comscore Two generations of Pixar talent created fourth ‘Toy Story’ movie | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Two generations of Pixar talent created fourth ‘Toy Story’ movie

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now

    A scene from the movie “Toy Story 4.”

In 1995, a 15-year-old aspiring cartoonist named Josh Cooley walked into a movie theater in his hometown of Livermore, Calif., bought a ticket to a much-buzzed-about new animated film called “Toy Story” and had his mind forever blown to infinity and beyond.

“I had always wanted to be in animation for as long as I could remember,” Cooley says. “But it was unlike anything I’d ever seen.”

The first feature film to be entirely computer-animated, “Toy Story” was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, and the movie’s success would kick off a beloved trilogy and set the template for all of Pixar Animation Studios’ smashes to follow.

Now, 24 years later, that onetime would-be cartoonist whose career path was shaped in part by Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear has inherited the keys to the toy chest as the director of “Toy Story 4.”

“Toy Story 4,” in theaters Friday, arrives nearly a decade after 2010’s “Toy Story 3” put what many thought would be the final punctuation mark on a series that has grossed nearly $2 billion worldwide and earned a slew of Oscars.

The film sets Woody and his plaything friends off on a fresh adventure when their new owner, Bonnie, creates an arts-and-crafts toy she names Forky. As Woody tries to save Forky from an existential crisis, he is reunited with lost love Bo Peep in a local antique shop and finds his way toward a new purpose in life.

Even as it brings together familiar characters including Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) with new ones including Forky (Tony Hale), stunt-motorcyclist action figure Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and plush-toy duo Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), “Toy Story 4” unites two generations of Pixar talent. Key players at the studio who originally brought the franchise to life, including Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, have teamed with people like Cooley who grew up with the “Toy Story” movies.

“This movie definitely bridged that gap,” says the 39-year-old Cooley, making his feature debut. “We had people on this film that worked on the original ‘Toy Story,’ like my production designer Bob Pauley, who designed Buzz Lightyear. Then we have artists on this film that actually showed us pictures of themselves when they were 6 years old dressed as Buzz Lightyear for Halloween.”

“Toy Story 4” producer Jonas Rivera had been a newly hired intern at Pixar in 1994 when “Toy Story” was in its last year of production.

For Docter, who was a writer and head animator on the first “Toy Story” and now serves as chief creative officer of Pixar, it’s heartening to see the torch being passed to a younger generation that can continue to drive innovation. “It’s a great blend of new and old,” Docter says. “All the knowledge and wisdom that we painfully, slowly accrued over many years, and then a bunch of new people who don’t know why you can’t do it — and they do it anyway.”

IN THE wake of “Toy Story 3,” which ended with an air of finality when the toys’ owner, Andy, went off to college, few expected the franchise to continue. But even before the film was released, Stanton — who has had screenplay or story credit on every “Toy Story” movie — quietly started discussing ideas for where the series could go.

Eventually, they settled on the notion of bringing back the porcelain figurine Bo Peep, who was most prominent in the original “Toy Story” but absent from “Toy Story 3,” as a helper of lost toys who could guide Woody toward his next chapter.

“When I took over, we hadn’t really cracked the story completely yet,” Cooley says. “I was told by everybody, ‘Just question everything that we’ve got so far. Don’t feel like you need to hold onto anything.’ The thing that really unlocked it was when we came up with the idea of having Woody grow enough to complete his arc. He’s always been so there for a kid and he was always telling everybody, ‘That’s our job.’ To have him realize that (life) doesn’t just have to be in this bedroom, that it can be bigger than that — once we had that, we thought, ‘OK, now there’s some real juice to this story.’”

Hanks credits Pixar with nurturing younger artists like Cooley and preparing them to step out on their own. “I think all those people come up through the system there — by the time they’re actually given a chance to direct, they’ve really proven themselves over and over and over,” the actor says. “There’s always this ensemble of people that are there as guides, but he is the guy who will say, ‘OK, that’s it.’”

Combining the passion and energy of the younger generation with the institutional knowledge of the older one provided what Rivera calls “a creative insurance policy over the film.” “Our attitude of being around from the early ones is, ‘We have to protect the studio and make this great,’” he says. “Their attitude is, ‘We have to protect our childhood. We don’t want this messed up.’”

As for where the “Toy Story” franchise could go from here — if indeed it goes on at all — Cooley says he’s happy to let things unfold in their own time.

“There’s been no talk of a fifth movie,” he says. “For me, I feel very happy with the ending of this film. I feel like it completes Woody’s arc completely. But at the same time, at Pixar we have this kind of ‘never say never’ (attitude). Because you never know what great ideas can come about.”

Comments (0)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up