Will ‘Toy’ ploy pique Pixar?

Disney development on sequel a risky gambit

Disney loves me. Disney loves me not.

That’s the message the CG animation gurus at Pixar are getting these days as the Mouse House continues work on “Toy Story 3” and is even discussing the possibility of “Toy Story 4” at the same time CEO-designate Robert Iger is keeping the door open to renewing the companies’ lucrative partnership.

Disney is well into development on “Toy Story 3” and has tapped “Meet the Fockers” scribe Jim Herzfeld to do a rewrite. Studio’s also in negotiations with Bradley Raymond, who directed the direct-to-video hit “Lion King 1½,” to make the pic his theatrical debut.

There has even been talk, insiders say, about a second Pixar-less sequel, which Disney has rights to do under its pact with the toon house.

But in his first talk to the public after being named CEO once Michael Eisner retires, prexy Iger said March 14 that he hoped to “to open a dialogue with Pixar about a continued relationship.”

How to reconcile the mixed messages?

Part of it is unhappy accident; Disney’s “Toy Story 3” plans were well under way before Iger’s latest overtures began.

Pixar has always known, too, of Disney’s need to keep Pixar characters alive in movies in order to drive theme parks and merchandising.

But ultimately, Disney may be hoping it will be most attractive to Pixar by proving it can survive and even thrive without Steve Jobs and Co.

It’s a risky gambit. Jobs has already said he “feels sick” at the prospect of Disney making sequels to Pixar pics. The more Disney works on them, the more averse he may become to putting differences aside.

And the solo gambit could come back to bite the Mouse House if a “Toy Story 3” sans Pixar fails. Critics will surely all reach the same conclusion: Disney can’t do what Pixar does.

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