Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” may have grossed more than $1 billion and won two Oscars, but one key thing was missing: Woody’s love interest, Little Bo Peep.
That won’t happen again in “Toy Story 4.”
“John Lasseter called me and said, ‘There was a reason you weren’t in “3,” and this is it,’” says Annie Potts, the voice of Bo Peep, of her character’s return. “So I said [crying], ‘Well, you should have called me and told me that sooner!’ Anyway, she’s back … with a vengeance.”
It’s true: The upcoming “Toy Story 4” boasts a razzle-dazzle host of new characters, featuring an impressive array of vocal talent including Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. But the new pantaloon-tough Bo Peep commands attention.
“She’s gotten all wise and courageous,” says an obviously proud Potts. “She is a fierce warrior.”
When asked if Bo Peep’s disappearance in “3” and triumphant return in “4” really were planned all along, “4” director Josh Cooley says, “I’ll tell you what I do know; when Andrew Stanton wrote the treatment for ‘Toy Story 3,’ he started writing the treatment for ‘4’ soon after. So it was always an idea to continue.”
Much thought went into her arc.
“In ‘3,’ there’s this great moment where someone references Bo Peep as someone they’d lost along the way,” Cooley says. “The animation on Woody’s face is amazing. There’s a lot of emotion when he says, ‘Yeah yeah yeah, even Bo.’ We wanted to answer that question, ‘What did happen to her?’ ”
And so they came up with a background story full of adventures in the outside world that made her stronger and wiser.
She became someone, as Cooley says, “who can stand up for herself, has confidence, and has seen a lot of things, has lived through it. She’s more well-rounded. We looked at different kinds of female characters. [‘Mad Max: Fury Road’s’ Imperator] Furiosa. Rey from ‘Star Wars.’ Marion from ‘Indiana Jones’ is a huge one as well, especially because they have that relationship in ‘Raiders.’ Also, Ilsa from ‘Casablanca.’ ”
Screenwriter Stephany Folsom adds, “There’s something different [from those heroines] about Bo: She’s a porcelain doll. There’s a vulnerability there. There’s something beautiful about having a character who is that vulnerable but she has all that strength she found in herself.”
The new characters will surely carve out a place of their own, and their casting was key as well. Comic masterminds Key & Peele play Ducky and Bunny; Hendricks is a villainous doll with a squad of evil ventriloquist’s dummies (is there any other kind?); Reeves is a macho yet emotionally fragile Canadian motorcycle daredevil. Folsom singles out tiny police officer Giggle McDimples, voiced by Ally Maki: “She’s the smallest toy that has ever been in a ‘Toy Story’ movie. She has a personality that cannot be contained.”
Hale, meanwhile, voices a spork rescued from the garbage by Woody and lovingly given pipe-cleaner limbs and an improvised face by the human girl, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). “Forky never wanted to come into being,” says Folsom. “He’s having an existential crisis.”
“The heart of Forky — you just fall in love with him, partly because of his innocence. Tony does that so well,” Cooley says. “Forky had to be innocent enough to ask these genuine questions that force Woody to go deeper within his own self to answer. He also has never seen ‘Toy Story’ 1, 2 or 3, so he doesn’t understand any of the rules of this world and can be a wild card.”
Reeves’ Duke Caboom is the Canuck version of that Evel Kneivel toy that looked awesome on TV but couldn’t quite do those advertised stunts once you got it home.
He’s “this bravado stunt man who, under the thin surface, has real emotional problems,” Cooley says. “That emotional truth of not living up to the expectations put upon you, but also going from super-confident to crying like a baby, that just makes me laugh.”
He pitched it to Reeves over lunch at Pixar.
“We went for a walk around the campus and he was asking all these amazing questions about the character. He was diving so deep — ‘It’s not just a joke; something is driving him. Where is this coming from? Is he mad at the kid, is he mad at the commercial?’ ‘No no, he loves the kid; it’s the commercial.’ All these really, really fascinating questions.
“Then he started to embody the character a little bit while we were sitting there. At one point, he stood up on the table and started going, ‘Huuh! Haah! Huuh! Huh!’ — doing these poses. I was in tears, I was laughing so hard. I was thinking, ‘Oh, I hope he says yes to this.’ I’m so grateful he did. Every single recording session we did was so much fun.”
The Key and Peele characters, meanwhile, are plush prizes in a carnival booth.
“I’ve watched all their shows and their movies and stuff, and I got to see firsthand how they can look at each other and basically mind-read,” says a still-thrilled Cooley. “We always recorded them together. They know what the other person’s going to do; they set each other up perfectly. It’s like watching a magic trick, it’s unbelievable.
“I’d give them the structure of the scene, script pages, start there. They’d improv hilarious stuff, but it was always on point and always served the story. They really helped create those characters. It’s them onscreen.”
For Potts, though, it was one of the old-school cast members who represented one of the best parts of her return.
“I got to work a lot with Tom,” she says of the series star who plays the hero Woody, a smile in her voice. “Any day as an actor working with Tom Hanks is a pretty wonderful day. This new, astonishingly modern Bo Peep and working with Tom — it doesn’t get much better than that.”