Pixar has had numerous successful movies, from the recent Incredibles 2 to A Bug’s Life and everything in-between. Toy Story was where it all started though, and the franchise following Woody, Buzz and co. is now over two decades old. The last instalment, released back in 2010, saw the gang gifted to the Sunnyside Daycare, where things took a turn for the downright nasty. They managed to escape though and they’re ready for a new, fun-filled adventure which sees them travel across the United States. I was invited to watch an exclusive half-hour of footage from the film, and it left me confident in one thing: despite being four films deep, the beloved world of Toy Story hasn’t grown stale just yet.
Toy Story 4 kicks things off with a short scene set before the third film, and one thing is instantly noticeable; it looks utterly gorgeous. Improved visuals are much less noticeable in movies compared to something like video games, but the improvements in Toy Story compared to the 1995 original are clear as day. Or night in this case, as the rain trickles down the screen and flashes of lightning illuminate the sky.
This small flashback is set nine years ago and we see Woody and Bo Peep team up to save one of the gang from something that would be no problem to you and I, but to a toy? A life and death situation. Right from the get-go, the bond between the law abiding cowboy and the coy porcelain doll is portrayed to set the tone for the rest of the film, and shed some light on their final moments before Bo Peep was given away to another family.
Bo Peep's been completely redesigned
Alongside Forky, who we are introduced to shortly after in the present day, Bo Peep is the focus for Toy Story 4. Throughout the nine years of separation, Woody has longed to find her again and when he does… let’s just say, she’s no longer the shy shepherd she once was. As the modern world progresses, so to has Pixar; Valerie LaPointe is the head of story alongside Stephany Folsom – one of the writers – and with a number of other women working on Toy Story 4, the female influence is more prevalent than ever.
Toy Story as a franchise is forgoing the gender stereotypes of old, that were forced upon us as kids, and is providing young girls with a film they can better relate to. As part of a Q&A, producer Jonas Rivera revealed that one of the team’s main goals was to make Bo Peep “authentic”. “We didn’t want to do something tropey or stereotypical… you know, she’s not an action hero necessarily, she’s not Tomb Raider, she’s Bo Peep.”
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The women working on the film even went as far as to kick “all of the boys out of the room a few times”, in order to prevent any male influence on their discussions and the rebuilding of Bo Peep. Team Bo, as they started to represent themselves as in the Pixar offices, worked on the redesign of Bo Peep, aiming to make her “authentic and truthful”. Annie Potts, the voice behind Bo Peep that we grew to know and love during the first two films, also had a considerable input, helping with “all the little details that we hope equal a believable character.”
Of course, Toy Story 4 isn’t just about Bo Peep; we’re not introduced to her for the first half an hour of the film, which is spent showing how Forky comes alive and gains sentience. The whole crew – including some new faces like Dolly, another leading female figure who is one of Bonnie’s older toys – manage to leave the house with Bonnie and her family, and hop aboard their RV for a road trip before Bonnie starts kindergarten full time. As they pass by an old antiques store, Woody and Forky spot Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. Could it be? After nine years apart?
Wave goodbye to the villains of old
I'll cut the feigned surprise; these films always go the same way because it’s less about the outcome, and more about the journey itself. With this first hint that Bo Peep could be nearby, Woody and Forky head inside the antiques store and we’re introduced to another prominent female character; Gabby Gabby. She’s also possibly the most horrifying “villain” seen in the Toy Story universe so far, alongside her ventriloquist doll accomplices. Female characters lead the way in Toy Story 4, and it’s a refreshing divergence from Zurg, Stinky Pete, and Al the Toy Collector.
When Woody eventually escapes her grasp but leaves Forky behind, he stumbles upon Bo Peep in unexpected circumstances, because of course he does. But it’s not the Bo Peep he once knew; this Bo has been on her own for years, and has learnt how to survive without the others. She’s accumulated a number of friends on her travels, including her new sidekick; Giggles McDimples, the smallest character in Toy Story yet. The new team of misfits set out to save Forky, and reunite both of Bonnie’s lost toys with the rest of the gang who are still in the RV.
This is where my time with Toy Story 4 came to a close, and I left feeling like Pixar has another hit on its hands. That should come as no surprise; Pixar has rarely released a bad movie, if ever, and Toy Story is a winning formula that millions upon millions of people have fallen in love with. Sure, there’ll be some complaints that Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the squad have a less involved role this time around, but for the younger generation, Toy Story 4 shows that women can be leaders in 2019.
That’s not all though because when it comes down to it, Toy Story 4 is a film for everyone and the team at Pixar have focused on including girls just as much as boys. While there’s a dozen or so people who worked on the original that are still there almost 25 years later, the overwhelming majority is made up of new and emerging talent that have brought a fresh perspective to the franchise. It’s too soon to call Toy Story 4 one of the best in the franchise, but there’s no doubt it will inspire the younger generation of girls and show the way for women of the future.