ORLANDO, Fla. — In the movie business, fourquels are perhaps the riskiest thing. In the case of the Toy Story franchise, the risks were even greater when you consider how perfectly the third instalment ended back in the summer of 2010.
Bringing back Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the Toy Story gang nine years after Part 3 seemingly wrapped the series had a danger of tarnishing the beloved favourite that launched 24 years ago with the world’s first fully computer animated film.
It turns out the way back into a new tale was by focusing on Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks).
“Everyone loves Toy Story 3 and the ending of that is especially powerful,” producer Jonas Rivera adds. “But Andrew Stanton — who is one of the godfathers of Toy Story — he was the one who said, ‘I’ve never seen that as the end. It’s only the end of Andy’s story. But Toy Story is about Woody.’ It became us answering the question of: ‘Where’s Woody now?’ ”
So the action picks up on the Disney/Pixar sequel (out June 20) with Woody, Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) and Co. welcoming a makeshift toy that Bonnie crafts during her first day of kindergarten in the playroom.
But as the handmade spork dubbed Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) wrestles with his newfound toy status, Woody decides to take him under his wing and help him learn how to be a child’s best friend.
When Bonnie’s family hits the road, Woody and Forky find themselves on an unexpected detour. One that takes them inside an antiques store and on an adventure that introduces a host of new characters, including the Evel Knievel-like Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), two edgy carnival toys named Ducky and Bunny (Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael-Key), the miniature Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), a nefarious retro pull-string doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and Woody’s long-lost love Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
“There’s a lot of Easter eggs in this movie … I swear, if you pause any frame in the antiques store you’ll find something in there,” Cooley teases.
“Just the other day, I noticed Carl and Ellie’s house from Up down on the shelf,” Rivera teases.
Along the way, Woody learns what it takes to let go and follow his own road to happiness.
“The second we signed on to this, we all said, ‘If we’re doing this, it has to be great. We have to go all-in,’ ” producer Mark Nielsen adds. “At Pixar, we grew up with these characters and we’re surrounded by them and we love them. We put all our effort in trying to make a movie that would resonate and tell another story that was worthy of being told with Woody and Buzz and the reintroduction of Bo Peep.”
During a wide-ranging conversation at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, which is home to the very first themed Toy Story Land , Coley, Rivera and Nielsen spoke about the trepidation of developing the sequel, an unused pitch for a fourth movie and what the future holds for Woody and Buzz.
Toy Story 3 was as close to perfection as you could possibly get. So why revisit it?
Josh Cooley: We all wondered that, but we started to ask, ‘What happened next?’ We’ve never seen Woody in this position before, with a new kid? And that’s what intrigued me. That and Bo Peep’s return. There just seemed to be these really great cards on the table and we were left saying, ‘We should at least see where this goes.’ There was no guarantee we were going to make it, but as we went on, it just seemed worth it.
Jonas Rivera: Bonnie is a different kid, she’s going to play with her toys differently and that’s what started to intrigue us and cracked the door open for another one.
Were you daunted by the prospect of being the fourth film in a beloved franchise? Fourquels can be dicey.
Rivera: Well one thing that came up was with the ending of 3 , it had such a finality to it that it allowed us to take off in a brand-new direction.
Mark Nielsen: As we developed it, these ideas for new characters came up — like Duke Caboom, Gabby Gabby, Forky and Ducky and Bunny — and that got us more and more excited about introducing these new toys and imagining their interactions and the interplay between them and the classic characters.
We know that this instalment went through different iterations. There were other scripts and writers involved, including Rashida Jones, and we heard at one point it being described as a “romantic comedy.” How did this morph into what it is?
Cooley: The initial concept was, ‘What happened to Bo Peep and what would happen if she came back into the picture?’ So she was there from day one. We went through different versions of how they would come across her and we had some really crazy ideas.
What was the craziest?
Cooley: There was an idea that will sound insane now, but I liked it at the time because it was so different and it was unlike anything we’d done before. It was Woody and the toys were with Bonnie at the beach and Bonnie and her dad are digging these holes and Woody falls into that hole and he’s trying to get out, but he can’t because it’s too deep. Bonnie starts to pack up her toys and they’re going back to the car and her dad goes, ‘You forgot something … you have to fill in the hole because you can’t leave holes in the beach like this.’ So they cover Woody up and he’s buried down there and he’s able to eventually get out when someone with a metal detector finds him. But when he gets out, it’s years later. He runs to Bonnie’s house and she’s moved, and he comes across Bo Peep then and he’s saying to her, ‘I don’t know where I am. I’m lost’ and she’s like ‘Great, c’mon.’ … It was totally different than anything we’d done.
Rivera: That vibe, though, was the spirit. It was: how far can we throw the ball? And underneath all that, it was really about getting them out of the rooms and further than we’ve ever been. We didn’t use that idea, but there are still ingredients from that in this one.
Annie Potts is back as Bo Peep. That character had a smallish role in the previous Toy Story films, but yet people loved her. Why do you think she resonated so much?
Cooley: I was surprised at how much she resonated with people. … But her shelf life would have been short because she was a lamp for a baby. So she would be given away faster.
Nielsen: She doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the earlier movies. It’s seven minutes if you add it all up, but people loved her and fans wanted to know what happened to her. It was a big unexplained thing. She clearly meant a lot to Woody.
Rivera: She’s a really cool character. She’s neat, she’s beautiful, she’s not even really a toy. … I wonder if, story-wise, people related to her because she’s such a conscience for Woody. She’s the one in the first two films who’s always telling him, ‘Remember who you are.’ She’s always been a driver, but she was literally in the background of those first three movies.
The Toy Story films always have amazing beginnings and this one hits you right in the gut with us being shown what happened to Bo Peep. Did you always envision the movie starting that way?
Cooley: That probably went through the most changes. We started with fantasy sequences, like the beginning of Toy Story 3 . We had a zombie-musical we were considering with Andy and his sister playing together and we didn’t reveal that right away. So it was a zombie film, then a musical, and then we revealed it was the two of them playing together. But then we came back and said, ‘Let’s make it real and let’s show (Bo Peep) being given away.’ There’s a part in Toy Story 3 and they mention her and you can see the look on Andy’s face. We wanted something to match that implied moment.
Talk a little bit about the new characters. Duke Caboom is Canadian and so is Keanu and we love him and hope he gets a spinoff.
Cooley: He’s a pretty cool character … we hope we made you proud. There was a great opportunity to introduce new characters. But a lot of the new toys came from us, kids of the ‘70s and ‘80s, so Duke Caboom was a stunt toy and those were big in the ‘70s.
Nielsen: Giggle McDimples was one of those small toys in the ‘80s girls liked.
Rivera: Carnival toys were something I just loved. They’ve got the worst existence out of everybody. They just hang there like bait. Then there was Forky and this idea of a handmade toy. We liked that idea of something being made coming to life, and then not realizing it had been made to be a toy. It was a great way to force Woody to actually answer what it means to be a toy.
Rivera: Forky is the big game-changer. He’s the new toy that’s nothing we’ve seen before. We’ve never had a handcrafted toy come to life before in the films and he flips everything on its head for Woody and the gang
Without getting into spoiler territory, the movie offers a definitive ending but leaves the door open for Toy Story 5 . Will fans ever see the gang again?
Rivera: We thought Toy Story 2 was the perfect ending.
Nielsen: And then we thought that again after 3.
Rivera: It’s tough. We have a never-say-never rule for what the future’s going to be at Pixar, but, I think, as filmmakers we’ve crafted this to be the conclusion. If there’s never another one, we’re happy. We know the characters live on and we imply a future, which we did in the other films as well, but I think narratively this completes Woody’s arc.
Toy Story 4 opens Thursday
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