The Toys are back! “You’ve got a friend in me/You’ve got troubles, well I’ve got ’em too/There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.” Ring a bell? One of Pixar’s most beloved franchises returns with its fourth instalment, Toy Story 4, opening in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Toy Story 4 sees returning voice cast members, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks reprises his role as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, and Young Sheldon star Annie Potts as Bo Peep.
In addition to those veteran voices, Veep star Tony Hale joins the voice cast as Forky, a scene-stealing new character who’s in a full-fledged identity crisis about being a toy.
While fans around the world thought the story had ended when Andy brought his pull-string cowboy Woody the sheriff (Hanks) and the rest of the gang - Buzz, Jessie, Slinky and Rex to live with Bonnie, director Josh Cooley says it’s is far from over.
“Like most people, I assumed that Toy Story 3 was the end of the story,” says Cooley, who has previously worked as a storyboard artist for other Pixar films, including Cars, Ratatouille and Up. “Turns out it was only the end of Woody’s story with Andy. Just like in life, every ending is a new beginning. Woody now being in a new room, with new toys and a new kid, was something we have never seen before.
“With each film, our technology gets better and better, and we’re able to make things look more believable, more realistic,” he adds. “In this movie, there are shots that are staggeringly realistic. At times we have to pull it back - it’s too real.”
While things may be lifelike, however, director of photography Patrick Lin says the fact that the characters are toys is always at the forefront of the creators’ minds.
“We don’t want the camera to feel like there’s a toy-sized cameraman operating it,” he says. “ We actually have to work as if a human is holding the camera low so that the audience sees it from a human’s point of view.”
More than nine years since Woody last graced the big screen, and nearly a quarter of a century since he was created, while technology has evolved, Woody hasn’t. However, supervising animator Scott Clark says all returning characters were rebooted to meet audience expectations.
“He has floppy arms and legs with heavier plastic hands and boots. Respecting the materials he’s made out of is ultimately what makes Woody Woody - if he’s running really fast, his ragdoll arms and legs are out of control, but in a fun and charming way.
“It’s like going to a family reunion where you get to see your uncle you haven’t seen in years. It’s great to be with these characters again,” he adds.
Hanks returns as the voice of Woody. Hanks, who’s been voicing the character for more than two decades, says he has a special connection to these characters.
“They are full of innocent characters who face an endless trail of adventures. We all know the likes of Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep and Mr and Mrs Potato Head, and we wonder who we would be … if we were toys.”
According to Cooley, Hanks innately understands the nuances of Woody. “He knows the character so well. I don’t think Woody would work without Tom Hanks. He’s such a fearful character, yet Tom conveys his fears in such a lovable way.”
Hanks says each film in the series has taken Woody to surprising new places.
“We’ve been through profound examinations of community, of family, of growing older and finding new purpose,” says Hanks. “And this one ends up being just as profound and new as the previous movies. They’re all toys. As long as they don’t break, they can live forever.”