It’s been a really long time since we’ve heard any specific details about Toy Story 4, specifically in regards to the film’s plot, and this lack of information has left a lot of questions in fans’ minds as to whether the original story had been kept or scrapped. Fortunately, thanks to interviews both with Annie Potts, the voice of Bo Peep, and Stephany Folsom, the movie’s screenwriter, over the past several days, we’ve got new reinforcement that production is moving forward in a positive direction, and that the story still is following the same theme as originally planned.
Toy Story 4 Rewritten
I love hearing updates from the Toy Story voice actors, because it’s always so evident from their enthusiasm that they really enjoy playing these roles. In a recent interview with Radio Times, Annie Potts spoke about her work on Toy Story 4 and the significant changes the film has undergone. It seems as the greatest delay came from a complete rewrite of the script, presumably after throwing out what Rashida Jones and Will McCormack had done that wasn’t working, and bringing in Stephany Folsom to create something entirely new:
“[Toy Story 4] was supposed to come out this year and then they threw out three-quarters of it and rewrote.”
“Usually, it takes – from start to finish – two years. But because they threw most of it in the bin and started over [my time on the project has] been extended a little bit. I’ve done a lot of work on it.”
In light of news that Joan Cusack has been in the studio recording her lines for Jessie, it’s great to hear that Annie Potts has been busy, too! It’s apparently been a long wait, however, since she originally began recording back in 2016:
“I didn’t hear from them in a year and a half.”
She goes on to explain that the delay had her concerned that the story had changed drastically, and that Bo no longer had a starring role. This could have been seen as a legitimate concern, since she had been excluded from Toy Story 3; but I was surprised to learn that John Lasseter had told her back then that a fourth film – about Bo – was already being planned:
“That hurt my feelings a little bit. But John explained to me the reason was because they were saving me for 4.”
The best news of all, though, is that Potts confirmed that Toy Story 4 is still very much a love story between Woody and Bo:
“I have a big part! I’m thrilled!”
And that, as before, she’s been recording with Tom Hanks, which just makes me all the more excited to see where their story goes:
“Most of it is with Tom. I’ve never done any animation before where you got to work with the other actors. [Normally it’s] just a single voice at a time. But because of the nature of what we’re doing, we’ve been having Tom and me together. That’s fun! That is really fun!”
She also reiterated what other voice actors have stated, that it takes Pixar a long time to make their films.
“They’re funny those Pixar people. They just take their time. It’s very painstaking work. If they don’t like whole sections then they just chuck it and start over again. They have that great creative liberty to do that.”
As disappointing and frustrating as Toy Story 4‘s setbacks have been, it’s ultimately better that Pixar has taken the time and effort to rework the story, until they were certain it represented the quality they demand for such an important franchise. And with the story worked out at last, it seems that production is finally underway!
An Interview with Stephany Folsom
Also in the past week, Yale University spoke to Stephany Folsom from her office at Pixar in an interview about her screenwriting – with a special focus on Toy Story 4. In it, she gave some wonderful insight about the writing process at Pixar, and confirms that she’s been a part of the Toy Story 4 team for over a year, which I had suspected back when she announced she was working on the film back in January:
“I’ve been up here about a year or more. It’s kind of like this constant back and forth when it comes to animation. Because you write it, and then they immediately storyboard it, and you can literally just play it right there in storyboard form, and see what you need to change. So then you rewrite it off the storyboards, and you just keep doing kind of this back and forth process between you and the artists, which is really – the collaboration is great.”
“We draw the storyboards, and part of our process is putting up reels, where they actually do full soundtrack, they edit the storyboards together, we either bring in temp actors or the actual actors and record, to see how the line reads are going and everything. So we literally just iterate the film over and over and over, and I think that’s why Pixar movies are so great. You just keep doing it until you get it right.”
“I’m part of a story team. So I’m the only one writing, but I have these amazing artists that are supporting me and have great storytelling skills, and are able to help craft the story. So I’m the only one physically typing, but I have a whole story department with me.”
It’s great to know that besides the Pixar Braintrust, Folsom has also consulted with Michael Arndt, who wrote the Toy Story 3 screenplay, and Meg LeFauve, who wrote Inside Out. Meeting with Arndt in particular ensures a continuity with the storytelling, from one sequel to another:
“The great thing is that they constantly bring back in people that have worked here, to kind of add help to other projects, and to talk to writers, that are working on things. Like Michael Arndt, I’ve gotten to meet with; and he’s just amazing, and been so helpful and so insightful. Meg LeFauve is another one, who’s just been wonderful, and such a great mentor. So they don’t leave you completely hanging while you’re swimming in the deep end of the pool.”
When she was asked if she was a fan of the Toy Story films before she started working on Toy Story 4, her answer was just as enthusiastic as that of the movie’s voice actors:
“I was a huge fan. It was kind of funny when I first met Pixar – like, ‘what’s your favorite Pixar movie?’ and I was like, ‘Toy Story!’ and they’re like, ‘oh, way to kiss up.’ But I was like ‘no, really, Toy Story!’ … I was just geeking out about Toy Story, having no idea that I would ever get this gig.”
And because she was already a fan, she is dedicated to doing right by the characters and their world:
“It was one of my formative movies. Which is wonderful, but it’s also – I feel like a weight of responsibility to be like – this has to be good.”
It’s clear that she wants Toy Story 4 to be a worthy addition to the franchise. And her personal views on character development sound very much in line with the direction Pixar takes in their movies:
“When you’re dealing with a big franchise, who the characters are – like their backstory – the whole world knows their backstory. So it’s about figuring out where they are now, and how would that backstory shape them to be who they are in the current situation you have them in. And for me, I always look at things character first … I have a concept of what I want my movie to be about, but then I really dig into those characters, because those characters, once you formulate their personalities and who they are, and their relationships and how they interact with each other, and what they need to learn over the course of the journey that you’re sending them on, that’s really going to dictate where you take them in your plot. And I think the best stories come from a character perspective.”
This whole interview is fantastic – although I’ve excerpted only the quotes that deal with Toy Story 4 specifically, I really recommend listening to the whole thing. Stephany Folsom is delightful, and after listening to her speak about her writing, I feel confident about the sequel being in her hands. She explained over the course of the interview that working on a Pixar movie is a five-day-a-week immersive job, and she moved to the San Francisco area to be readily accessible for the duration of the project. I can imagine that this was a major stumbling block when Rashida Jones was first assigned the role of screenwriter – considering her acting and other varied endeavors, it seems likely that she was either unable or unwilling to give the film the full-time dedication it required and deserved. And while this may have caused issues that had to be remedied, and ultimately led to delays, I think it’s safe to say that once Folsom took charge of the script, things were finally steered back on the right track. The fact that Toy Story 4 is being penned by a writer who truly appreciates the characters, and the world she’s bringing to life, makes the outcome even more promising.
Toy Story 2 image © Disney/Pixar. Stephany Folsom image © iMDb.