After 25 years, 'Toy Story 4' offerings teary-eyed endings and some exciting new beginnings.
Nearly a quarter of a century after Pixar changed the face of animation with the original Toy Story, Tom Hanks’ Woody and Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear are back on the big screen for one more adventure that, in keeping with the tradition of the franchise, may very well be their last.
“[Toy Story] exists sort of by audience demand and by way of audience need,” Hanks explains. “If the second movie hadn’t worked out or if it had petered out somehow, I think we would have lost the confidence of everybody who had watched it. All of these movies exist because they were willed into existence by an audience who was willing to invest in it and return right where they were and by the people at Pixar who did not take their responsibilities lightly when it comes down to 'Toy Story'. They have to be able to reach a level of gravitas or import or connection."
"It’s in the DNA of this place," adds producer Mark Nielsen, who has been working at the studio since Pixar's second feature, A Bug's Life. "We knew it had to rise to the level of the other ones. We just put our blood, sweat, and tears into this."
"We had the same questions everybody else has right now," says director Josh Cooley. "'I thought you guys were done!' But we had those questions five years ago when we started... Because we love the end of Toy Story 3 and feel like that’s the completion of Woody and Andy’s story. But there was more Woody story to tell."
"We sort of joked that we thought 'Toy Story 2' was the last one," says producer Jonas Rivera, whose time at Pixar stretches back to him being a production assistant on the very first Toy Story. "When we finished that one, we thought that it was the end of the story... As filmmakers, to be honest, we feel satisfied that this is where you can end it."
Toy Story 4 centers on the return of a toy who did not appear in the last film, but who has meant a tremendous amount to Woody: Annie Potts' Bo Peep.
"I’m 66 years old," says Potts. "I’ve said goodbye to a lot of people and hello and held hands and looked out into a new future. That was sweet to play out... I never knew exactly what I was doing but, over time, I became aware how important the role was going to be. It wasn't until three weeks ago when I saw the [final film] that I told Josh afterwards, 'Thank you so much for putting this crown on my head. I think she’s so lovely. My wish was to bring all the experience of my long, colorful life to kick-ass Bo."
While the film does offer some emotional endings, there are also a lot of exciting new toys introduced in Toy Story 4 and, of course, some perfectly matched personalities voicing each of the respective characters, starting with Tony Hale as Forky.
“It’s overwhelming,” says the star of joining the series’ eclectic toybox. “Which helps because Forky is very overwhelmed. But I remember when they brought me up to Pixar and they kind of described him as ‘kind of nervous’. I was like, ‘Check.’ ‘He asked a lot of questions!’ ‘Check.’ ‘He’s kind of gullible to a fault.’ It’s like, ‘Bingo! I’m in!’”
Created by Bonnie (who inherited Andy’s toys at the end of the last adventure), Forky has been crafted together from art supplies and an old spork. At the beginning of the film, Forky has trouble seeing himself as anything other than trash.
“I just love that he sees everything as new,” Hale continues. “Mainly, I love that he’s a character where his home place is the trash. That’s all he knows, how to help people eat soup. Then Woody comes along and shares that he has a greater purpose. I think that, just as in life, anybody might see themselves that way, but they have worth. They have purpose. That’s just a beautiful message that Toy Story is giving us.”
“The way Annie Potts will look at you with her eyes is [incredible],” says Hanks. “When she says the words that [she] might have said more than any other two, ‘Oh, Woody’. It gets you every time, man. You become a little jar of pudding when that happens. You start quivering a little bit.”
Stepping in as Toy Story 4’s chief antagonist is Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby, a Norma Desmond inspired talking doll that, thanks to a faulty voice box, has spent decades on the shelf of a vintage toy shop.
"We realized we had never done a doll before," Cooley explains. "Just a regular doll. We all have daughters, so we look at our own kids and their toys and our toys for truths. I just loved the idea of kind of talking Tina/chatty Cathyish. And then also like the Godfather. Like have the minions. We’ve never done that. And so that’s one of my favorite scenes."
"She’s so lovely," says Hendricks. I like that. I think when children see this movie, she comes across as sort of like the villain at first. And then you realize that she’s coming from a very loving place. And I think that’s important to sort of say maybe you don’t like someone at first. But how did they get there and why are they there and understanding their story. So I think she’s very special in that way."
As fate would have it, Hendricks has a truly bizarre connection to Gabby Gabby, whose henchmen are ventriloquist dummies.
"I thought you guys had done weird background research on me," she laughs, "Because I actually have a ventriloquist doll in my house that I wanted my entire life. Every year I would ask my parents for this Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll and they’re like you’re weird. We’re giving you a baby doll. You’re never going to get it. And then as an adult, I finally got one. But I was like, how did you guys get in my mind?!"
"I think this is what’s really cool about Pixar and Josh and all of the creators of the stories and the characters themselves and the performances is that I think we can identify,” Says Keanu Reeves, who voices a Canadian stuntman action figure, Duke Caboom. “There are so many different kinds of people going through different things. Duke Caboom just happened to be a crybaby and super with a big heart and brave who loved life and so I think that there’s a bit of Duke Caboom in all of us."
Even if Toy Story 4 winds up being the last big screen adventure, the Toy Story universe will continues in one form or another. Hale is already set to reprise his role as Forky on an upcoming Disney+ series, “Forky Asks a Question”.
“I love it,” says Hale. “These questions that maybe people are embarrassed maybe to ask. But they really don’t know. And I learn so much just from all these simple questions that I probably should know and I didn’t.”
“This is the day that it began to go to Tony’s head,” smiles Hanks. “You were here when it all began. Next time, he’ll have collars up to here, sideburns coming down, heavy glasses. ‘Let me tell you something about Forky! Forky knows. Forky knows. Forky loves you all. He loves you all.’”
As the voice of Giggle McDimples, she's making a big impression with the tiniest “Toy Story" toy ever.
She may be less than an inch tall, but Officer Giggle McDimples is nevertheless a force to be reckoned with. A trusted friend and partner of Bo Peep, McDimples works for the Pet Patrol in the city of Miniopolis, but she's always ready to lend a hand when other toys need her help. When Pixar needed to find a big voice for a small character, they turned to "Wrecked" star Ally Maki.
"When I went to my very first [recording] session, I didn't know that much. I said, 'Is there something you guys want from me specifically? Higher or lower? Do you want a character?' And they were like, "No. Nothing. We just want you to be 100% you. For every Pixar movie, we go to great lengths to make sure we cast the heart and soul and personality of the character.' I felt so free in that moment, just to be myself and play and be different versions of her. It's the best job I've ever had because they were like, 'All right! Let's take this line to a level 10... Most times, people say, 'Can you do less? Give you be less? Can you be quieter?' So I did the line and then they were like, 'That was amazing. Now let's take it to a level 12.'"
Just eight years old when the original Toy Story hit theaters, Maki has grown up alongside the franchise and has counted the films among her favorites long before signing on for the latest adventure.
"I keep telling them, 'You guys you hired an ultimate fan girl. I don't know if this is going to be good or bad for you guys, but I'm going to be all over freaking out every single day. To be the tiniest character to exist in this universe is really awesome. Then, to be an Asian American -- the first ever Asian American female within this universe -- is so incredible. To be a woman of color in this universe is so incredible. It's mind blowing to me at every level.”
As is the case with most voice acting, Maki didn’t get the chance to perform opposite Toy Story 4’s impressive ensemble, but she did get to work one on one with director Josh Cooley who, while she was in the booth, would perform as every other character.
"You walk in and everyone is just so wonderful. Working with Josh Cooley has been the dream of a lifetime. He is the most kindhearted, warm, funny, hilarious person… He was just the greatest partner to have."
As the film was pulled together over the course of several years, Maki found that McDimples continued to evolve as a character. Although she was always a “Polly Pocket” or “Mighty Max” style micro toy, the idea of making her a police officer was something that grew through the artistic process.
“I got this black notebook,” she says. “It felt like a Pixar CIA notebook that you can open. It had drawings of her and all different [designs]. She had a little pink bow on and a pink and purple dress at that time, but still the same feisty spirit.”
True to her name, Giggle has a very memorable laugh and, the rest of the character, it’s Maki through and through. Before she had even recorded a single line, the filmmakers had pulled together test footage with clips from the star’s appearance on “Conan”.
“I was like, ‘Really? Because that was something I was kind of shameful about because growing up,” says Maki. “…As someone who's an Asian American female growing up in a world where we didn't have that many strong representations on TV and film, I think Toy Story resonated so much for me because these characters are without borders and barriers. You could see yourself in Rex. You could be Slinky Dog. You could be any of these things."
There’s also the earnest friendship between Giggles and Bo Peep that has Maki proud to be a role model for the younger generation.
"[Giggle] is a hundred percent authentically real and not afraid to be herself,” says Maki. “Then, together with Bo, it's like this ultimate super power, the way that they have brought female friendship and female strength to the franchise. I think it means so much, especially to young girls who are watching these characters.”
Excited that the world is finally going to meet Giggle, Maki has already started collecting as much McDimples merchandise as she can find, going so far as to have one of her nails done with the Giggle McDimples emoji. She also learned the hard way that seeing her Toy Story alter ego out in the world can be surprisingly emotional.
"[The cheese] was what made me cry, shockingly,” she laughs. “When I saw [Giggles] on Babybel cheese. I was like, 'Wait, what's happening?! Why am I having a visceral emotional reaction to this?!'”
When she’s not working as an entertainer, Maki is still trying to put positive messages out into the universe. She’s the founder and creative director of Asian American Girl Club, an apparel company that champions the Asian American experience and aims to inspire young women of all ages.
"One hundred and fifty percent, create your own content,” she says. “…The only reason why I'm in this film is because I woke up one day and I said, ‘I have to make this skit for no reason. I made it on a Saturday with no budget. My dog, my nephew, and my fiancé’s little brother and me just went out in my neighborhood and made this thing that was just about the I view the world personally. I didn't think anyone would resonate with it. It barely got any views. But one of the views was the head of casting at Pixar, and that is 100% why I'm in this film. They said they use YouTube as a resource because they're trying to find the most authentically new stories and people in different variations of reality and how they see the world… It doesn't matter if it gets five views or 100 million. If it resonates with even one person, you know that you are moving things forward.”