'Toy Story 4': 28 Things We Learned About the Movie During Our Visit to Pixar Studios
By John Boone
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
Visiting Pixar Animation Studios, as ET did in April, is like returning to college. There's a grassy quad, although here it showcases that iconic (and fully functioning) lamp and a larger-than-life Luxo Ball, and inside the would-be lecture halls, you're greeted by human-sized LEGO sculptures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear. (Toy Story 3's Academy Award is on display nearby, alongside a Nickelodeon blimp for The Incredibles.)
For this visit, I majored in Toy Story 4, with a series of panels and discussions with every department in the production pipeline on the film. I previously shared a sit-down with director Josh Cooley and the producers to discuss why Toy Story 3 wasn't the end, bringing back old characters in new ways and introducing entirely new toys, but here at 28 more tidbits I learned:
1. Toy Story 4 begins with a rescue mission, with the toys from Andy and his little sister's rooms coming together to recover RC. It was almost a far more fantastical opening though: "We had a million different beginnings to this film," Cooley said. "One of them was, 'What if we're in a fantasy playtime and we reveal that it's Andy playing with Molly, his sister?' It was like a zombie musical."
2. "Fun fact about Andy's house: The inside does not fit into the outside," said sets supervisor Thomas Jordan of the opening sequence. "Which was actually a huge challenge in Toy Story 4, because we have shots where we see both the outside and inside of Molly's room at the same time. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors and magic going on there."
3. The prologue ends with Bo Peep being sent off to a new kid and a new home. When Woody tries to convince her to stay, she proposes an alternative: "Ya know, kids lose their toys every day..." The idea of what being a lost toy means to different characters is a major theme of this movie, as Woody discovers he may have a greater purpose in life. The filmmaking team often referred back to this quote from Cooley: "Our purpose in life is a moving target. The only constant is change."
4. Toy Story 4 picks up only a few months after the events of Toy Story 3, with Woody and the gang living with Bonnie. (Unlike in Andy's room, however, Woody is not Bonnie's go-to toy for playtime.) And the gang is all there: Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Rex, Mr. Pricklepants, Trixie, Hamm and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. (Unfortunately, Michael Keaton's Ken is still back at Sunnyside and doesn't appear here.)
5. Yes, the late Don Rickles will indeed be voicing Mr. Potato Head. "We couldn't imagine this film with a sound-alike," producer Mark Nielsen said of the actor, who died in 2017. "We knew we had to just dig and do whatever we could to try to preserve his voice in this. I mean, he is the voice of Potato Head. You see that toy on the shelf, [and] you hear that voice coming at you."
6. To craft Rickles' performance, the filmmakers "went through all the past films, all the shorts, all the video games, all the theme park stuff, all the Ice Capades, all the toys," Cooley said. "He did sign on to be in this film before he passed and we were very honored that his family asked us to see if we could create a performance. Obviously, he can't say anything specific to the plot, but we found enough that felt natural and he fits in just like everybody else does." (The movie will also include a tribute to Rickles.)
7. Toy Story 4 also introduces Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), who is Bonnie's kindergarten arts and crafts project come to life. The Pixar team explored various designs for Forky in "Sporkshops," where they made versions using glitter and feathers and stickers, but the final design -- complete with googly eyes and pipe cleaner arms -- is true to a marker drawing by John Lasseter labeled "Mr. Spork."
8. Forky's design may look deceptively simple, but there are in the ballpark of 493,000 animated bristles on his pipe cleaner arms alone. Also, "It was a little hard to find sporks," said Claudio de Oliveira, who made his own Forkys to play with in the real world while animating him onscreen. "I ended up going to a pizza joint, buying a pizza and then taking some of the utensils."
9. Woody, Forky and the gang hit the road with Bonnie's family for a road trip far beyond Tri-County Area. That's where Woody is reunited with Bo Peep, who last appeared in Toy Story 2 and returns living happily as a lost toy. "She's a character who is tired of sitting on a shelf and waiting for life to happen," story artist Carrie Hobson said.
10. Bo Peep is the true driving force in Woody's story and a main character in her own right. One of the upstairs hallways of Pixar has been converted into a gallery of Toy Story 4 concept art, much of which is focused on drastically different designs for the shepherdess: One is Bo with a robot arm affixed by Band-Aids. Another is more hippie-like, wearing a flower crown.
11. Cooley contributed his own sketch showing Bo Peep with a replacement monster arm and an armored leg. Another piece of art had Bo sporting a hairy, tattooed arm, which a scribbled note that says "From Bo's Ex." Ultimately, the team didn't want to go so post-apocalyptic. "We kind of did that with Sid in the first movie," story supervisor Valerie LaPointe said. (But yes, the team did come up with specific anecdotes on how Bo would have lost an arm.)
12. "She's a baby's lamp, she was given away. Where would she end up? Thrift stores? On the street? Who knows," LaPointe said of Bo Peep's journey from part of an appliance to a lost toy. "We let our imaginations go crazy with possibilities." A piece of concept art showed homeless Bo dragging her lamp behind her, attempting to keep her sheep dry from the rain.
13. Ultimately, the team settled on a look for her that was more recognizable to the Bo Peep fans knew, but with "exciting" changes. "It's like a friend they haven't seen in 20 years," LaPointe said, explaining, "If I'm a little girl on a playground, yeah, I'm going play action and do crazy things with my Barbies, but I also want her to have a pretty dress. And that's OK! She can be wild and crazy, but maybe she can wear the pretty dress."
14. In wanting Bo Peep to be "both athletic and feminine," the team looked to characters like Rey in Star Wars, The Bride in Kill Bill and Dottie in A League of Their Own for inspiration, plus gymnast Aly Raisman and Dancing With the Stars' pro Sharna Burgess.
15. Bo Beep's posse includes her sheep (named Billy, Goat and Gruff) and best bud, Giggles McDimples, a scene-stealing Polly Pocket-like police officer voiced by Ally Maki. Concept art revealed Giggles' own partner, Rib Tickles, who looks like the emoji dog became a cop.
16. The antagonist of Toy Story 4 is Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), a 1957 pull-string doll who Woody encounters in an antique store and who takes a keen interest in his voice box. "Her goal is to get out," Alex Marino, who led the characters shading team, said. "She wants to be with a kid, so by staying in a pristine state, even though it's been 50 or 60 years for her, she thinks that will help her get adopted by a kid."
17. In the gallery, there are a number of other versions of the Gabby Gabby doll, including one that looks like the Frozen dolls you can buy at the Disney store. (Above.) She was also conceived as a blonde and appears as such in much of the concept art, though the hair color was changed to red because rendering and animating blonde hair are more expensive.
18. A Gabby Gabby Let's Be Friends rhyming picture book meant to accompany the fictional doll was actually written and on display in the gallery, while the graphics team generated a detailed manual about how her voice box works that will never appear onscreen.
19. The antique store set includes more than 10,000 individual props, including new items and some recycled from past Pixar films. Which means, this is where you'll want to keep an eye out for Easter eggs. For starters, there's a Victrola that plays a record from Chalupa Records (from Coco) and a painting of the dogs from Up playing poker, with nods to Toy Story Before Time, Small Fry, A Bug's Life, Inside Out and A113, among many, many others.
20. There's a pinball machine inside the antique store and inside the pinball machine is a hip nightclub for toys, where we meet Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves). But the pinball machine itself is an Easter egg. It's called Tiki Party and features Tiki heads from the fish tank in Finding Nemo.
21. As a reference while scaling the antique store, the sets team used adult Andys stacked on top of each other. They call him "Standy."
22. The other main set is a local carnival, with a carousel fully engineered to function with all of the cogs you would find inside a real carousel. Both new sets are intended to make Woody feel "lost and out of place." Ling Tu, who leads the set shading team, said, "This is a story about Woody getting out of his comfort zone and expanding his world. All of these sets are very much unique characters."
23. The attention to detail at Pixar is so deep that even the sets have backstories. Graphics art director Craig Foster developed an entire history for Grand Basin, where the movie is set, that dates back to 1886 when a wagon train stopped there, spotted a rooster riding on the back of an armadillo and decided to settle. That story inspired the town's logo, which was featured on summer camp T-shirts in the movie...before being cut because the logo distracted from the story. "Like, why is there a rooster riding on an armadillo?"
24. There were eight to 10 screenings of what would become Toy Story 4 held over the four years it was being made, oftentimes a vastly different version of the film but occasionally a completely new film altogether. There are likely more than 62 official versions of the movie.
25. Pixar will travel to the talent to record their role, but they do like the actors to visit Pixar at least once during production. Tom Hanks returned once again to record for this, while more recently, Chris Pratt visited the studio to record dialogue for the upcoming Onward.
26. Toy Story 4 is the first film in the franchise to be released in widescreen, with technological advances made in the years since the 2010 release of Toy Story 3 also allowing for the introduction of soft and squishy toys (like Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's Ducky and Bunny) as well as details like cobwebs and dust particles.
27. A computer program was written in order to digitally create cobwebs. "If we were to do that all by hand, we would never finish making these movies," said Jordan (sets supervisor), explaining that an A.I. spider was created to spin the webs strand by strand. Details like this were important because cobwebs and dust signal safety for the toys to come alive.
28. It has been more than 20 years since the original Toy Story was made and here's a nifty fact about how far technology has come since then: "With the same render farm we have now, we can render Toy Story 1 faster than you can watch it," producer Jonas Rivera said. Toy Story 4 is so complex, however, that it takes anywhere from 60 to 160 hours to render one single frame.
Pixar is currently focused on the release of Toy Story 4, out June 21, and a handful of untitled projects dated through 2022, but Nielsen was asked whether the studio would ever release a remastered version of the original film and said, "That would not surprise me in the future."