10 reasons why Toy Story 4 is so Jewish!
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10 reasons why Toy Story 4 is so Jewish!

From Mr Potato Head and Barbie to award-winning directors and memorable songs, we explore the Oy factor in Disney Pixar's latest smash hit

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

1. Spuds you like!

Toy Story just wouldn’t be the same without our perennial favourite, Mr Potato Head – and for the first three films, the character was voiced by the late American-Jewish comedian Don Rickles. When he passed away in 2017, aged 90, there was much anticipation as to who would voice the character until director Josh Cooley confirmed it would in fact be Rickles, by request and permission from his family.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Cooley explained: “He signed to be in Toy Story 4. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to record him for the film. But we went through 25 years of everything we didn’t use for Toy Story 1, 2, 3, the theme parks, the ice capades, the video games — everything that he’s recorded for Mr Potato Head. And we were able to do that. And so I’m very honoured [his family] asked us to do that, and I’m very honoured that he’s in the film. Nobody can replace him.”

The character’s much-beloved other half, Mrs Potato Head, is voiced by American-Jewish actress Estelle Harris.

2. Potato punim!

Staying with the Mr Potato Head theme, the toy was actually invented by George Lerner, son of Jewish immigrants from Romania, who came up with the concept of pinning different facial features onto real fruit and vegetables. In 1952, three Jewish siblings, the Hassenfeld brothers, took up the idea and released the very first Mr Potato Head, with a fully plastic version made in the 1960s after parents complained about their children playing with rotting vegetables! As for their company, the name was changed to Hasbro and it became one of the biggest toy companies in the world.

Mr Potato Head was voiced by the late Jewish comedian Don Rickles

3. Tribal support

A host of Jewish actors have lent their voices to the latest Toy Story film, including Jeff Garlin, who returns as Buttercup, a stuffed white unicorn with a gruff voice and sarcastic personality and Patricia Arquette, who takes up the role of Harmony’s Mum. Look out also for comedians Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner who lend their talents as the not-so-inconspicuously named Melephant Brooks and Carl Reineroceros.

4. You’ve Got A Friend In Me!

Toy Story just wouldn’t be the same without the musical talents of Randy Newman and his lovable song, You’ve Got A Friend In Me, which features throughout the franchise.  Newman has scored nine Disney-Pixar animated films, which also include A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Cars, The Princess and the Frog and James and the Giant Peach. He has received two Oscars, including one for Toy Story 3’s We Belong Together, as well as 20 Academy Award nominations, three Emmys and seven Grammys.

5. Write stuff!

Rashida Jones – one of eight writers credited on Toy Story 4 – is the daughter of American-Jewish actress Peggy Lipton and musician Quincy Jones. Having grown up in a mixed race family, Jones identifies as Jewish and said in a recent interview: “In this day and age, you can choose how you practice and what is your relationship with God. I feel pretty strongly about my connection, definitely through the Jewish traditions and the things that I learned dating the guy that I dated. My boyfriends tend to be Jewish and also be practicing … I don’t see it as a necessity, but there’s something about it that I connect with for whatever reason.” She was formerly engaged to music producer Mark Ronson and last year gave birth to a son with musician Ezra Koenig.

6. Raaar talent!

American-Jewish actor Wallace Shawn lends his vocal skills as Rex, a cowardly dinosaur who is anything but ferocious. Away from the Toy Story franchise, he’s best known for playing Dr John Sturgis on Young Sheldon, as well as Grand Nagus Zek in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Cyrus Rose in Gossip Girl.

Wallace Shawn, known for roles in Young Sheldon, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Gossip Girl, voices Rex

7. All dolled up!

Here’s some Toy Story trivia: Barbie – who was invented by American-Jewish entrepreneur Ruth Handler and named after her real-life daughter – was meant to appear in the original Toy Story as Woody’s girlfriend, but Mattel refused permission to use the iconic doll, thinking that the first ever computer-animated film would not be successful. Bo Peep was instead chosen as Woody’s love interest. After seeing the massive success of Toy Story, Mattel allowed Barbie to appear in the sequels, with Ken appearing in Toy Story 3.

8. Ken you believe it?

Speaking of which, Barbie’s hunky other half was invented by Ruth Handler’s husband, Elliot, who named him after the couple’s real-life son, Kenneth. Since his debut in 1961, Ken has held at least 40 different occupations. Handler and his wife, who co-founded Mattel, developed some of the biggest-selling toys in history alongside Barbie, including Chatty Cathy, Creepy Crawlers and Hot Wheels.

9. Reach for the stars!

Tom Hanks is the well-known voice of Woody, but it could’ve been all so different: legendary American-Jewish actor Paul Newman was actually considered, but later accepted a different Pixar role, as Doc Hudson in Cars. Meanwhile, comedian Billy Crystal was approached to play Buzz, but he turned it down in favour of Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc.

Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack return as the voices of Woody, Buzz and Jessie, with comedian Tony Hale as Forky in Toy Story 4

10. Success Story!

Lee Unkrich started out as an editor on the first Toy Story, became co-director on Toy Story 2 and then made his solo directorial debut on Toy Story 3 – winning an Oscar on the way. He then went on to direct another award-winning film for Pixar, Coco, before parting ways with the company after 25 years to spend more time with his three children.

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