When Toy Story 4 was first announced in 2014, early contributors to the project revealed that the newest addition to the beloved Pixar franchise would be a romantic comedy, centering on Woody and Bo Peep. It was an unexpected revelation — Bo had been absent from Toy Story 3, and Woody and the remaining gang passed on to a new owner, Bonnie. It would also be a shift in what we’d come to expect from the movies. Rather than center around the love between a toy and their kid, it would offer a story of toy-to-toy affection. It was an exciting idea, and the more the filmmakers dug into it, the more they realized… it just didn’t work. “It started feeling like a tiny person movie and not a Toy Story movie,” director Josh Cooley told MTV News.
“It also didn't feel like it was deep enough,” producer Jonas Rivera chimed in. “It was cool and — you're right — it felt like we lost the toy-ness of it. It started because, well, it could work and it's entertaining and we love her, but it felt like that's not enough. It needed to have a deeper well.” So they got to work, not just by lacing in new story elements, but by creating a “high-stakes adventure around it,” producer Mark Nelson said. “It's more than you often see in a romantic comedy.”
But in deepening that well and raising the stakes, what the storytellers didn’t realize was that they were actually fortifying the romantic comedy they’d initially set out to make.
Perhaps most crucially, 4 hits all the story beats of a traditional romantic comedy. We have our meet-cute when Woody finds Bo at a park and she throws them down a hill, safe from the view of all the wild kids unleashed onto the playground. As soon as they get their bearings, it becomes immediately obvious that Bo is now more confident and independent than Woody remembered. In some ways, it’s like they’re meeting for the very first time. Luckily, they’re able to get closer when Bo agrees to help Woody on his latest rescue mission: recovering Forky, Bonnie’s favorite toy, from the antique shop toys holding him hostage. During that time, Woody gets to know the new Bo, one who isn’t afraid to take charge and speak her mind. She’s so comfortable speaking her mind, in fact, that when Woody risks it all simply to save Forky, Bo voices her stark disagreement with his understanding of life: Whereas Woody’s whole world is his kid, Bo recognizes that there’s a world beyond the bedroom. So, before they ultimately set aside their differences to reunite Bonnie and Forky once more, they have to go their separate ways — But, as Woody makes his way make to Bonnie and reaches his final goodbye with Bo, it hits him: He cannot continue living the rest of his life without her. And thus, the grand gesture: Woody decides to stay with Bo, enjoying the mischievous life of a lost toy with the love of his life right by his side.
Even Tom Hanks, the voice of Woody, admitted that the two were meant to be since the very beginning — one tentpole rom-com trope. “Woody has known since 1994 that Bo was the figurine for him,” he said at a press conference, before adding the official talking points provided to him by Disney’s marketing team, which read, “They know that fate is an odd thing and there is no substitution for love in this crazy, kooky, confusing world.” And speaking of Tom Hanks, this movie stars Tom Hanks, also the star of classic rom-coms You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. We all know that one hallmark of a rom-com is that its stars have appeared in other successful rom-coms. (See: Hugh Grant, Richard Gere, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Meg Ryan, and Julia Roberts.)
The rom-com nature of the story also appears in how Hanks and Annie Potts, the voice of Bo, acted, playing off of their chemistry by teaming up in the sound booth during their scenes, despite that being an uncommon practice in animated films. (For added context, Hanks and Tim Allen, who voices Buzz Lightyear, have never recorded together, and the only other voice actors to team up during 4’s recording sessions were Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who voiced the conjoined Ducky and Bunny.) “Even separated by two microphones and two stands, the way Annie Potts will look at you with her eyes,” Hanks said, turning his chin down and puppy-dogging his eyes, “When she says the words … ‘Oh, Woody,’ it gets you every time and you become a little jar of pudding when that happens.”
Of course, that demure attitude isn’t Bo’s only contribution to the movie. Fitting with the modernization of the genre, 4 flips the script on traditional rom-coms, telling the story of a fully actualized (toy) woman who completes a (toy) man. It’s a fitting follow-up to 3, when college-bound Andy has passed all of his toys on to Bonnie and Woody “has to find a new purpose now,” Nelson said. “Everything has changed. He can't live out his life the way that he was before and it's not anything he's prepared himself for, and now he's got to figure it out.” Over the course of their time together, and particularly after she forces him to look at life’s bigger picture, Bo becomes the catalyst to Woody figuring it out. And that’s what romantic comedies are all about: the transformative power of love.
Through that adventure, the filmmakers hoped to tell the story of the moment that Bo changed Woody’s life forever. “If you were to meet Woody now, after this series of all these films and ask him over a cup of coffee, ‘What's the biggest thing that ever happened to you?’ We wanted his answer to be, 'Meeting Bo Peep for the second time,'” Rivera said. “That's the thing — after everything he's been through, that actually changes life more than anything.”