Happy Accidents #036 - Toy Story

A serendipitous partnership leads to a box office success!

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Produced on a total budget of $720 million, the Toy Story films have grossed more than $3.3 billion worldwide, becoming the 20th highest-grossing film franchise across the globe.

And it was a twist of serendipity that led to this incredible success.

This week we're diving into the captivating tale of how the enchanting partnership between Pixar and Disney led to this iconic creation.

Let's dig in, shall we?


This is the part of every Happy Accident story where we see every successful outcome starts with the person putting themselves in a favorable position. They work hard, they try new things, they meet new people. They're not just sitting around 'hoping' to be successful some day.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pixar was primarily known as a computer hardware company with a focus on creating advanced computer graphics.

Steve Jobs had purchased the company from Lucasfilm and had been investing heavily in its research and development. However, Pixar had not yet found a way to turn a profit from its animation efforts.

During this time, Disney was facing its own challenges.

The company's animation department, which had been responsible for numerous classics, was experiencing a decline in both critical and commercial success. Disney executives were actively seeking ways to revive their animation division.

Little did they know it yet, but the work that both companies had been putting in would eventually lead to an unexpected payoff…


This is the part of every success story where there's a chance encounter, a serendipitous moment, an unintentional discovery (or Happy Accident) that paves the way for the next steps. In some cases, a Happy Accident can even be disguised as something bad in the moment.

The serendipity began when Pixar, led by John Lasseter, had been developing short films and experimenting with computer-generated animation.

One of their shorts, "Tin Toy," won an Academy Award in 1989 for Best Animated Short Film. The success of this short caught the attention of Disney's then-CEO, Michael Eisner.

Eisner saw the potential in computer-generated animation and believed it could be the innovation that Disney's animation division needed. He reached out to Pixar with the idea of co-producing a full-length computer-animated feature film.

Pixar was initially hesitant due to its lack of experience in creating feature-length films, but the prospect of an unexpected partnership with Disney was enticing.

While negotiations were ongoing, there was an unforeseen hiccup: Pixar's contract with Disney initially only covered the production of one film.

However, Disney wanted the rights to any potential sequels, which Pixar was not willing to agree to at the time. This disagreement led to a period of uncertainty and tension between the two companies.

Pixar's financial situation was precarious at the time due to their lack of commercial success. They were in need of funding to continue their operations.

Jobs and his team decided to negotiate a new deal with Disney that would provide additional financial support and creative control to Pixar. This new deal paved the way for the movie "Toy Story" to become a reality.


Just like Happy Accidents don't just fall into your lap (you need to set the stage first), they also don't turn into anything if you don't recognize them and take action. This is the part of every success story where we see people capitalizing on their Happy Accident.

"Toy Story," released in 1995, was the first fully computer-animated feature film and a massive success both critically and commercially.

It not only established Pixar as a major player in the animation industry but also reinvigorated Disney's animation legacy.

The film's success led to a long-lasting partnership between Pixar and Disney, resulting in a string of successful animated films like "Finding Nemo," "Up," and "Frozen."

The serendipitous alignment of Pixar's technological innovations, Disney's need for a comeback in animation, and the negotiation challenges that pushed both companies to collaborate more closely all played a crucial role in shaping the course of animation history and solidifying the success of both Pixar and Disney.


In essence, "Toy Story" happened by chance when Pixar's computer animation skills met Disney's need to make better animated movies.

They worked together despite some challenges, and this led to the first movie made entirely through computer animation.

The massive success of “Toy Story” changed both companies and how animated films have been made ever since.

Some fun facts:

  • Upon its release, "Toy Story" was a massive box office success, earning over $373 million worldwide. It set the stage for Pixar's dominance in animation.

  • The film received widespread critical acclaim, with an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was praised for its storytelling, humor, and groundbreaking animation.

  • "Toy Story" was not only nominated for 3 Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, but also received a Special Achievement Award for its innovative use of technology.

  • "Toy Story" marked John Lasseter's directorial debut in feature films. Lasseter's vision and leadership helped shape the film's creative direction.

The lessons here:

  1. Serendipity Shapes Success: Unexpected twists can lead to the most remarkable partnerships and creations. Embrace the unknown!

  2. Collaboration Creates Magic: When two forces combine, the results can be breathtaking. Pixar and Disney prove that teamwork makes the dream work!

  3. Innovation Ignites Revival: Technological advancements can breathe new life into traditional industries, sparking unimaginable success stories.

YOUR Happy Accidents

Check out this post on LinkedIn from Dave Won about how a hobby turned into a passion, which unintentionally turned into his full-time business.

Got your own Happy Accident story to share? Reply to this email and let me know about it. You just might end up in a future edition of the newsletter!

Hey, Dennis Geelen here. Author of the Happy Accidents newsletter.

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