Animation Roundtable: Short Cuts with ‘Toy Story 4,’ ‘Frozen 2’ Filmmakers | THR

(gentle music) – I’m Carolyn Giardina. Welcome to The Hollywood
Reporter’s Animation Short Cuts. I’m here with Josh Cooley, who is the director of “Toy Story 4,” and Jennifer Lee, who is the writer and one of the directors
of “Frozen II,” welcome. – [Both] Thank you. – What character do each of you most identify with in your film? – I identify with Elsa.
(both laugh) I identify with Forky. He’s he newest toy to
the “Toy Story” world that is a handmade toy
made out of a spork. And so he doesn’t understand
kind of what’s going on (laughs) or why he’s there. And there was a time early on in the film when I was like, what is happening? I’m trying to navigate this all as, you know, first-time director. And so I was pitching this
idea to my wife, and she, this idea of having this spork
character who doesn’t get it, and she said, “Oh, that’s
you, yeah, you’re like that.” (laughs) And so I was like,
“No, you don’t, no, no.” But that’s totally me. – And which character would
you like to be more like? – That’s a, wow, that’s a, I
hadn’t thought about that one. (Carolyn laughs)
I’d probably like to be more like Woody, just in the sense of that he’s so driven to do the
right thing, no matter what. That makes me sound
like a horrible person, like, I’m not like that. I admire that in him.
– I think you’re pretty driven. (laughs)
(Josh laughs) – And Jen? – So I definitely identify with
Anna, it’s always been Anna. I think she’s, feels
everything too strongly. She acts before she thinks, like me, but cares very deeply and doesn’t give up, and doesn’t give up on people,
whether that’s good or bad. And so she’s kind of my emotional rock. She’s not the most graceful, but her intention is pure and
strong, and I admire that. But the quirky way she talks and things, I relate to very much. So she’s, I think, I’ve
always said she’s the anchor for the first film and the second film. She’s the most grounded character. – And which character would
you like to be more like? – There’s no question, Elsa. I think, I mean, Elsa’s her big sister. I look up to my big sister, and I think there’s
always that way, you know, Anna looks up to Elsa like
everything Elsa does incredible, and I do that same
thing, and I’m, you know, so proud of her, the way you
are with like a family member. So, but she’s got magical powers. (laughs) – Now, you have some new cast members. Tell us about Sterling K.
Brown as Lieutenant Mattias. – We were developing this
character of this soldier who was anchored in the
past and the present, had been around, had
grit, had understanding, gravitas, but also warmth. And what we do often
is we’ll hear certain, I say hear ’cause we’ll
listen to their voices, not actually look at them, certain actors and actresses who just, they have all these layers, and I was just madly in
love with Sterling’s voice, and all the diversity
of characters he played, you knew that you were gonna have a lot of fun playing with him, and you were gonna get
a really rich character. So we were so, we asked
him to come in really early when Mattias was an idea,
and he said, “Heck, yeah.” And we, he came in, it’s about
over the course of two years, and would brainstorm
with us, develop with us. And he got me to improv with him, which is, ’cause he’s
so good, he gets you, and I was like, the most
embarrassing moments of my life, (Josh laughs)
and he handled it gracefully, kindly, so just getting to work
with him was just a dream. – And you had some good
characters in your film as well. – Yes.
– Tell us about how you created Duke Caboom with Keanu Reeves. – Duke Caboom, (laughs) one
of the joys of “Toy Story” is always seeing what these new toys are, the new characters that
come into the world. And so we had an idea for a ’70s stuntman that’s built just to sit on the bike, so he’s mostly on the motorcycle. And so we looked at just Canadian actors and blind cast, you know,
we didn’t know who it was, and I heard that voice and I went, “Hold on, that’s something,
there’s something there.” And it ended up being Keanu. And we thought, well, he’ll
never say yes to this. And so we thought, well, you know, what’s the harm in asking? And he said, “Well, let me
come up and meet you guys.” And he came to the studio, and we just kind of walked
him around and had lunch. And we were uncovering the story just as we were talking about
it, uncovering the character, and to the point where he
started posing and going, “Hoo, hah, hoo,” like while
he was sitting there (laughs) and stood up on the table
and went, “I’m Duke Caboom,” and was creating a scene. It was just, it was something, it wasn’t just the
bigness of the character, he actually brought an emotion to it that I did not anticipate, and
which was such a joy to hear and then to animate, it was really great. – I instantly connected to Duke Caboom and, you know, I felt like
his physicality was important, so I wanted him to like, even when he’s talking to you,
he’s doing stunts, you know, he can’t help himself.
(Duke whooshing) – Now, you also, in this
one, further developed a very independent Bo Peep.
– Yeah. – Would you tell us about that? – Bo Peep was always the
beginning of this movie. It was, our code name for the
movie was Peep, internally. So it was always, she
was always a part of it. She would always come
into Woody’s life somehow. And when we realized
we can have her embody the thing that Woody’s been
afraid of for three movies, she’s now a lost toy, he’s
been afraid of that forever, she becomes such an important
character in his development. And so the great thing was we went back and looked at Bo Peep
in the other two movies. She’s only in “Toy Story 1” and “2,” and it’s only about six
minutes of screen time, it’s not that much at all. We cut just that together,
and we noticed that Bo Peep was actually a really strong
character from the get-go. Whenever Woody is confused
or frustrated with, ’cause Buzz shows up or whatever, he would go to her and say, you know, “(grumbles) I don’t know what’s going on,” and she would say, “Look under your boot. “Look whose name is there,” and she would kind of set
him right back on track. So it was, we just kind of expanded on what was already there. We took this character
that was already kind of in the background, definitely,
almost a tertiary character, said we’re gonna take her
out of her comfort zone, and she’s lived this whole
other life, and now she’s back, and what would that look like? And that’s what we put on the screen. – And now, Elsa has become an
icon in the LGBTQ community. Would you tell us about that response and your responsibility? – Yeah, I mean, it means a lot to me and to us as filmmakers that she has. I love that through her being different and this beauty that she has inside of her that she’s able to unleash,
and “Frozen” was inspiring. And, you know, we talk a lot about it in “Frozen I” versus “Frozen II,” she’s wrestling with her powers and she doesn’t have a romantic interest, so that’s kind of, we
were never going there ’cause it’s not her journey,
it’s not where she is. She’s trying to wrestle with her powers, carry the weight of a kingdom on her shoulders at that moment, but loving the power and
strength of her in this moment and her individuality as she sort of accepts and strengthens who she is. And so that’s kind of where we knew our journey was going for “Frozen II.” (waves crashing) (slow dramatic music) (Elsa breathes deeply) (ice cracking) (Elsa screams) I read Twitter and I, it means a lot. I don’t know that we ever knew what Elsa would mean to people. I think we were building
this woman who was struggling with who she was and not being
the villainous character, that of the original
book, of the Snow Queen, that she was sympathetic
and emotional and had depth. But she doesn’t have a lot
of screen time in “Frozen I” compared to Anna, like you were saying, and so that the world’s
embraced her the way they have, it means a lot, it’s overwhelming, yeah. – Now, from the characters
to the filmmakers, what are you seeing as far as
more diversity and inclusion in the animation world? – We made a real effort to really make our background
characters diverse. We knew we were gonna have
this huge carnival scene, tons of people in the background, playing games, doing all sorts of stuff. There’s so many different types of people of all shapes, sizes, colors, everything. And it’s really fascinating,
the response I’ve seen online, of people going, like, “Look at that.” They’ve actually done a freeze frame, and they’ll circle people and
go like, “That looks like me.” One of the kids in Bonnie’s kindergarten has a cochlear implant,
and the response from that, just the fact that we, it’s not a story point,
but it’s just there, and people were like moved
to tears to see that, because they’re responding to
it, so it’s been really great. – I think one of the things
I kept hearing more and more in the studio, from particularly
women in the studio, is, I was one of the first
women in creative leadership in the rooms with them, so
they began to be more vocal, and that discovery of realizing that as we look for diversity and
balance behind the scenes, not just, people of color
as well, not just gender, the having leaders who can inspire you to speak up and contribute
because they reflect you a bit. And so we’ve made a real concerted effort in terms of the talent is all there, let that talent come forward and lead. And it’s had a huge impact on the studio and in the best way, and our rooms are so much more
balanced, and the filmmakers, it represents the world
a lot better, I think. But everyone, you just,
people have the want, and so you just look together and communicate in different ways on how. And it’s just been very positive
for the whole studio, so. – All right, great. So to change subjects, Jon
Favreau’s “The Lion King” has sparked a lot of discussion about what is an animated movie. Do you consider it an animated movie? And what are your thoughts on that film? (both laugh) – I don’t, yeah.
– I actually haven’t, I haven’t seen it yet, actually.
– Oh, yeah. (laughs) – I was a little busy. (laughs) I remember hearing Favreau say that his intent was that it’s live action, like he’s going for that,
for the look of live action. And the animals do move, even
though they are animated, ’cause you can’t put mocap tennis balls on a, ping pong balls on a lion. – You can do it once.
– Yeah, you don’t wanna– – You’re not gonna–
– You’re not gonna get very– – You’re not gonna survive that. (laughs)
– Not a very long movie out of that. I think the intent is to
make it look realistic. So it’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I have
a full answer for it. I know you–
– Yeah, oh, you know, I feel strongly about it
being not an animated film, in my opinion, using similar technologies, and for Jon, knowing for
him it was visual effects driven towards realism,
having a lot of fun with something you could never do before to imagine ourselves really in that world. And to me, there’s just a different goal from what animation, animation
has never tried to be real. Even with CG, which can create a sense of like, wow, that water, or something, it’s really part of layers of the artistry of the entire piece of imagination
that is an animated film, that nothing is striving for realism but just striving for this believability, transcendence of regular life, (laughs) so the opposite goal. So I feel like the two can exist together, that there are blurred lines in terms of the technology, of course. But I do think it comes
back to, are you trying to transport us to
something other and beyond? Or are you trying to create this realistic world like our world? And so it always feels easy for me. But, you know, when you
have to have a meeting just to decide what the phlegm
is like in a jar of lutefisk that goes in, that has to be
built for the animated film and match the style of everything, you know it’s like they
don’t go together. (laughs) They’re just, one is designed,
you know, from nothing, so. – So you view it as
intent versus technique? – I think it’s intent, that’s better said, yeah, intent versus technique. – So what animated film most inspired each of you to get into the business? – Oh wow. – I have mine only
because it was the first, my first sway into animation, and then it was my, it was
Cinderella, and she was my rock. Growing up, she was, I was obsessed with my little picture book from the film. I didn’t see the film
till I was probably eight, but I had the book, and her perseverance, I was
bullied severely, so was she, and how she got through that,
that the very Disney way of through adversity,
stay true to yourself, and when it’s hard, believe in yourself, and the beauty of that. So for me it was, I always knew. I didn’t have the drawing skills of the extraordinary people
I’ve got to sit with today. But I would, as a child, draw my stories and then write my stories. And they were all geared very much in that fairy tale world
of suffer and it’s okay, you will find your way through. (laughs) – I loved watching, I kind of, too, “Peter Pan” was the first one because I was, I don’t ever wanna grow up, I think that’s the reason why. And then when I saw “Who
Framed Roger Rabbit,” that was the film that made me go from loving movies and animation to wanting to go work
in movies and animation, just the idea that film, basically Chinatown
with cartoon characters, it just hit me perfectly. – Well, thank you so much,
both of you, for joining us. And congratulations on your films. – [Both] Thank you.

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3 thoughts on “Animation Roundtable: Short Cuts with ‘Toy Story 4,’ ‘Frozen 2’ Filmmakers | THR

  1. Sad if this means that we won't be getting a larger round table with the usual 5 or 6 people, but also really enjoyed the focus and pace of this one!

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