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Toy Story 3 – Michael Keaton and Jodi Benson on their admiration for Pixar

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Toy Story 3 - Michael Keaton and Jodi Benson
Toy Story 3 - Iconic swinging bachelor Ken (voice of Michael Keaton) is smitten when he spots Barbie (voice of Jodi Benson) amongst the “Toy Story” gang © Disney/Pixar

In Toy Story 3, Barbie finally meets the love of her life – Ken, when she and the other toys find themselves, through an unfortunate accident, dumped at Sunnydale Daycare. Ken has a dream house and he loves clothes maybe even more than she does; what more could she ask for?

Jodi Benson, who played Barbie in Toy Story 2, voices the iconic doll again, and taking on the role of the insecure and conceited Ken, is Michael Keaton.

At the press conference for the film, they both spoke of their admiration for Pixar Animation and the movie, which opens this Friday.

What’s your opinion on Ken?

Michael Keaton: He’s a fantastic character. I love this guy. He’s emotional. He’s crazy about Barbie; it’s love at first sight. He’s not just an accessory or a girl’s toy, even though everyone tries to make him feel that he is. And he’s got a lot of outfits – a lot of outfits!

Ken is a really passionate and emotional guy and he digs that Barbie is such a formidable woman. 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.

You voiced Barbie in Toy Story 2, what is it about her that you enjoy?

Toy Story 3 - Barbie, Ken, Mrs Potato Head, Mr Potato Head, Aliens, Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog and Buzz Lightyear
Barbie, Ken, Mrs Potato Head, Mr Potato Head, Aliens, Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog and Buzz Lightyear © Disney/Pixar

Jodi Benson: I find Barbie to be an incredibly entertaining character and I feel even more comfortable in her plastic and perfect skin this time around. I love that she is a more fully developed character in this film. Working closely with Lee (Unkrich, the movie’s director) 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.

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.

I grew up with Barbie, and had a lot of the accessories like the traveling case that held the doll and her clothes. On Toy Story 2 John Lasseter and I had a box of Babies at the recording stage, and we actually played with them to help get us in the spirit. For this film, Lee told me the whole story and acted out all the parts. At the sessions, he read the part of Ken and was a great actor.

Is it freeing to just use your voice or was it hard on you?

Toy Story 3 - Ken is voiced by Michael Keaton
Iconic swinging bachelor Ken (voice of Michael Keaton) is ready for a safari! © Disney/Pixar

Michael Keaton: It is somewhat of a challenge. It was hard, it was difficult. John Lasseter in the first movie (Cars) was actually in the booth with me at times, and he had to bring me up to speed with how this was done. It wasn’t easy for me the first time. This was easier.

Do you consider this a voice over job or an acting job?

Jodi Benson: I don’t really look at it as a voice over job; I look at it as a character job. And for me it’s very physical, kind of working up a sweat, making a fool of yourself behind the glass; it is a very physical acting it out, as if I were on stage. That’s how I play with the character. I never really think about it just being the voice.

But it is tricky when they are pushing the button saying, ‘We’re getting it, but we need more.’ That’s when you realize that you’ve got to just fine tune it into the voice and get rid of the body. On Toy Story 2 I tied my arms down because I just wanted to get that whole feeling of what (just using my voice) was like, so I locked my elbows in.

Michael Keaton: One of those bondage Barbies!

Jodi Benson: Stop! I think Pixar chooses people for the whole person, not necessarily just the voice.

What did you think when you finally saw this movie?

Jodi Benson: I think this movie had a lot more feeling to it than the other two. I didn’t have the whole script, we just had our pages, so Lee would tell you the story, but he didn’t really explain the ending to me.

When we went to the screening I was really crying, but I was trying not to let anybody see that, because I thought, ‘Why am I so emotional about this?’ I’ve got two children, 9 and 11, and I think it’s just capturing the innocence of their childhood and trying to maintain that, and trying to keep the kids young a little bit longer than society wants them to be.

Why do you feel Pixar succeeds at everything it does?

Toy Story 3 - Mr Potato Head, Bullseye, Barbie, Hamm, Ken, Woody, Jessie, Slinky Dog, Rex and Buzz Lightyear
Mr Potato Head, Bullseye, Barbie, Hamm, Ken, Woody, Jessie, Slinky Dog, Rex and Buzz Lightyear © Disney/Pixar

Michael Keaton: You’ve connected to these films because they feature universal themes, and they’re funny.

The great thing about Toy Story 3 is that it’s so emotional and touching, but it also has tons of adventure. 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.

The pace is always right. It’s just a perfect alchemy. And there are also so many visual aspects that just knocked me out.