Toy Story 3 Plays it Safe (Post 3 of 3)


What I’m saying, therefore, is that while this trailer is unrepresentative of the film in tone and gravity and plot, underselling the film in each of those areas is an understandably prudent choice.   A recent work of market research[1], focusing on audience reaction to Sequels, in terms of expectation and satisfaction, as well as in historical box-office metrics, arrives at the somewhat unexpected conclusion that film audiences, in the market for an experience, prefer films of a series to present significant (even generic) differences from each other.  As the highest grossing and most favorably reviewed (which is saying a lot) of the three, TS3 seems to have understood this lesson, raising the stakes still higher,  and escalating the emotional response from excitement to terror, from tears of laughter to gasps of horror.

(Official Trailer for Toy Story #2)

The trailer, however, knows that its job is to activate audience demand for more of what they love (characters, animation, heart, humor) about the series, while indicating that a new (but similar) set of mishaps will involve our brave, resourceful—and very lucky—toys.  Like the Trailer for TS2, this trailer is comic and lighthearted, glancing obliquely at disaster to provide the soupcon of thrill.

(Official Trailer for Toy Story #1)

Interestingly, in the first Toy Story, the trailer makers presented the case for a thrilling adventure, in which Woody is menaced by a “toy torturer” and rescued from a vicious, toy-destroying dog. It’s the story they had to work with and they were unconstrained by the burden of their subsequent and spectacular success, to play it safe.

In terms of edit decisions and visual presentation, the shot selections consistently emphasize centered, individual characters, whether human or toy, as they speak, look or contemplate.


As for composition,  in the TS3 trailer, shots of two characters are staged on the diagonal, with one forward, the other to the rear; Group shots emphasize the circle.   It is only in the last two “movements” that day gives way to a nighttime setting. Buzz’s Spanish language “reset” and the drama of his attempted escape assume a nourish aspect, that stands in contrast with the natural sunlight that permeates the opening scenes of the trailer.


The pace is predominantly laconic and leisurely, with quickened montages used for the attack of the pre-school children and Buzz’s failed escape plan.  In the first minute only 28 cuts are made, for a relatively sedate 2+ seconds per shot.  In the remaining 1:19, the pace quickens, both because there is more story to tell and two action set-pieces to present.   47 (give or take a couple) cuts are needed, or 1 ½ shot per second, on average.  For a two minute plus trailer advertising an action adventure, this is hardly a frenetic pace, but it is a representative one, since this series of films makes room for jokes to play out as well as poignant moments of reflection and pathos.  While kinetic action is certainly one ingredient, story is more important, and in that particular, at least this trailer is accurate.

[1] Brand Extensions of Experiential Goods: Movie Sequel Evaluations. Sanjay Sood &
Xavier Drèze, Journal of Consumer Research, 2006.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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