Nine years after Andy went to college Woody, Buzz, Jessie, the Potato Heads, Slinky and the rest of the gang are back for Toy Story 4.
Following up on the events on Toy Story 3 this new film from the geniuses at Pixar sees Woody (Tom Hanks) struggling to adapt to his new room and kid, Bonnie.
Things are further complicated for our ragdoll hero when Bonnie makes a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale), who, like Woody, is struggling with his place in the world.
When a chance encounter with an old friend, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), hints at the potential for a better life Woody must decide between what’s best for him and his loyalty to his kid.
Earlier this week we were invited to talk to Josh Cooley, the director of Toy Story 4 and one of Pixar’s best and brightest, about the final chapter (for now) in the beloved series.
We touched on the pressures of bringing back such a beloved franchise, the new character Forky, Tom Hanks’ reaction to returning as Woody, and the influence of Frankenstein on the film… seriously.
UNILAD: I think I have to start this interview by asking how you, as a filmmaker and director, felt about approaching the Toy Story, arguably a perfect trilogy, and adding a new film to the series?
Josh Cooley: Well I agree, I had the same questions that everyone has now, but I had them five years ago when they said they’re thinking of doing a fourth one and I was like ‘what! I thought it was over’, but the end of [Toy Story 3] is beautiful.
It was Andrew Stanton (writer and producer on Toy Story 4 among many other Pixar films) who said, ‘well this is the way I look at it the end of Three is the end of Woody’s time with Andy but it’s not the end of his story’.
And I was like ‘Ohhhh’ and it began to make sense to me because he’s in a brand new room with a brand new kid and it’s not going to be the same as it was with Andy it’s going to be different and how is he going to deal with it and that’s what got me excited about the idea of this fourth film because we know Woody so well, how would he cope with this new situation.
UNILAD: And is that what got the ball rolling on the script?
JC: Actually the return of Bow Peep was always in Andrew’s initial treatment, to explain why she wasn’t in Three, and I always loved that character, and Annie Potts (Bo’s voice actor), and we thought it would be cool to see what has she been up to.
So while Woody’s struggling with this transition and then bringing back Bo we thought it was new, different and something worth trying out.
UNILAD: So where did the idea come from to make Bo this shepherd of lost toys after being given away?
JC: Well the interesting thing is we went back and watched the first three Toy Stories and the amount of screentime Bo gets is about six minutes, but whenever Woody is frustrate dor doesn’t know what to do he’d always go to Bo and she’s put him back on track.
So in a way, she’s the rock of Toy Story, so we realised that and thought ‘well let’s take her away from Woody and elevate what’s already there’.
So she’s been out there living a lost toy life without a kid, she’s been broken, living out in the wild, and has become part of this secret underground network of toys while Woody’s been protected his whole life and that dynamic just seemed like one we wanted to explore.
UNILAD: So did you come up with a whole backstory for Bo Peep?
JC: Well yeah, we had to come up with this whole backstory for her even though you don’t see it.
In an earlier version we did put it all [on screen] but it became clear early on that you don’t really need to see it all, so we just had her blow it off and Woody be like ‘what?’ [laughs].
UNILAD: It’s hinted in the film that Bo’s had a run in with Gabby Gabby before, can you tell us a little about what that might of been?
JC: [Laughs] No I can’t because I don’t really think we had a concrete idea for what that was.
All we know is she was in the antique store and everyone in that store seems to know who Gabby is so it felt natural that she would too.
UNILAD: Speaking of Gabby, Gabby is your quintessential Toy Story baddie isn’t she. She’s a villain but she’s sympathetic. How important was it to you to get her right?
JC: Extremely important, shes this mirrored character of Woody. So the same way Woody’s in this transition he doesn’t know how to deal with, well Gabby’s been in it for sixty years, and Woody comes to see it in her.
I love the character, we’ve never done a baby doll toy like Gabby before and to put her in an antique store, to make her the ‘Godfather of the store’ was amazing, and Christina Hendricks just brought so much to it.
UNILAD: She really did, the character of Gabby and her entourage of living doll assistants were fantastic and, if I’m honest, terrifying. I couldn’t help but think that Benson was the Igor to her Doctor Frankenstein, was that deliberate?
JC: [Laughs] Well there were clearly some horror influences but we went to a lot of Antique stores for reference and it didn’t make a difference, whichever store we went to there was always a creepy doll from the 50s and a ventriloquist dummy in every single one of them so we just laid into the fact that’s what’s there.
And I’ll tell you, it doesn’t matter how you light them, the way they move, they just make you go [mimes horrified face and laughs].
UNILAD: I did question whether a ventriloquist’s dummy is a toy or a magician’s prop but that blurred line between toy and inanimate object is something the film explores with the new character Forky, who is literally a spork brought to life by a child’s love.
JC: Yeah that sounds about right. I don’t like to get too specific about the exact moment he came to life, and we covered that by having the characters in the movie question it, so they don’t know you don’t know.
At this point a woman in the corner of the room gave me the wrap up sign so I dramatically switched topics…
UNILAD: We’re getting the wrap up so I’m going to try and squeeze in two questions from the end of my notebook. What was the cast’s reaction, Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, etc, when you said you wanted to do a fourth Toy Story?
JC: Well one of the, I can’t say worst, but certainly anxiety-ridden moments of making this film was meeting with Tom [Hanks] and Tim [Allen] again and pitching them the idea because it was kind of like ‘what are we doing here? I thought we were finished?’
So I sat them down and was like, here’s what we’re thinking and with Tom we got to the second scene when Bonnie’s going to kindergarten and he was like ‘alright you got me, I’m in. I don’t know how you got me but I’m in’.
And with Tim, I pitched him the whole story and he was laughing the whole time and was ready to go, he was like ‘let’s do this’.
UNILAD: Both Tim and Tom have mentioned this is the ‘true’ conclusion to Toy Story, do you think we’ll ever see these characters come back?
JC: I can’t predict the future but I know I am very happy with this film and how we finish Woody’s arc, so if we never see them again I’d be fine with it.
Toy Story 4 is in cinemas now!
More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism.
Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV.
He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.