Somewhere in the Bay Area, not far from the Pixar Animation Studios campus in Emeryville, California, sits a new facility that recently opened with virtually no fanfare. The lack of a big announcement is by design, as the unassuming building is the new, officially secret location for the Pixar Animation Archives — a sprawling, climate-controlled facility designed to withstand natural disasters and to protect the legacy of the legendary animation powerhouse.
Much like The Walt Disney Archives in Burbank, the Pixar Archives has everything. Despite the studio’s digital cinematic output, there’s a surprising amount of physical artifacts from every project that Pixar has worked on, including shorts, features, and commercial projects. What’s even more surprising is how so much of it, somehow, winds up getting tied together over the course of several decades, and how a lot of the Pixar story is a toy story.
In 1988, Tin Toy became Pixar’s first foray into bringing toys to life on screen (not counting Luxo Ball, of course), with a one-man-band toy soldier called Tinny at the center of the action. Facing off against a seemingly gigantic baby, Tinny takes refuge under a couch, discovering a crew of toys that are strikingly similar to the now-familiar playroom inhabitants of the Toy Story franchise. In fact, it was a planned 30-minute holiday sequel to Tin Toy that caused Pixar to change course into features, evolving into the first Toy Story (1995).
A few years before audiences first became acquainted with Buzz and Woody on the big screen, and nearly 30 years before filmmaker Josh Cooley and the team behind Toy Story 4 would painstakingly stock an antique store with more than 10,000 individually-created, nearly photo-realistic items, the Pixar team was stocking the first-ever digital version of “The World’s Biggest Toy Store.”
During a recent tour of the Pixar Archives, lead archivist Juliet Roth showed off a few special display cases containing some important artifacts, along with some oddities — such as a half-finished maquette of the 1980s-era Geoffrey the Giraffe, located directly beneath a fabric depiction of Tinny.
In 1991, Toy Story co-writer Andrew Stanton, directed “Grand Opening,” a commercial designed to promote local store openings for Toys “R” Us. It’s an oft-forgotten piece of toy retailing history that can also be considered as another demo reel that paved the way for the Toy Story franchise to follow. Led by a Tinny-esque toy soldier, many background players from Tin Toy stocked the shelves of the digital toy store, right alongside some other classics that would later appear in Andy’s room.
While Toys “R” Us may have wound down here in the U.S. (the company is going strong in Canada and other parts of the world), that little toy soldier is still wound up and ready for a new adventure this summer.
Following a cameo appearance on a television screen in Toy Story 2, Tinny appears in Toy Story 4, officially coming face to face with Woody and Bo Peep as they seek out Canadian stunt cyclist Duke Caboom at a raging party inside of a vintage pinball machine.
Audiences will have to wait until June 21 to see just how big a role Tinny has, but after 31 years, he’s finally become an actual toy for the very first time. While the character did appear as a Comic-Con exclusive vinyl figurine from MINDstyle a few years back (now a sought-after collectible), Tinny makes his debut as part of Mattel‘s Toy Story 4 collection as both a 7-inch scale action figure, and as an exclusive Mini in the Ultimate New Friends Collection 10-pack.
As with every Pixar film, Toy Story 4 is bound to be loaded with Easter eggs that viewers should be on the hunt for. The film is known to be inspired by real life toy history, and as the franchise has already shown, Toy Story continues to inspire beyond the screen and into the toy aisles itself.
For a deeper look behind-the-scenes of Disney•Pixar’s Toy Story 4 — including the incredible technological advances — check out the next issue of our sister publication, The Pop Insider, available in June.