EXCLUSIVE: “We’re going for the Best Picture win. We wanted to have the best movie and the reviews have clearly said that and it’s the number one box office hit of the year so I’m not sure why we would not go for it all,” the Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross told me in a phone conversation this week. He’s talking about their worldwide billion dollar grosser Toy Story 3 which also sits atop Rotten Tomatoes chart of the best reviewed films of the year, at least those in wide release. To that end Disney/Pixar will launch an ambitious advertising campaign aimed squarely at Academy members this week that will blatantly try to associate past Best Picture winners with TS3 by having Toy Story characters enact some iconic images from Oscar winning films like West Side Story, On The Waterfront, Shakespeare In Love, Silence Of The Lambs, Titanic, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King and Forrest Gump (which will feature the Woody character voiced of course by ‘Gump’ star Tom Hanks — get it?). There are potentially more than 20 different ads they will create, but some, like Lambs, which features a disembodied Mr. Potato Head, still are being cleared by various parties. The campaign which uses the phrase ‘Not Since’ will launch with The Godfather Part II in which Lotso, the mob boss-like bear emulates Al Pacino. Since that film (and Rings) were rare instances of sequels triumphing with Best Pic wins, the studio is not-so-subtly implying that the time has come for another sequel to win. Of course TS3 is a presumed front runner for Best Animated Feature but a Best Pic win is a longer shot. Disney has had the only two nominees ever, 1991’s Beauty And The Beast before the separate ani category was established in 2001 and last year with Pixar’s Up, the first time there were ten nominees instead of five since 1943. Neither won and Disney is the only major never to have won the Best Picture Oscar, period (although their soon-to-be ex specialty division Miramax did).
“The theory is pretty simple for us,” says Ross. “It’s thrilling that there is a separate category for animation and that allows animated movies to be recognized but for some reason an animated film has never gotten Best Picture and I always wondered was there not an appetite? We decided this year we have the biggest and best reviewed film of the year. If not this year, and not this movie, when?” He also points out other genres and categories of films like fantasy (with Rings), horror (with Lambs) and sequels (with Godfather II) broke seemingly insurmountable barriers in terms of the perception that certain kinds of movies can’t win, so why not toons?
“As far as ‘Up’ last year it’s not surprising but I think the strategy is you go for Best Picture and as a fallback you end up as Best Animated Feature. And I guess I always thought that was not confident. With this movie we wanted to come up with a campaign that kept our aspirations clear but at the same time used a tongue in cheek approach,” he says. “It’s all to recognize the quandary which is that no animated picture had won Best Picture, so we used only Best Picture images to reflect that. I feel very confident we have a movie everybody loves and I want to make sure with our support and our campaign that people don’t feel the consolation prize is the appropriate prize for a movie like Toy Story 3. I think people will look at the ads and feel it’s very Pixar and very Disney. At the same time it’s very clear. Toy Story 3 is a Best Picture. Vote for it. Please.”