Pixar: The Holy Grail of Voice Acting

A while ago I saw an opportunity to buy tickets for a fundraiser at which Pixar would screen Toy Story 3 before it came out in theaters. Alas, tickets were $250… each. Quite a bit out of my price range. But man, I really wanted to go! A chance to go to Pixar and see the movie before it was released in theaters? Who wouldn’t want that? I know, I’m just saying the same thing as any other fan of Pixar’s movies but it’s more than fanlove for me. (Did I just make up a word there? Fanlove? Oh well.)

For me, Pixar is like the holy grail of voice acting. Pixar is already the entire package: great vision, great story telling, great staff, great execution. But there is another, indefinable, element to what they do. They manage to find exactly the right voice (actor) to portray their characters. As an audience, we connect so strongly with these animated figures that aren’t alive, and yet, in our minds, in our hearts, we care for them very much. I’ve yet to watch a Pixar film and think, oh, that’s (insert celebrity name here) doing the voice. Instead, Tom Hanks’ voice, distinct as is, doesn’t belong to Tom Hanks when he’s voicing Woody. I just hear Woody’s voice. It’s a credit to Tom Hanks’ ability as an actor, and it’s a credit to Pixar for bringing Tom Hanks’ voice to life in another character’s body. I really admire the work Pixar does. Their films move me, inspire me, and touch me.

For all of those reasons, I want to voice act in a Pixar film. This is a daunting goal since Pixar almost exclusively hires known celebrities or their own staff. That’s okay though. I’m not afraid of a little challenge and I’m up to the work. I will work my ass (vocal chords?) off. I will be in a Pixar film someday. Take note Lee Unkrich, John Lasseter, and Darla K. Anderson. In the not so distant future, we’ll be colleagues.

But I’m getting off track. I couldn’t afford tickets for the fundraiser, I didn’t go, and I regretted it. Then, about two weeks ago, I saw another opportunity to buy tickets to a screening of Toy Story 3 at Pixar and this time, I could afford the tickets! I quickly purchased my tickets and then buzzed (get it? buzzed?) with anticipation until the night rolled around. Folks, that night was tonight. I’m not posting this until the movie has been released so you’ll be reading this a week from now, but I had to write this now while it’s all fresh in my mind.

I was nervous. First, I didn’t know what to wear. My ticket benefited the San Francisco Film Society so it was kind of a fundraiser… should I dress up?  But Toy Story 3 is a family film, there were probably going to be kids there… should I dress down? I settled for something just slightly dressier than business casual. (By the way, boys? this is where you have it easy. You can get away with a button-down shirt over jeans and fit in practically anywhere. I hate you for that.) Then I was late getting out the door and I was worried about traffic.  At least I was going in the opposite direction of everyone else, but still, Bay Area traffic on a Friday late afternoon is never swift.  Then I had to stress about directions because Google Maps and I decided to have a spat and we weren’t communicating as clearly as we could have been. You know how when you want something so badly you try to tell yourself that you don’t really want it so that if you don’t get it it doesn’t hurt too bad? Well yeah, I kept telling myself that even if I managed to find the place and get there on time and even though I had a printed copy of my ticket confirmation that something was going to go wrong and I was going to get to the security gate and they were gonna tell me, “Sorry miss, you’re not on our list this evening. We can’t let you in.”

I turned right and found myself staring at the beautiful studio gate that marks the front boundary of the property. I gasped. I don’t think I’d realized until that moment how much I wanted to be inside that gate. We drove up and security asked our names. They confirmed our place on the list and waved us through. Oh my gosh! We found a parking space immediately and I tweeted, “I’m here!” We walked up to the front entrance and to our left was a beautiful outdoor amphitheatre. Then, a courtyard featuring Luxo, Jr. and the Luxo Ball! They’re huuuuuuuge and add to the ethereal nature of entering this iconic studio. After signing our confidentiality form and getting our theatre tickets, I was finally able to take in my surroundings. I was inside the Pixar building. I was in the large open space of which, ’til now, I’d only seen pictures. Look! there’s the catwalk! Look! there’s the employee Pixar store! Over there! the giant LEGO® Woody and Buzz statues! I found myself giving my husband an impromptu tour of the places I’d read about: here’s the cereal bar, here’s Cafe Luxo, check out the bathroom plaques with Woody and Bo Peep.

We walked around and snapped pictures, snapped a few pics of other couples who wanted to be in their picture together and generally just took it all in. (To view my pictures, visit my Facebook Fan Page.) It seemed like barely any time passed before it was time to find a seat in the theatre. But then, wow, what a treat! After a brief introduction from the film’s producer Darla K. Anderson, they dimmed the lights. When they dimmed the lights, the ceiling revealed a starry nightscape. I found myself looking for constellations in the sky. I thought I saw Orion when– what was that? A shooting star? Yes! There’s another one! Well, now you’re just showing off, Pixar.

I heard some buzz about the short preceding the film, Day & Night. As a rule, I don’t like to hear any buzz before I see a film ’cause it never seems to live up to the hype! When I heard people talking about how great Day & Night was, I just thought, how great can it be? Where else can Pixar really go? Well, lemme tell ya, they went there!! I feel like they took animation story telling and turned it on its ear!! I think my jaw was open through the entire 6 minutes and I’m sure my face held the wonder of a child. I was transported and it ended way too soon. Then, Toy Story 3. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. I’m no movie reviewer and you won’t need me to tell you that it’s great (which it is). And I don’t want to spoil your experience. I will say this: it’s rare that I enjoy a movie sequel (frowning at you Matrix 2 & 3) but Pixar surprised me with Toy Story 2 and they didn’t disappoint with Toy Story 3. See it knowing as little as possible and let yourself be carried away into this wonderful world where toys are looking after us and loving us as much as we love them.

After the film ended, Producer Darla K. Anderson returned to hold a brief Q & A.  She took questions from both adults and children and in most cases, the kids’ questions were more insightful and entertaining than the adults’. (How do they do that?) A couple faves: 1) why is there hot lava in the movie?, and 2) why did you make Lotso pink? Too cute.

At the end of the night, I was loathe to leave. For just a few hours, I felt like I was part of the Pixar family. Well, a close neighbor anyway. I really want to be part of this family. I’m going to work hard to become so. They create magic. They have brought the art of storytelling to a new level, not just visually, but musically and vocally and with their sound design and so much more. There is so much heart in what they do. I’m going to put that much heart into my voice acting. Can you imagine where that will take me? Maybe home… to Pixar.

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2 Responses to Pixar: The Holy Grail of Voice Acting

  1. Deasy says:

    Wow, I have to say I’m am quite jealous of your opportunity! To be inside Pixar Studio and be able to watch the movie before annyyyone else is hair-raising. But to touch on your point regarding the voices, I agree. Whenever Jessie speaks, I never picture Joan Cusack’s face, along with the other actor’s face.

    ….anyway, did I mention how jealous I am yet?

  2. Josh says:

    Good stuff cia! glad you made it out there! pretty awesome right?! well I’m going to try and go see the film this weekend, give you my review later! 😉

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