Featured image by John Lee, digital painting. From The Art of Toy Story 4, Foreword by Annie Potts, Introduction by Josh Cooley, published by Chronicle Books
Just as we thought the final chapter of the Toy Story franchise had come to an end in 2010, Pixar made a surprising announcement with the news that a fourth Toy Story installment would eventually arrive, expanding the journey of Andy’s toys, beyond Andy, and seemingly, once and for all. For years, we’ve speculated what this film could possibly consist of. Would it do justice to the characters? Is this really necessary, considering the absolute perfection that was Toy Story 3? Obviously, Pixar was equally concerned about doing these characters justice and ensuring that Toy Story 4 would have something of great value to say about these cherished characters, and the results certainly do just that. With the release of the film comes another great installment of the animation Art Of… series from Disney and Chronicle Books and The Art of Toy Story 4 delves deep into the great collaborative development of this film.
This book begins with a foreword from Annie Potts, who plays Bo Peep in three of the four Toy Story films. Potts reflects on her career playing Bo, and how returning for this role, a character we had never thought we’d ever possibly see again, influenced her. Bo is ‘updated’ in this film, and her character arc is as equally great as Woody’s over the span of four films. Potts brings much to the character, and it’s wonderful to see her genuine care for the franchise to her role, and if it were worth it, for one thing, Toy Story 4 has turned Bo Peep into a truly inspirational character that is sure to be remembered along with the legacy of this film series. Additionally, director Josh Cooley contributes his own introduction, chronicling the long process in bringing this film to life. Overseeing the project, the director brings a large amount of their own unique style to the film, and its quite surprising that a newcomer to a Pixar film of this scale could execute this film as wonderfully as Cooley does. Hitting the ground running on his first theatrical feature film debut, Cooley brings a unique flair to the Toy Story wrapping up the series in what is, hopefully, the last installment of this brilliant series, and it’s exciting to see his insight in bringing those ideas to life.
Elsewhere, the book dives into the process the development that no sane mind could have considered before. ‘How do we design a talking spork with googly eyes in a way that displays an endearing personality?’ or ‘What would the eye movement of an antique pull-string doll look like?’. The character artists spend much time studying the movements and physicality of poseable action figures, carnival dolls, and antiques to imagine how their movements could affect the purposes of their characters, and how those could purpose the story. More importantly, what lessons can Woody learn from these experiences? After three films, two television specials, and shorts, this sheriff certainly has more to learn, and all of Toy Story 4’s new characters throw a wrench into Woody’s understanding of his place in the world, and its always so exciting to see the Pixar team exploring new toys. From happy meal toys, nightstand glass figures, and carnival toys, no stone has been left unturned.
What’s arguably more fascinating than the characters developed for Pixar films are the environments in which they placed within, and the Toy Story films have a great history of turning seemingly ordinary locations into a hazardous trap for a toy. In this film, that comes in the shape of a hostile antique store, inhabited by the antique toys of Gabby Gabby and The Bensons, who act as antagonists in Woody and Forky’s journey. Each prop in the antique store, aside from a plethora of Pixar-related easter eggs, serves a purpose in the story, with the store turning from the colorful auras of the entrance to get darker as we progress to the back of the store to heighten the intensity or clever placement of objects to indicate the danger settled within this overcrowded shop.
Like all Pixar movies, the production of this movie involves what the artists refer to as a color script. This means that each scene within the film is drawn out, in sometimes vague visual development, with specific colors to showcase the emotional goals of each sequence. While character designs may change or camera angles may be altered at a later point, these renderings portray the emotional core of the films, and the emotion is evoked from those colors. This film borrows the colorful worlds of the original films, creating environments that feel familiar, intense, and calming, all emotions the audience will take on Woody’s journey of rediscovering himself. What’s even more provocative is the use of lighting within familiar scenes, such as Woody looking through the drab confinements of Bonnie’s closet looking into Bonnie’s colorful, familiar room as his fellow toys get more playtime than him. This creates the feeling that the world in which our character inhabit was quite not as familiar as we thought, throwing a wrench straight into our perception of the ideas once showcased in these films.
Toy Story 4 is a great achievement in cinema, and although it does feel like it could undercut some of its predecessors in some elements, it still contributes some of the best storytelling that the franchise has ever seen. Toy Story 4 helps secure the franchise’s legacy as the greatest cinematic franchise of all time, which after four movies, has hardly a controversial misstep or blunder; a rarity in a film series consisting of four subsequent sequels. More importantly, it’s a great testament to the legacy of the innovative company and the rich history of this series, and The Art of Toy Story 4 greatly showcases the production that went into this film, making this book series another landmark win in showcasing the painstaking artistry of animation, and a must-have reference for any die-hard Disney-Pixar fan.
‘The Art of Toy Story 4’ is now available to purchase online and wherever books are sold.