There’s a scene in 2010’s “Toy Story 3,” when Woody (Tom Hanks) makes the case that the toys should stick together, no matter what. He concedes that the gang had lost some friends along the way – Wheezy, the squeaky penguin voiced by animation legend Joe Ranft, and the Etch A Sketch seen at the beginning of the very first “Toy Story.” Woody pauses and Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn) interjects, “Bo Peep.” Woody is visibly shaken. “Yeah, even, even Bo,” Woody stutters. His eyes don’t meet any of the other characters. “All good toys who have gone on to new owners,” Woody continues enthusiastically. But it’s clear that he isn’t so sure.
In “Toy Story 4,” out June 21st (tickets are on sale now), we finally get an answer of what happened to Bo (voiced again by Annie Potts) and we get to see her for the first time in 20 years (the last time she appeared was 1999’s “Toy Story 2”). And it seems like she’s been through … a lot.
We were shown some footage, where Woody and Bo meet up for the first time since whatever that moment he alludes to in “Toy Story 3” was. This isn’t the Bo as you remember her; her transformation is akin to Sigourney Weaver going from “Alien” to “Aliens.” She’s tough. She’s a survivor. She has one arm bandaged (was it broken?) and has turned her polka-dotted skirt into a cape that would make Batman envious.
“It was what excited me about coming onto the project. It was like, Oh she’s back!? What are we going to do with her? What’s she like? She was a blank slate. I think it was super essential that we stayed true to her but we were able to redefine her. It took a while to nail that down,” story artist Carrie Hobson told us. She even said that the movie was so centered around the character that its production codename was “Peep.” This was her movie.
But finding out what made her tick proved to be something of a challenge. Hobson said it involved a lot of brainstorms. “We would rehash what had happened to her as a starting point. And then because of that, what would her personality be and what would it mean to her to see Woody again?” Hobson explained. It turns out that figuring out what Woody’s arc would be in the new film helped them also decide where Bo should go. “If she’s a lost toy, that’s great, because it contrasts Woody,” Hobson said. In “Toy Story 4,” Bo is a lost toy who has embraced her independence and the adventurousness that goes along with being beholden to no one. (Don’t worry, her sheep are still around.) And Woody is desperately clinging to the idea of belonging to a child; he spends much of the early part of the movie convincing a new character, Forky (Tony Hale) not only that he’s an actual toy but that he is Bonnie’s toy. It’s a fascinating dichotomy and one that you can tell took a lot of finessing.
Technically, figuring her out was also a huge challenge. Directing animator Becki Tower said, “The idea that she’s porcelain and a superhero are totally contradictory was an interesting play from day one. We did our best to just break that down and try to be as fair as possible to have enough pliability to really have emotional depth to be able to admit all those feelings.” Emotional depth, obviously, is what sets Pixar films apart from most animated fair and from the footage that we have been screened of “Toy Story 4,” this one will be just as emotional as the rest.
And with the reemergence of a beloved character, perhaps slightly marginalized in the original films, that hasn’t been on screen in 20 years, there are a lot of question marks still, even for those that helped bring her to life. “I’m just curious how she’ll be taken,” Tower admitted. As for Hobson? She’s just ready for the spin-off. “I would love to see Bo's movie. I think she, we worked really hard to giving her her own drive and this movie and build a her out. So hopefully it gives audiences enough of a taste that they just want to know everything about her and would love to know where she goes.”
“Toy Story 4” is in theaters everywhere on June 21st (tickets are on sale now!)