According to Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley, Pixar decided that Woody's reunion with Bo Peep was important enough to justify making a sequel. While many people felt Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the Toy Story movies, there's been talk of a fourth film happening for a while. Tom Hanks said Pixar was working on Toy Story 4 as far back as 2011, about three years before the animation studio made the news official. The movie has been through some major changes since then, after original screenwriters Rashida Jones and Will McCormack left the project and John Lasseter stepped down as co-director (prior to his sexual misconduct scandal).
In the beginning, the sequel was described as a romantic comedy about Woody and Bo Peep. The lovebirds were separated at some point between the events of Toy Story 2 and 3, so the film would've followed Woody and Buzz as they set out on a journey to find Bo and reunite her with the rest of the gang (along with Bonnie's other toys). Pixar has since thrown out the vast majority of the initial Toy Story 4 script in favor of a story that follows Woody on a road trip adventure where he encounters Bo, who's been living as an ownerless toy for years.
Speaking at Pixar's Toy Story 4 press day, Cooley said that Bo was "always" part of the film, having either lived in an antique store or another "location that was always kind of her home" when the story begins. Producer Jonas Rivera added that the sequel had "romantic comedy roots" early on, but that changed as its creatives really embraced the idea of Bo being a lost toy who challenges Woody's worldview and leads him to wonder: would life without a owner truly be so bad? As Cooley explained:
Once we figured out that was the place to go, I think, Jonas, you kind of coined this phrase that, if you were to ask Woody as a character, "What was the biggest moment of your life?" He would say, "It was when I met Bo Peep for the second time." So that was our goal for this film, to make this meeting with her so powerful that it was deserving of Toy Story 4.
As touching as a rom-com about Woody and Bo might've been, it doesn't necessarily sound like the sort of layered story that people expect from a Toy Story movie. However, a sequel in which Woody's reunion with Bo forces him to question his very purpose arguably has more potential on paper. It could also make for a satisfying resolution to Woody's personal conflict in Toy Story 2, when he had to decide between being on display in a museum or returning to a life as Andy's toy. While Toy Story 3 offered a great ending to Woody and Andy's story together, it didn't really address Wood's greater existential crisis from before. Indeed, according to Cooley, it wasn't until he and his team realized "there was more story to tell, to continue Woody's story" that Toy Story 4 felt like something "really worth exploring".
There's an inherent risk in going back to world of Toy Story after the success of the third movie, but Pixar's creatives seem well aware of that and took this into account while developing Toy Story 4. While early marketing raised some red flags (with its emphasis on the film's kid-friendly humor and little else), the trailers and TV spots released since then have done a good job of setting up the sequel's themes and hinted at more nuanced storytelling to come. Unlike other Pixar properties, Toy Story has continuously raised the bar and, for many people, only improved with each passing movie so far. That may put all the more pressure on Toy Story 4 to deliver on its promise, but its creatives seem to believe that it will - and that's certainly encouraging.
- Toy Story 4 (2019) release date: Jun 21, 2019