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Genre: Animation
Premise: Woody, Buzz, and the gang are stuck at Andy’s spooky grandma’s house for the night, where the toys start disappearing one by one.
About: After Toy Story 2, back when Pixar and Disney were going to break up, Disney still would’ve owned the rights to the Toy Story franchise. They went back and forth between whether to make another Toy Story feature or to send the franchise into direct-to-video purgatory. As such, they wrote several versions of Toy Story 3. I thought I’d be reading the recently talked about version of Toy Story 3, which had Buzz Lightyear being recalled to Taiwan, but this draft of the story appears to precede even that. Interestingly enough, you can see the seeds of what would eventually become some of the major sequences in the official Toy Story 3.
Writers: Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (Revisions by David Guion and Michael Handelman)
Details: 104 pages – June 8, 2005 draft


I love reading early drafts of famous movies because you can really see the writing process in action. When you’re writing your own script, searching for that perfect plot point or memorable character, it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. Only by looking at a great movie and then going back to the early drafts where it wasn’t so great, can you see the key decisions the writer’s made to make it work.

In this case, we went from Grandma’s haunted house to a pre-school prison. On the surface, this doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Both locations offer plenty of hijinx and opportunity for adventure. But later I’m going to tell you why the pre-school was a waaaaay better option, saving the Toy Story franchise from going into the toilet.

Toy Story 3, the 2005 version, starts the same way Toy Story 3 the 2010 version starts, with the toys playing in Andy’s imagination. The scene is a toned down version of the huge opening from the official film. Afterwards, the toys learn that Andy’s room is going to be redecorated, and they’ll be packed into a box and sent to Grandma’s with Andy for the night.

Once at Grandma’s, a big scary Victorian mansion, the team meet two new toys, a sniffling badly cobbled together excuse for a sock monkey named Gladiola, and Jack Challenger (otherwise known as Hee-Hee), a sock monkey who’s been on more adventures than Indiana Jones.

Hee-Hee is perfect in every way and quickly wins the toys over. But Woody has some reservations about him. He can’t put his finger on it, but he’s seen this toy before. He just can’t remember where.

As the toys come up with a plan where Hee-Hee will stay with them so that Andy accidentally takes him home with them the next day, members of the group start disappearing, starting with Woody’s horse, Bullseye. This, of course, makes Woody even more suspicious of Hee-Hee.

Rumors start flying that Andy’s room redecoration will be accompanied by a more sophisticated lifestyle, and that only two of the toys will be returning. This results in everyone pointing the finger at the notoriously jealous Woody, who they believe is offing the toys one by one so that he can be one of the two toys.

As the group heads deeper into the spooky house to find the missing toys, Woody must find a way to prove his suspicions true, that Hee-Hee is somehow behind this. But the more he digs, the more it’s starting to look like someone else is involved.


One of the first things you notice about the 2005 version of Toy Story 3 is the opening. It’s very similar to the eventual movie. The toys are on a train, heading towards a giant canyon, and it’s all happening in Andy’s imagination. The big difference is scope. This version seems neutered, not as imaginative. For example, there’s no giant spaceship that comes in at the end. It’s like the writers began the idea and then got bored with it.

Strangely enough, the ending is the same as the official Toy Story 3 ending as well. Our toys get stuck in a garbage truck and are heading to the landfill. But again, it’s a neutered version. They never get to the landfill.

I can’t stress how important of a lesson this is. Big set-pieces require imagination. They’re, in essence, their own stories, and the first versions of these stories are going to be pale imitations of the final product. Every time you come up with a set-piece, put it down, and the next time you come back to the script, look for ways to make it more imaginative. Afterwards, put it down, come back weeks later, and look for ways to make it more imaginative. If you don’t do this, you’re going to end up with the garbage truck version of the Toy Story 3 climax as opposed to the huge multi-location landfill version that was in the final film.

Now, let’s talk about why this script was scrapped in favor of the eventual pre-school storyline, cause this is a super important lesson for screenwriters as well. Put simply, the Grandma storyline doesn’t take advantage of the specific concept of Toy Story. Toy Story is about toys that come to life. Throwing those toys into a “haunted” house doesn’t take advantage of that in any specific way. In other words, you could put any characters in a haunted house and it wouldn’t be much different.

When you have an idea, you want to find a story that takes advantage of that concept in as specific of a way as possible. Putting toys in the hands of young kids is a storyline that much more specifically takes advantage of the toys-coming-to-life concept.

And this lesson isn’t relegated to the concept only. It’s something you should be thinking about with every aspect of your story. For example, a few weeks ago, I read a superhero script where the main character’s power was his ability to use fire. The big climax of the script? A shootout on the top of a building. I explained to the writer that if the main character’s big power is his use of fire, then you need to build a climax around that specific idea. Maybe he’s in an oxygen-deprived environment where he can’t use his fire. Or maybe there’s water preventing the use of fire somehow. But whatever it is, it has to be more specific to the story being told. It can’t just be a random shootout scene, no matter how cool the location is.

The 2005 version of Toy Story also violates one of the big tenants of Pixar storytelling. There’s no theme! It’s just a goofy little story about toys going to Grandma’s haunted house. There’s no bigger message – no deeper feeling when you finish reading it. The real Toy Story 3, however, is about moving on into that next phase of life, something that directly came about because the story focused on a more concept-specific idea in the pre-school.

Another thing you notice by reading this version is how forced all the motivations are. You’ll see this a lot in early drafts (or Amateur scripts, where writers don’t write enough drafts). The writers are clearly trying to come up with reasons to put their characters where they want them to be, but aren’t doing a good enough job of it.

Andy’s room is getting redecorated? That’s a pretty lame motivation to send the toys out of the house. I mean, why not just put the toys in another room? Consider the motivation for the toys leaving in the real Toy Story 3 – Andy’s leaving for college. That’s a much bigger and more realistic motivation.

Motivations are one of those annoying things that take multiple drafts to get right. If you ignore them, they’ll look like this: clearly forced writer plot points to get the characters where they want them to be. Don’t stop rewriting until all the motivations feel natural.

As much as I wanted to read the Toy Story 3 Taiwan version, this was a great reminder about the power of rewriting.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: How big does your rewrite need to be? If your execution is not taking specific advantage of your unique concept, as was the case here, you’re looking at a page 1 rewrite. If you were smart enough to make the story concept-specific, however, your rewrite should be much more manageable.

  • ThomasBrownen

    Cool article! I don’t think I have a favorite movie, or even a list of favorites (where would I begin??), but Toy Story 3 would certainly be high on any list I could come up with. It’s nice to see how the script evolved, and it’s also nice to see that the final script didn’t just magically appear. It took a lot of work to get that final script!

    And I like this line in your article: “Every time you come up with a set-piece, put it down, and the next time you come back to the script, look for ways to make it more imaginative. Afterwards, put it down, come back weeks later, and look for ways to make it more imaginative.” I’m doing this right now with a script. I wrote a cool idea, but I’ve just realized that I can make it even cooler. It’s a lot of work to keep going back and revising your writing, but if it works, it’s definitely worth it.

  • cjob3

    I love the idea of Buzz being re-called. I wish they went that way. Gotta say, I wasn’t especially impressed with the 3rd film. The toys all seemed way too needy. All these pathetic attempts to get Andy to play with them again? Get over yourselves. The kid is going to college, why does he still have a cowboy doll in his room at all? And how many years has this been going on? You figure he started in with video games around age 13. Do they want him to revert back to playschool toys? It should have started with them in a box in the attic. I also felt it was a little too self-important. The first two were zippy, light-hearted fun. Did we really need a scene where Woody and his toybox friends SLOWLY ACCEPT DEATH? Jeez, take it easy.

  • Sebastian Cornet

    Thank God for the newsletter today! More specifically, thanks for the link to the Black List scripts. I know what I’ll be reading this week.

    I have to agree with Carson on everything, but specifically the theme. I believe Toy Story 3 is the best of the saga because it’s like one of those early Nicktoons show that kids and adults could appreciate for different reasons.

    Other than death and love, there’s probably no more universal theme than finding the strength to move on and embrace change. I’m in that position right now. Just graduated from college, looking for a break in a foreign land (I’m an international student in the States; I’ve been authorized to find employment for a year).

    Now, when things seem hard, I can’t help but think, shit, I could be back home, not a worry in the world, maybe find some easy job and spend my free time watching movies, and drifting away from my dream of becoming a successful author and screenwriter. But that’s the path of comfort, and tempting as it is sometimes, I can’t let it fool me.

    There’s a world out there, and I need to conquer it.

    So yeah, never, ever underestimate theme. It can make even a grouch like me love a Pixar movie when he thought he’d grown too old for them.

  • Adam W. Parker

    Thanks for the review. It’s interesting how off base this draft was – specifically that it tries to have Woody go through the exact same accusation as the first movie (you’d think the toys would trust him a bit more).

    But I commend them for trying to mix up the whole “Prison – Escape” subplot that runs through the series with elements of horror. I’m sure it helped them arrive at the final product which has a touch of that.

    Anyone know where the other Taiwan draft is? I’d really learn a lot from it.

    I have no idea where they can go thematically for Toy Story 4. (thinks about it for 15 minutes…) nope. It’s come full circle. The story is finished. You probably would have to take it overseas and focus on production and sweatshops and slavery and rejection of ownership but idk if they want to go there.

  • klmn
  • mulesandmud

    Finding strong character motivations and plot logic is messy work; you can’t be afraid to slop it up a little before everything starts to look pretty.

    E.L. Doctorow says that writing is like driving at night in the fog. “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

    In screenwriting, where structure is so critical, we often try to see a bit further than Doctorow suggests, sort of like dotting the road ahead with street lamps. Sometimes certain spots seem completely clear, and so we chart a path through the fog: our best guess of how to get from one spot to the next. Still, the overall landscape remains pretty hazy until you actually get it down on paper.

    It’s comforting to remember that all of us, pro or not, sometimes look back on our work and realize we’ve forced characters and/or logic to bend in ways they shouldn’t, all for the sake of a plot point.

    Sometimes those contortions signal a major roadblock; you’ve taken your story somewhere it simply doesn’t want to go. Other times, there’s an interesting dramatic opportunity in that pretzel you’ve created, you just haven’t thought it through enough yet.

    Learning to tell the difference between meaningful developments and needless complications takes experience, and patience for the inevitable trial-and-error.

    Some of that plot-untangling work can be avoided by using a more character-based approach, one that privileges motivation above all things. That approach can lead to the opposite problem, though: your plot becomes so respectful of your character that it avoids placing her in moments of genuine dramatic crisis.

    Personally, I prefer to make the mess first, get it all out there, then find the answers as I clean up. It adds some time to the process, but almost always enriches the material.

    • BSBurton

      great points. good post! hope 2015 is treating you well!~

    • Kirk Diggler

      ‘In screenwriting, where structure is so critical, we often try to see a bit further than Doctorow suggests, sort of like dotting the road ahead with street lamps.’

      I love this analogy. Having participated at some script peer-review sites, I often see comments like, “I’m not a slave to structure” or some admission that they’re not even sure what it is but “I think it was good” or just pretend it doesn’t exist altogether.

      I always laugh at those people, because writing a screenplay without knowledge of structure and how closely it ties to the effectiveness of your story is the surest way to drive your script off a bridge into the abyss.

      And the thing about structure, you notice it more when it’s NOT there.

    • Paul Clarke

      “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – You could make the argument that this is not only true of writing stories but also life in general.

      Learning to tell the difference between meaningful developments and needless complications takes experience, and patience for the inevitable trial-and-error.

      – Wise words indeed.

      I nominate this for comment of the week, keep it up Mules.

  • ThomasBrownen

    Another thought: Somebody deserves an award for coming up with the phrase “To infinity and beyond!” Seriously. That phrase has immediate cultural recognition with the movies, and it does a great job in summarizing up the confidence Buzz had at the start of the first movie.

    But why is it so catchy? Because it sounds fun to shout? It’s quick and short? It’s logically impossible, though. Do we repeat it trying to make sense of it? Or is its incoherence part of its appeal? “I’m so cool/powerful/self-deterministic/creative that I can confidently shout out inconsistencies”?

    • Malibo Jackk

      Nobody goes there anymore.
      It’s too crowded.
      — Yogi Berra

  • Pooh Bear

    OT: Scriptshadow 250 vs Amateur Friday

    Which is a better opportunity?

    SS250: Carson himself will have to sift through the best pitches. According to him, that’s upwards of 3000 entries. Is it better to submit early or later? You have to be on your A game when you send your pitch and logline vs AF, well there’s some speculation with AF. Will Carson judge more critically at the beginning of the submission process or towards the end? Once he passes on your entry and finds that the level of entries aren’t as high a caliber, will he revisit pitches? The barriers to entry seem a little steeper here. Basically you have an 8% chance of being read and then 0.3% chance of placing in the top 10. I’m sure he’ll have more details.

    AF: You have to be just good enough within that pool of other writers (not sure how big or how old the entries are) to be showcased in the weekend Amateur Offerings. I assume, he only looks at the last two or three weeks of AF submissions. After that it’s 5 or 6 writers and you just need a majority vote (for the most part) to win the coveted spot. Plus you can submit again and again. The end result is a review and a ton of feedback from the SS community. An almost priceless prize in itself. Furthermore, if you happen to get a good review/rating then you get some highly coveted industry exposure. I don’t believe the barriers to entry are as difficult as SS250. Frequency is once a week. I’m not able to compute percentages but it seems like a higher percentage than SS250.

    So which is the better opportunity? Say I have a script, should I just submit it to AF? Or is it better to submit for SS250? Or can I do both? Will one affect the other?

    • klmn

      I wonder if AF will even continue? C has committed to reading 250 scripts. With the time it takes to choose the entries, he’s going to be pretty busy.

  • ripleyy

    Even more inspiring to know the writers at Pixar struggle to find the perfect story. Even the professionals find it difficult.

  • carsonreeves1

    I reviewed it in a previous newsletter. And yes, it is a total and utter mess.

  • Matthew Garry

    Best part:

    The moon is not actually made out of cheese; it’s made out of drugs.

    Also best part (spoiler):

    The android who killed the victim was by remote forced to do it (so in a way he’s innocent), then proceeds to kills a random space trucker for no reason by pulling out a gun, opening a door of the cabin and holding the trucker’s head *outside in the vacuum* (never mind that the android just entered the cabin seconds ago through another door).

  • ScriptChick

    There was a recent Toy Story Halloween special that involved the characters disappearing one by one. Wonder if the culprit was similar and they just borrowed heavily from this draft. But that might also explain why it was a made for TV mini movie.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Might tend to suggest that at the center of every studio’s target
    is a great concept.
    (Not sure where that came from
    but BTW, love Carson’s ‘What I learned’ — from the newsletter.)

  • Poe_Serling

    Per Carson:

    now it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. What the HELL is The
    Scriptshadow 250??? Well, my friends, The Scriptshadow 250 is an
    opportunity for one of you (or hopefully a few of you) to make that leap
    from obscure screenwriter to working screenwriter. The Scriptshadow
    250 is a contest. And because I value all of you and the immense
    loyalty you’ve shown the site through thick and thin, I’m making this
    contest 100%, absolutely, unequivocally FREE.

    a catch though (isn’t there always?). The Scriptshadow 250 is not a
    contest where everyone gets in. You have to be accepted. In fact, as
    you’re probably figuring out right about now, I’m only allowing in 250
    scripts. Why, you ask, am I only allowing 250 scripts? The answer is
    simple. I plan to read all the screenplays myself (there will be no
    other readers), and 250 scripts is the maximum number of screenplays I
    can read for the contest.

    as is the tradition with Scriptshadow, you’ll be sending me your genre,
    title, logline, and a WHY YOU SHOULD READ. Think of this “Why You
    Should Read” as your pitch. You can pitch any way you like. You can
    send a written pitch, a video pitch, a bunch of artwork – whatever you
    think will get you in. I’m expecting between 2000-3000 submissions
    (maybe more), so you’ll have to bring it.

    we get closer to the beginning of the contest, I’ll give you the
    details (rules, the prize), but for right now, I’ll just say that you
    can start sending your scripts January 1st, 2015, and that the deadline
    will be May 1st, 2015. So don’t send me your scripts today. They’ll
    just get lost. And don’t tell anyone else about The Scriptshadow 250.
    You’ll want the time between now and when I announce it on the site to
    get some distance between you and the competition. Until then, START

  • Jonathan Soens

    I know I’ve heard stories about the drafts the novel version of “Jurassic Park” went through before it even made the jump from book to film. If I remember right, people sort of hated the early drafts of the book. I forget exactly what Crichton changed that made people like it. I want to say it had something to do with the kid characters.

    It’s odd there would have been a screenplay draft that started out with the amber stuff as the intro. If I remember right, even the novel’s early focus was on people being accidentally being injured by dinosaurs. A girl on a nearby beach had been bitten, and I think a construction worker from the actual island was flown in to a nearby hospital with stories about how he’d had an accident with a piece of landscaping machinery or something (but his wounds were more consistent with having been mauled by an animal).

  • Spencer

    I was actually interested In the buzz tiwan adventure although it would sort of being a semi-rehash of Toy Story 2 the last act (airport) and such. I always liked the plot and wanted to see where it goes. This seem story seem like a test run for: The Toy Story of Terror short!

    If you can please do a review on that story or someone post a download link for that script, buzz tiwan.

    Thank you.

    PS: consider taking a movie and going though all known draft showing what was good that was kept out and what wasn’t as well as how a script draft by draft grows into a film as we know it.

  • fragglewriter

    Ditto. Wished I would of jotted down the small details in my outline to avoid the page 1 rewrite. But it’s better to find out now, then after I type Fade Out.