Ever since the Toy Story 4 announcements at the D23 Expo this past August, my excitement has been tempered with a little bit of fear. What could possibly scare me about Toy Story? Well, it’s the fact that in everything I’ve heard about the plot of the movie, only Woody and Buzz Lightyear are mentioned as going on the quest to find Bo Peep. From statements made by John Lasseter over the course of the Expo weekend, to articles about Pixar President Jim Morris’s presentation in Australia, only those two characters are consistently listed as heading out on the film’s epic journey.
Now, I know that Woody and Buzz are the core of the franchise, the iconic figures that everyone immediately associates with Toy Story. And I know it could be just the filmmakers referring to the cast in the most basic way, to protect the plot’s specifics; but at the same time, after Jessie’s very brief appearance in Toy Story That Time Forgot, I can’t help but be concerned, because the precedent has already been set. I understand that the television special not only had a very constricted time limit, but also an entirely different focus, giving even Woody and Buzz a small role in comparison to the dinosaurs. Nevertheless, Jessie was sorely missed, and not only by my fangirl friends and myself; I can recall reviewers stating at the time of the special’s release that they would have liked to have seen more Jessie as well.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m really excited that Toy Story 4 is about Woody searching for Bo Peep. Although I fell in love with Buzz and Jessie as a couple in Toy Story 3, I was wary of the prospect of an entire film focusing on them, realizing that to do so, they would have to be put through some sort of emotional turmoil or physical danger. And, being aware that the Toy Story movies always place Woody in the spotlight, I wanted – more than any other possible storyline – to see Bo come back, and for them to have a second chance at love. I sincerely hope, however, that taking the story on the road to bring her back doesn’t deprive us of spending time with the other classic characters, many of whom were absent from the television specials. Meeting new characters is always fun, but shouldn’t come at the expense of existing ones that people have come to know and love.
Pixar movies have been criticized in the past for being too male-centric. But back in May, John Lasseter said to Variety that both Disney and Pixar were making a conscious effort to incorporate more diversity in their animated films:
“It’s very important to us … to have female and ethnic characters,” said Lasseter, the Disney Animation Studios/Pixar chief. “It’s grown in importance over time. As you’ll see in future films, we’re really paying attention to that.”
Lasseter reinforced this intention by bringing Rashida Jones and Will McCormack on as writers for Toy Story 4:
“They have such a great sense of character and originality,” Lasseter said of Jones and McCormack. “And I wanted to get a strong female voice in the writing of this.”
Why, then, with the desire to create a greater female presence in Pixar’s films, would it make sense to exclude their strongest female in the series to date? Jessie’s creation as a character – as described by author David A. Price in the book The Pixar Touch – even though years ago, relates directly to that current mission:
“The development of the cowgirl character, Jessie, was also kindled by Lasseter’s wife; Nancy had pressed him to include a character in Toy Story 2 for girls, one with more substance than Bo Peep. “
I’m realistic, here. I don’t expect Jessie to be the star; she was already given that opportunity in Toy Story of Terror. Even Trixie had her own moment in Toy Story That Time Forgot. Toy Story 4 is Bo’s turn to grow as a character, to gain the “substance” she may have been perceived to have lacked in the past. Yet, even with Bo Peep’s story being front-and-center in the new movie, I can still envision great potential for Jessie to figure into things, if she’s only allowed to.
For one, I find it hard to imagine Jessie being willingly left behind. She and Bo must have been close friends during their time at Andy’s, and it makes sense that she would want to take part in the mission to find her and bring her home. Jessie is a fighter; she’s determined, and wouldn’t agree to sit idly by while the men do all the work. She didn’t in Toy Story 3 – she played a vital role in the toys’ escape plan – and I can’t see her changing now. Besides, what better way to depict female strength than including her in the adventure, as an equal to Buzz and Woody?
Another element is the wealth of possibilities created by a female friendship. It’s always been about the bromance – but Toy Story 4 provides the perfect opportunity to develop a bond between the franchise’s two most-beloved girls. Considering that Bo will have been through quite a bit – having been sold or given away, ripped from her family and forced to start anew, alone – Jessie’s troubled past equips her with the empathy and experience to help Bo work through her own struggles. Despite the pain and loneliness she endured, Jessie still was able to love again – not only with two new owners, in Andy and Bonnie, but also to find romantic love with Buzz. Who else could relate to Bo on such a personal level, but Jessie?
Last, but certainly not least in my estimation, is Jessie’s relationship with Buzz – which I hope will not be neglected in the new movie, either. Fans embraced their love story in Toy Story 3, as evidenced by the explosion of fanart and fanfiction that flooded the internet following the film’s release (and which, I’m not ashamed to admit, I have both partaken in and contributed to). And with Toy Story of Terror, fans returned to these two, appreciating the ways their relationship had progressed since Toy Story 3, and how expertly those subtle changes were depicted. To me, even though they’re toys, they’re a couple grounded in reality, versus the stuff of fairy tales. They’re not excessively demonstrative, yet their mutual affection is evident in the way they look at each other and interact. They both have very human flaws, yet their contrasting personalities balance each other perfectly; Jessie’s exuberance tempers Buzz’s space ranger reserve, while Buzz’s steady strength soothes Jessie when her anxiety and panic attacks resurface. He’s protective of her, yet trusts that she can take care of herself. And even though Buzz is this tough hero, he has a gentle, tender side to him where Jessie is concerned, which I think adds a wonderful dimension to his character.
Based on the glimpses we got in the first two Toy Story films, I can picture Woody and Bo as having a similarly solid relationship – she’s shown to be a calming influence for him, much like Buzz calms Jessie. I can’t wait to learn more about their backstory, including how she came to leave Andy’s, and see what Pixar has in store for them. But at the same time, as their romance is revisited, rehashed and (fingers crossed!) rekindled, I hope that the now-established other primary couple of the series isn’t forgotten. I hope we get to see both pairs share heartfelt moments, individually and in tandem as the family they truly are. And more than anything – this is the giddy fangirl in me speaking, here – I’d love to see Buzz and Jessie finally share a sweet on-screen kiss. Barbie and Ken did, in Hawaiian Vacation – isn’t it about time they did, too?
I have faith in Pixar’s vision. I haven’t been terribly disappointed in the past, so there’s no reason to doubt the genius of their storytelling now. And it’s likely that, in the months to come, I’ll look back and laugh at my current worries. In the meantime, though, all I humbly ask is this: whatever course the story may take, please, don’t forget Jessie. Let her play a worthwhile role in the journey. Let us see that she and Bo were – and still are – the best of friends. Give both girls – and both couples – a chance to shine, make them capture our hearts all over again, and I will be eternally grateful.
All fanart is courtesy of my talented friend – she drew these only a few months before Bo’s return was announced, based on our fangirl wishes. You can find more of her artwork at heathinator.tumblr.com.