With “Lamp Life,” the new Pixar short currently streaming on Disney+, we get the backstory of how Bo Peep became a proud and heroic Lost Toy in “Toy Story 4.” Turns out there was plenty of deleted footage to utilize by the short’s director, Valerie LaPointe (“Toy Story 4’s” head of story and co-writer), who flipped it on its head.
“I dug up all of the cut scenes that we had [from the flashback], which were sad, and I was trying to look through the lens of how Bo would look back on her life,” said LaPointe, a story artist on the Oscar-winning “Inside Out” and “Brave.” “Her personality would look back and say that she had a hard life, but she came out the other side as a better person, a better toy, she found a new way of life, and she can laugh at it. But in recounting what happened to her, the handful of gags were flipped from sad to funny.”
This reinvention was then fleshed out into a series of flashbacks in “Lamp Life,” in which Bo (Annie Potts) tells Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks’ younger brother, Jim) what happened after she left Andy’s house. The porcelain shepherdess encounters boredom in a child’s bedroom because the mom won’t let her be touched, then she’s abused by teenagers at a White Elephant party, then she ends up at the infamous antique store in “Toy Story 4,” where she’s safe but bored again. This leads to her bold breakout in search of adventure as a Lost Toy with her new friend, Giggle McDimples (voiced by Ally Maki.)
“Bo is complicated,” said LaPointe. “She’s part of a lamp but she’s porcelain, and she’s also removable and meant for babies. “When we were making the feature, it was confusing how to approach her. We eventually embraced the fact that she’s a toy meant to be played with and leaned even further into that. She wants a life like Buzz and Woody.”
With a small crew of animators, LaPointe got great guidance from Pete Docter (“Soul”), the studio’s chief creative officer, and “Toy Story 4” producer Jonas Rivera. In particular, Docter recommended that she reconsider focusing more on Bo and less on the kids early on during a time-lapse sequence.
“I looked at every shot and Bo’s lamp in the center was great because the audience doesn’t get confused, but also we needed to keep the kids’ faces off screen as much as possible,” she said. Another advantage was having the animators do strong silhouette poses, because, when it cuts, you observe subtle changes in Bo during the sequence.
LaPointe enjoyed working with the limitation of keeping the lamp in the same place and cutting through time, which also allowed a change in seasons and environments. This led to the more dramatic escape from the antique store, which becomes Bo’s moment of liberation. “Through this, Bo essentially comes into her own,” she added. “She’s no longer defined by the box she came in as a baby lamp. She lived that life and enjoyed it, but then, at a certain point, she had to consciously change her situation and become a Lost Toy.”
But by directing her own short, LaPointe became much more familiar with the rest of the pipeline. Yet during a scene when Bo is set ablaze, LaPointe literally learned how to put out a fire when a rendering mistake had Bo’s entire head going up in flames.
“It looked cool but it went way over the top,” added LaPointe, who is currently developing several ideas for her first feature — no longer defined by the box she came in at Pixar.