One of the true highlights of “Toy Story 2” was the introduction of Barbie, perhaps the most famous and popular doll of all time. In Disney/Pixar’s new sequel “Toy Story 3,” Barbie takes on an even greater role and meets the man of her dreams when she encounters Ken. Like all great screen romances, this relationship has its share of challenges, but this one takes on some particularly fascinating twists and turns.
According to director Lee Unkrich, “The idea of putting Ken in the film just felt rife with comic potential. Ken is a guy who is ostensibly a girl’s toy, and he’s also really nothing more than an accessory for Barbie. He is no more important than a pair of shoes or a purse. We figured he had to be pretty insecure about those things, and tried to tap into that as much as possible. He’s really into clothes, being the ultimate fashion maven. He wears a different outfit in every scene in the movie. We thought it would be a nice touch to dress Ken only in real outfits that actually existed, so we consulted with a guy who is the world’s preeminent Ken expert.”
“It’s impossible not to have fun with Ken and to take him as far as you can,” says story supervisor Jason Katz. “He’s this wonderfully insecure kind of guy. We’ve played him as a mid-eighties California beach guy who’s very handsome but incredibly shallow and awkward. And I think Michael Keaton has a way of playing that which is so awesome.”
Supervising animator Bobby Podesta adds: “What’s nice about working with Barbie and Ken is that the audience knows a lot about these toys already and there’s a certain amount of embedded information that they bring to the theater with them that we can play with or against. You don’t need to establish that Barbie might have certain doll-like attributes. The audience knows this. They know the way that Barbie’s legs bend. When she cries, her hands cover her face in this awkward pose that might look weird, but it’s exactly what a Barbie doll would do. And that makes it funny. It’s the same thing when Ken is showing Barbie his Dream House and gestures with his fused fingers.”
Animator Jaime Landes drew on her memories of playing with Barbie for her scenes with the legendary doll. “I was able to revert to my childhood and had a lot of fun getting to play with her again,” she says. “She is still a popular toy with today’s generation. Compared to ‘Toy Story 2,’ Barbie’s role is a lot different here. She has a broader range, which made the assignment more challenging.”
Actor Michael Keaton, whose memorable screen performances range from “Batman” to “Beetlejuice,” provides the speaking voice for the scene-stealing Ken. “Ken is a fantastic character,” says Keaton. “I really love this guy. He’s not just an accessory or a girl’s toy, even though everyone tries to make him feel that he is. He does have a lot of outfits, however. And he’s crazy about Barbie. This is clearly a case of love at first sight.
“The great thing about ‘Toy Story 3’ is that it’s so emotional and touching, but it also has tons of adventure,” Keaton continues. “When I was watching the film, I was actually worried about whether they were going to make it or not. You really get caught up in the story. You’re connected with the story because the themes are universal. The pace is always right. It’s just a perfect alchemy. And there are also so many visual aspects that just knocked me out.
“Ken is a really passionate and emotional guy and he digs that Barbie is such a formidable woman,” adds Keaton. “He didn’t expect that. Ken probably had the image of Barbie being very demure. The character is a little larger than life, but still basically me.”
Jodi Benson, the popular Broadway performer and voice-acting star who made her animated debut as the title character in Disney’s 1989 landmark animated feature “The Little Mermaid,” returns to voice Barbie, reprising the role she created for “Toy Story 2.” “I find Barbie to be an incredibly entertaining character and I feel even more comfortable in her plastic and perfect skin this time around,” says Benson. “I love that she is a more fully developed character in this film. Working closely with Lee [Unkrich], I tried to make her as real and believable as possible. There’s this perception that Barbie is not too bright, and we wanted to show that she actually is quite smart and is able to use all of her gifts and talents to do the right thing. She loves people, is a loyal friend for life and is completely trustworthy. And you sure don’t want to mess with her when it comes to her friends. She does tend to be a bit on the perky side and is very full of energy. She’s also very passionate about fashion!”
Opening across the Philippines on Thursday, June 17 in IMAX 3D, Digital 3D and regular format, “Toy Story 3” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International.