Cusack: Yeah, it was just a head. And her neck was like a little tray.
Garlin: Can I tell you how great that would be if we had trays built into our bodies? Drinks and snacks …
Schaal: Well, it would be hard to kiss.
Garlin: Well, they should be removable trays.
A movie still from “Toy Story 3”
Jeff, since you liked Captain America as a kid, are you looking forward to the 2011 “Captain America” movie?
Garlin: No! I’m not looking forward to the movie, because I do not like the movies they make from the comic books. I think most of them stink. “Batman,” I enjoyed the last couple [of “Batman” movies]. “Spider-Man,” I enjoyed. “X2” was great. I think that’s the best one ever made … I’m not a cynical guy, it’s not my nature, but I am so cynical on superheroes.
One of my favorite characters is Jonah Hex. I actually brought a graphic novel of “Jonah Hex” with me to read with me on this trip. I love Jonah Hex. And I love the casting they did for this [“Jonah Hex”] movie. I’m hopeful that it’s good, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be …
Joan, do you know anything about a “School of Rock” sequel?
Cusack: I don’t.
Would you want to be a part of it if it happened?
Cusack: I think that Jack Black character is just so adorable.
Garlin: You were so great in that movie. Jack’s special.
Cusack: He was awesome! It was the perfect movie for him. He’s the sweetest and just awesome. And it’s such a great character.
Trixie (voiced by Kristen Schaal) and Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) in “Toy Story 3”
Kristen, did you get to do any improvisation for “Toy Story 3”?
Schaal: No, not much.
Garlin: She wasn’t in and out in 20 minutes!
Schaal: No, I was, actually. I’d say 10 [minutes]. Not too much improv at all. You hit the lines, basically say each line three or four times, and we’d try to give them different readings for each so they can see which fits. And then occasionally, after they hit the lines, then I’ll go for it. I’ll go and improvise. A couple of things stuck, but nothing significant. I didn’t change the story line or anything. I should’ve. I should’ve made Trixie save the world.
Cusack: I kind of feel like if they’re hiring you, you should just give them your instincts anyway, and they can do whatever they want with them. You do what they say, and if you think of anything, it’s always nice to throw it out there. I never know what the whole picture is.
Schaal: [She says in a confessional tone] I was in there for two weeks recording the voice, and it was really long hours … basically 14-hour days working on Trixie.
Tim Allen, Joan Allen and Tom Hanks at the Los Angeles premiere of “Toy Story 3”
Joan, your Jessie character dances the paso doble in “Toy Story 3” Are you familiar with that dance in real life?
Cusack: I’m not familiar with it. For the voice part for that [scene], they kept wanting me to go, “Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!,” like I’m being swung around. I wanted to hit things a lot in my version of the paso doble, and fall. I thought that would be funny, but you know what? I’m just glad it was just beautifully done, because it’s just fun.
Garlin: If I may, if you tell Joan a story, quite often, she’ll go, “Whoo! Whoo!” It keeps you going.
Schaal: [She says to Cusack] Oh, I love how you tell stories.
Cusack: It’s kind of a rooting cheerleader thing.
Do you have a favorite scene in “Toy Story 3”?
Cusack: I do have a favorite scene. It’s not really a scene; it’s a moment. I like when the baby is on the swing, looking at the moon, contemplating things. To me, that’s maybe my favorite moment in the history of animation. A doll like that just sitting there, looking at the moon and contemplating its existence and what’s going on — I just find that on so many levels amazing. So that’s my favorite moment in any animated movie, let alone this one. I also loved the opening. The opening’s fantastic!
Cusack: There are so many good moments.
Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack), pictured at center in “Toy Story 3”
When you said that you do your voice work for “Toy Story 3” before the animation got done…
Garlin: Hold on, I want to correct something. The voice stuff comes in toward the middle, maybe more toward the end. They’ve been working on animating and the story and everything for years prior. When I do start doing a voice in the movie, I’m not seeing the movie for at least a couple of years. It’s a long process. I can say uniquely, for me, for “WALL-E” — I can’t say for “Toy Story 3” — I saw drawings for my character [before I did the voice work]. I never saw anything animated. And you read a page at a time, not necessarily in order. And the director presents for you what you’re saying and doing. I had no idea how big my part was. I had no idea I was one of the heroes of the movie. I knew nothing.
So when I finally saw the movie, besides loving the movie, I was in awe. Actually, even when I did my looping, which is when you come in to change things that have already been put to film … I did my lines without looking at the screen. So I saw nothing. When I saw the movie, it was really shocking in a good way. You never read. They describe the character. You don’t get scripts when you do these [Pixar animated films].
Schaal: [She says jokingly] I think they figure we’re going to leak it to DreamWorks. That’s what I thought. And they were right, because I’m a blabbermouth!
Garlin: To DreamWorks? You’d tell DreamWorks everything? DreamWorks is her confidante for almost everything. She calls [DreamWorks co-founder] Jeffrey Katzenberg
Schaal: Anyone who’s got the money. If you slipped me some money. “You guys, I’ve got a plot line you might be interested in.”
Garlin: I don’t know if they actually even have full scripts. When I look at pages, I don’t even notice numbers.
Schaal: I don’t even think they have a final draft.
Garlin: It’s forbidden.
For more info: “Toy Story 3” website
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Photo credits: Photo #1, 7, 8, 11: Getty Images. Photo #3: Reuters. All other photos: Pixar Animation Studios/Disney Enterprises, Inc.