The Black Friday Incident

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A rare still from the screening.

The early stages of production on the film Toy Story were a complete nightmare. The production was in a sort of development hell until the infamous "Black Friday incident". Disney harassed the then-new animation studio Pixar constantly. They were to produce and release the film, and they wanted results as quickly as possible. Disney tried everything to eliminate Pixar's efforts to deviate from the Disney formula even at times threatening to shut the production down. Disney sent notes on revisions that they thought would improve the film. They insisted through their notes which all read:

"Edge. The film needs more edge."

The people working on the film at the time struggled so hard to maintain all of Disney's notes and demands. Once a week, they were required to fly across the country to the Disney offices to present them with progress. Every time, they were met with the same response:

"Edge. The film needs more edge."

Pixar revised the film so hard to meet the deadlines that it resulted in some rather interesting changes. In order to achieve edge, the film became quite a lot darker. Woody became a wildly unlikable character, much angrier and far less comedic than in the final film. Bo-Peep's role in the story was far more prevalent, often flirtatious towards the male characters and is the first to accuse Woody of pushing Buzz out of the window. Buzz Lightyear was referred to at this point in production as "Lunar Larry." He was highly reminiscent of an older super hero, talking in a deeper voice and was even more deluded and ignorant of his surroundings. The other toys were relatively unchanged save for minor aesthetic differences.

Pixar employees worked literally 24/7 nonstop. Director John Lasseter joked on more than one occasion that he had the best parking space at the office because his car hadn't moved for over three days. Some of the writers and story board artists began to suffer from chronic insomnia. A few writers reported seeing visions of Buzz and Woody taunting them on their lack of progress, chanting:

"Edge. The film needs more edge."

Many of the initial writers quit due to the stress it was putting on their personal lives, much to the distress of the remaining crew. By November of 1992, there were two of the five writers left and only one of the three story board artists.

The remaining storyboard artist was named Ralph Thompson. He joined the Pixar team in the winter of 1987, working on short films such as Tin Toy and Knick Knack. He, at that same time, did some storyboard work for The Nightmare Before Christmas with fellow artist Joe Ranft. Joe came down with a serious illness and hadn't been to work in a week. Ralph worked constantly in fear of the inevitable correction by Disney. "More Edge, more Edge." Each presentation meant another row of sleepless nights of rewriting and redrawing the same characters in the same bedroom over and over and over. It was maddening.

One morning, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and other higher ups at Pixar came into the office and told everybody what happened at their last meeting. Disney felt that things were not looking very good for the film and demanded that, in less than a week, they see the complete film in story reels (storyboards with audio) with massive revisions. There was a general groan and whining from the crew and they went back to working.

Ralph worked harder than all others involved. Sometimes, at two o'clock in the morning, one of the writers would walk into Ralph's office with a packet of newly written scenes. More to draw. And with more drawings meant more scratch voice work. (When a film is still in the writing/storyboarding stages, artists will do temporary voices for the story reels.) He had Disney's vague instructions racing through his mind.

"More! More edge! Edgier! More! We want results people! Edgier! This is a business! Faster! More edge! Move on, already!"

He thought to himself this exactly. The film needed an edge. It needed to be darker, more cynical. It needed more adult humor and situations. It needed an attitude. "Of course. Ralph, how couldn't you see it sooner? Edge. All of those hundreds of hours bent over a desk, and all you needed was edge. Why didn't you listen sooner?"

He gave the film an edge.

The story reels were flown over with the main crew to the head offices at Disney. The date was November 27th, 1992, Black Friday. The film was brought into the Disney screening room. The reel was about 48 and ½ minutes long. The movie started out as a western style shoot out between Woody and Andy resulting in Andy being shot down. It is revealed that this was just a game played inside of Andy's mind. The film continued on with little problems for about the first twenty minutes or so, though several gags seemed off with the overall tone of the film. For example, Mr. Potato Head would pull one of his eyes out and kick them under Bo-Peep's dress for a "look-see." There were several scenes of Woody yelling at the toys to stop caring about Buzz (Larry) and to pay attention to him, culminating in insults and minor acts of violence.

The scene came where Andy could only take one toy to Pizza Planet and Woody pushed Buzz out the window. Woody offered to shake hands with Buzz (Larry) only to throw him out of the window. There was a stock smashing noise. The other toys were shocked and antagonized Woody for what he had done. Woody showed little remorse and screamed at Slinky Dog to make the toys stop harassing him. After much yelling, and one of the green army men saying the word "goddamn," the toys grabbed Woody and tossed him out the window as well. He fell onto the ground with a low thump. Cheering was heard from the interior of the house.

The quality on the storyboards became much less refined and almost like chicken scratch.

Woody got up and saw Buzz (Larry). Buzz's body shattered on impact. His arms and legs were broken off and located only a few inches away. There was a large crack down the middle of the chest revealing a mess of buttons and wires inside. He gave off a sort of electrical twitch motion in his head, his eyes looked as if they were about to pop out of their plastic sockets. The twitching stopped after a few moments and Woody looked in fear at what he had done to Buzz and ran off.

There was a jump cut to the scene where the two got stuck in a claw machine. The storyboard art was back to its normal level of quality. The machine was filled with sunglasses-wearing pizzas as opposed to the aliens in the finished movie. Buzz was completely unharmed and intact. The scene was almost identical to the final film. Sid, the antagonist in control of the claw, was wearing a yellow T-shirt and was smoking three cigarettes at once. The claw grabbed Woody and Buzz (Larry), putting them in the clutches of Sid.

There was another jump cut, once again returning to the chicken scratch style of artwork. The scene was inside of Sid's room. Woody looked around the room in fear. He tiptoed around the room and collapsed after seeing one of Sid's mutant toys.

The reel now showed unrelated test animation of the characters running. A few seconds of Buzz (Larry) running in place, a few seconds of Woody running, and nearly a minute of the two running together. The footage was distorted and Spanish text was present on the screen- "It looked like clay [models] that got life."

There was now a shot of Woody standing in front of a black background and the trademark Pixar ball was rolling around in the distance. The animation now was the traditional animation style of a typical 2D Disney film. Woody was completely naked, with anatomically correct features, and stared directly into the camera. His flesh began to rot away with the exception of his eyes which remained intact. Woody began to moan in a low voice.

What remained of his lips curled into a smile, bits of flesh peeling off as this happened. He lifted up his decomposing arm manually and waved into the camera. His fingers dug into his eyes. Dark blood oozes out of their sockets. Woody began to scream and growl:

"Don't you want it? Don't you want it? Don't you love it?"

He dug so deep as to rip the entire top half of his head off. Woody gave a sigh of relief and began eating the flesh off of the skull before tossing it aside. He wrote the word "edge" on the screen with his rotting fingertips.

The remaining 15 minutes of the reels were pencil scribbles accompanied by the shrill screams of a young woman. The word "edge" was burned into the projection screen.

The screening ended in complete silence. Chairman of Disney at that time, Jeffrey Katzenberg, walked out of the screening quietly telling his colleagues:

"Notes. They were following all of the notes we were giving them."

Upon returning to the Pixar offices, writer Pete Doctor found the body of Ralph Thompson in an enormous pile of paper in his office. Further analysis found that the cause of death was a heart attack brought on by a lack of sleep and stress. The papers were all storyboards and animation cells of the final coherent scene of Woody. The word edge was scrawled on the back of each one.

After the Black Friday screening, Disney was far less involved with the film. Pixar was given the freedom to make the film their way. The film went on to be a huge success both critically and financially. The Black Friday incident still remains very much a mystery.

Further Information:

There is a short bonus feature on the Toy Story Blu-ray about the incident, curiously not mentioning the more notable scenes. It can also be found on YouTube for anyone who is curious to see the whitewashed history. Disney produced the short documentary to avoid discussing the incident. If you contact them about it, you'll be redirected to the Blu-ray's Amazon page if you get a response at all.

Credited to Fronkensteen

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