“Toy Story 3” seemed to offer the perfect ending to Pixar’s beloved trilogy, but there still was one loose end: the absence of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who was Woody’s (Tom Hanks) BFF until Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) came along. This left the door open to “Toy Story 4,” which reintroduces a free-spirited, badass Bo who turns Woody’s life upside down.
“Toy Story 4” finds Woody still eager to please Bonnie when her favorite new toy, Forky (Tony Hale), a neurotic spork she made in school, runs away in a state of existential confusion. The Sheriff feels duty bound to find him, but the plot thickens when Woody is reunited with Bo. She enjoys being a lost toy on her own, and offers an opportunity for growth and change.
Bo Peep has been largely absent since the original “Toy Story,” but director Lee Unkrich said that wasn’t for lack of trying. “We had previously struggled to find ways to have her be part of the story in ‘Toy Story 2,’ he said. “Our thinking at the time was that she was made of porcelain, so it didn’t seem safe for her to be out in the world on an adventure. It would be unbelievable for her to be going through the same intense physical things the other toys went through without getting broken. So we left her back in Andy’s room.”
John Lee, Disney/Pixar
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Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt tried a different tack while developing “Toy Story 3,” in which they wanted to start the movie with a prologue in which the toys faced an existential threat. “We wanted to show in a concrete and dramatic way that any toy at any time could be outgrown and given away,” he said. “We thought it would be powerful if one of the beloved toys from the ensemble was missing from the room. Given our previous challenges, we made the decision to have Bo Peep be that toy; it killed two birds with one stone.”
And then the prologue changed: Rather than visualize the toys concocting their own play scenarios without Andy, it became a fantasy Western. At that point, they were forced to move forward without Bo beyond Woody mentioning her as one of the toys that they’d lost; it was too late to have the character modeled and shaded.
“In all honesty, it’s the only thing I regret and wish I could change about the film,” Unkrich said. “I think that if Bo Peep had been present in the opening, it would have been that much more powerful to discover that she’s gone when we jump forward in time to Andy’s high school years.”
While Bo Peep’s absence was inadvertent from Pixar’s perspective, the audience took it personally. “We were all caught off guard by the outpouring of distress felt by many audience members over Bo being gone,” he said. “I can’t even tell you how many letters I got from folks mourning her loss and feeling sad for Woody. When ideas for ‘Toy Story 4’ started being discussed, it didn’t take long for Bo to resurface. There was unfinished business there, and the team wanted to explore that.”
Carrie Hobson, Disney/Pixar
And so the basis of “Toy Story 4” become the promise of a love story between Woody and Bo, first intended by John Lasseter to direct. However, even before the Pixar co-founder and former chief creative officer was forced to resign from Disney/Pixar, he handed the animated feature to first-time director Josh Cooley, a Pixar veteran who most recently served as a screenwriter and story supervisor on “Inside Out.”
“When John asked me to direct, he said, ‘This is your film and bring what you need to it,’” Cooley said. “And there were elements that I loved and held onto those, but making Bo Peep essential to Woody’s change was something I don’t think we ever fully had. And we needed to touch on that. Woody was the hardest part, as it should be. He’s the protagonist. Why does this change need to happen, and what’s going to make that happen?”
Cooley made “Toy Story 4” his own by incorporating the way in which his wife, Erin, instilled confidence in him that he would one day join Pixar, despite his early self-doubt as a young, aspiring animator. “She completely changed my thinking and approach to the world,” Cooley said. “It was powerful, and I was thinking that if I could get that feeling and that relationship into this film, then it would be worthy of ‘Toy Story 4.’”
To explain Bo’s absence, they came up with an effective flashback prologue: After Woody and Bo lead a daring rescue of RC, the remote-controlled car, from being washed away in a rainstorm, Bo’s suddenly passed on to another family; Andy’s sister, Molly, has outgrown her. Woody attempts to rescue her from the car in the driveway. Alone together, underneath the car, she invites Woody to run away with her. He can’t abandon Andy, so they have a tender goodbye. It’s a moment of regret that he’s carried ever since.
In the present day, Woody encounters Bo in a park and is stunned at her transformation. She’s gotten along very well as a self-reliant shepherdess of lost toys. This shakes Woody’s worldview: “I was made to help a child,” he tells Bo. “Change is good,” she replies.
But animating Bo proved difficult. First, there was overcoming the porcelain handicap. The Pixar animators decided to embrace porcelain head on, studying the glazing and cracking and applying it to Bo. But the studio had to break some of its truth to bring her into the real world. “If we had played her true porcelain, she wouldn’t have moved at all,” said directing animator Patty Kihm. “Yet we had the needs of a very complex character that was gonna have a nuanced, delicate performance. We needed the ability to have her emote. And be super confident. She’s a toy, not a tiny humanoid, and we learned how to still make her recognizable as the old Bo Peep.”
Along with state of the art texture and shading, the animation team studied dance and gymnastics to convey athleticism and to protect herself. “She learns to adapt and doesn’t play by normal toy rules,” said lead story artist Carrie Hobson. “And she can change whatever pose she’s locked into, enabling her to change styles. But she’s not immune to messing up. In this way, the Sheriff and Shepherdess make a new team.”