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Read This Before You See Toy Story 4

Reach for the sky! 

The first Toy Story, released in 1995, helped skyrocket Pixar to the top of the animation industry. A paradigm-shifting classic that told a timeless story even as it broke thrilling new ground for computer animation, it was a nearly impossible act to follow — but the studio pulled it off with the equally beloved Toy Story 2 in 1999, and then rounded out the trilogy with Toy Story 3 in 2010. Although Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of their fellow toys have appeared in a few short films since, 2019's Toy Story 4 ends a nearly decade-long drought between chapters in Pixar's first franchise.

Since it's been so long since we saw all these characters onscreen, even hardcore fans might need a refresher course before heading to the theater for the latest installment. But don't worry — we've got you covered with this look at everything you need to know before you grab your tickets for Toy Story 4 on June 21, 2019. Read on, and be sure to pack your tissues — everything seems to indicate that this one will be every bit as emotional as the others in the franchise.

A long-awaited reunion

Toy Story just wouldn't be what it is without its two leads, so of course Tom Hanks is back as Woody, and Tim Allen returns as Buzz Lightyear. But it isn't just those two that help give so much heart to the world of Toy Story — and luckily, a huge number of fan favorite voice actors are reprising their roles in Toy Story 4.

Besides Hanks and Allen, the list of confirmed returns includes Annie Potts as Bo Peep, Joan Cusack as Jessie, Blake Clark as Slinky Dog, Wallace Shawn as Rex, John Ratzenberger as Hamm, Don Rickles and Estelle Harris as Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Jodi Benson as Barbie, Michael Keaton as Ken, Jeff Pidgeon as the Aliens, Bonnie Hunt as Dolly, Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, Jeff Garlin as Buttercup, Laurie Metcalf as Mrs. Davis, and Lori Alan as Mrs. Anderson.

The big one there is the return of Bo Peep who, judging from the trailers, will play a big role in Toy Story 4. The character barely appeared in Toy Story 2, and was completely written out of Toy Story 3. It's good to see Annie Potts back in the role.

Some new friends

Just about every character in the Toy Story universe is coming back for the fourth film, but there are plenty of new characters to look forward to as well. Like an overstuffed toy box, it seems there's always room for some new characters for us to fall in love with.

A huge part of the narrative of Toy Story 4 seems to be centered on Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. Forky is a homemade toy belonging to Bonnie — a Spork with some googly eyes and pipe cleaners stuck to it — and seems to be in the midst of an existential crisis about whether or not he's truly a toy. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key also join the film as Bunny and Ducky, a pair of stuffed animals who join forces with Woody and friends, while Keanu Reeves plays Duke Caboom, an Evel Knievel-esque action figure complete with a stunt motorcycle.

Finally, Christina Hendricks will join the cast as a character named Gabby Gabby, a vintage baby doll who commands an army of ventriloquist dummies in an antique mall, and appears to be the central villain of the film. (Of course she is — what part of "Commands an army of ventriloquist dummies" didn't make that clear?)

Keanu goes Caboom

The extra wait for Toy Story 4 may have been frustrating for fans, but it helped the timing align in at least one crucial way: Keanu Reeves' voice work as new character Duke Caboom arrives in the midst of a career revival for the Hollywood veteran, who will make his debut shortly after slicing and dicing box office competitors as the star of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. It's just another reminder that Reeves can handle pretty much any type of role — and as the Pixar brass discovered shortly after arranging a meeting, he gives his all to any character, even the ones made out of plastic.

"Once Keanu came to the table, he was just asking all of these great questions about the character," Cooley told Entertainment Weekly. "It made us realize that we weren't digging deep enough for this character and there's a real opportunity to have him support Woody's story in a much bigger way."

Digging deeper, Reeves revealed, included building out a poignant backstory for Duke, a Canadian stuntman sold to kids with promises the toy might not have been able to fulfill. "Duke let his kid down when he couldn't do what the commercial said he could," said Reeves. "So he's a wounded person! He's needing to have some, I don't know, catharsis. Some feeling. I wanted him to have a real sensitivity and a soft heart."

One last role for Rickles

You may have noticed one somewhat odd returning cast member of Toy Story 4: Don Rickles, the voice of Mr. Potato Head. Not that Rickles' performance needed changing — he's one of the most entertaining side characters in the franchise. However, Rickles died in 2017 as the script for the film was still being written. He'd signed on to be a part of it, but was unable to record any lines for the new film.

After his passing, Rickles' family reached out to Pixar and asked if there was any way that the late comedian could still be a part of the film through other recorded material. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Josh Cooley confirmed that there was plenty of material to bring Rickles back for one more go, saying, "we went through, jeez, 25 years of everything we didn't use for Toy Story 1, 2, 3, the theme parks, the ice capades, the video games — everything that he's recorded for Mr. Potato Head. And we were able to do that. And so I'm very honored that they asked us to do that, and I'm very honored that he's in the film. Nobody can replace him."

A big debut

Toy Story 4 has been through a rocky development process, and the director seems like a bit of a strange choice for one of Pixar's most beloved and important franchises. A look at director Josh Cooley's IMDb page will show you that prior to taking the helm for this sequel, he'd directed exactly zero feature films. That being said, there are a few good reasons to think he can pull this off.

Cooley has been at Pixar since 2004, when he started as an intern. He started as a storyboard artist on films like The Incredibles, Up, and Ratatouille, and eventually became a screenwriter and storyboard supervisor for Inside Out. He also directed the short Riley's First Date, which continued the story of the film and was released on the Inside Out DVD/Blu-ray.

Cooley has worked in many different areas at Pixar, and he was originally set to co-direct Toy Story 4 alongside former Pixar head John Lasseter. Lasseter stepped aside due to professional conflicts and personal conduct accusations, leaving the direction of the film entirely in Cooley's hands. In addition to directing, he's also voiced some memorable minor Pixar characters, like the horrifying Jangles the clown in Inside Out.

Toy Story timeline

At the end of Toy Story 3, Andy decided it was time to move on from his childhood toys and passed them along to Bonnie, inducing tears for about the fifth time during the film. Toy Story 4 will reportedly pick up with what sounds like a flashback to a time between the events of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 — a time when Bo Peep was still around. If you recall, she was absent without much explanation in the third film.

Those who have seen the beginning of Toy Story 4 indicate that it will fill in many blanks about where Bo Peep disappeared to.

MovieWeb writes that the main events of the film take place nine years after the first scene, bringing us back to Woody and the gang adjusting to their new life with Bonnie.

Pixar's patience

Toy Story 4 has been in the works for quite some time, and not just due to the fact that Pixar's animation process and attention to detail takes a long time to complete. The film has actually gone through a series of writing and directing changes since it was first announced in 2014.

The original directing duo was cut in half when John Lasseter stepped down, but that's just one of several behind-the-scenes shakeups. The film has also been through a number of writers, and even saw a near-total rewrite at one point. Rashida Jones and Will McCormack were originally in charge of the story, but they walked away about the same time Lasseter stepped down from his role as a co-director. As of right now, eight different writers are credited, with Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom as the top credited writers.

It's too bad for Pixar that the delays pushed back Toy Story 4 so far, but we did get the delightful Incredibles 2 to fill the space. Not a terrible second choice.

A romantic comedy?

In the original version of the script, Toy Story 4 was billed as a romantic comedy. Pixar president Jim Morris told Disney Latino (translated by The Telegraph) that Toy Story 4 would still follow the arc established by previous chapters in the franchise, but it would also follow its own path and tell a totally different type of story.

According to Morris, that the film won't focus much on the relationship between toys and children, but would instead depict a love story between Woody and Bo Peep. This may be an indication of why the studio reached out to Jones and McCormack, who had previously written the film Celeste and Jesse Forever as a writing team. However, in the interim, the script has gone through some major changes since it was originally conceived, and it seems possible that Toy Story 4 may have reverted back to some of the more familiar storytelling beats the series is known for.

Classic callbacks

Although the main plot of Toy Story 4 has mostly been kept under wraps, we do know a bit about where things will head in the film. Disney screened the beginning to a select group of viewers, and it sounds like the story will go more in-depth with some of the themes we've seen in other Toy Story movies — most notably Toy Story 2.

Toy Story 2's central conflict revolved around Woody's choice between bringing joy to one child, Andy, or becoming part of something bigger: a museum exhibit. It sounds like Woody will face a similar crisis of faith in this film, as he discovers his old flame Bo Peep at a carnival and is tempted to join her.

At the same time, the film looks like it'll tackle the existential question of what it means to be a toy. Forky, a new character in the film, is just a spork with eyes glued on it, but he still gains sentience because he's a child's plaything. Pixar films have never shied away from thought-provoking topics, and it seems likely Toy Story 4 will follow the trend.

Randy's return

There are a lot of things that give the Toy Story films such a venerated place in our hearts, and one is the music. It could hardly be a Toy Story film without Randy Newman contributing to the soundtrack; it's tough to not get nostalgic when you hear "You've Got a Friend in Me" or "We Belong Together." And it's tough to keep the waterworks from turning on during "When She Loved Me." He's a key part of the franchise, so fans should be thrilled to know that Newman is coming back for another go.

In 2015, Pixar announced that Newman would be contributing to the soundtrack of Toy Story 4, just like he had with the previous three films. He's listed on the movie's IMDb page as the film's composer as well as the writer for "You've Got a Friend in Me," so it seems likely that song will be back in the film. Newman has been nominated for Academy Awards for each of the previous three Toy Story films, so it won't be a surprise if he earns another nod. (He previously won for "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 and "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc.)

The most emotional Toy Story yet?

Considering that Toy Story 3 seemed to wrap up the franchise on a perfect note, many fans were surprised to hear that Pixar was making a fourth film. It might be hard to believe there's another great story to tell here, but according to the film's stars, Toy Story 4 is the most powerful and emotional chapter in the series.

Tim Allen, who plays Buzz Lightyear, appeared on The Talk and told the hosts that he actually struggled to get through the final scenes of Toy Story 4 due to their emotional weight. "I gotta resist getting emotional," he said. "I don't want to give it away, but this is an incredibly great story... It is so emotional, it's so funny, it's so big, the idea they've come up with, I'm startled. I couldn't even get through the last scene."

Tom Hanks, a.k.a. Woody, echoed those sentiments, telling The Chris Evans Show that he could barely even read his lines on the last day. "When I went in for my last day of recording, I wanted to have my back to them because usually you're facing them so you can look right up and you can talk about it," he recalled. "But I didn't want to see them and I wanted to pretend they couldn't see me."

Early raves

It could be easy to dismiss Hanks and Allen's comments — they're hyping their upcoming film, after all, and they've played these characters since 1995. Of course it was emotional for them. However, the response to an early screening of Toy Story 4's opening act seems to indicate that this is more than just a couple of big stars trying to put butts in seats.

In April 2019, Disney surprised the audience at CinemaCon by showing the first 17 minutes of the film, and it sounds like Hanks and Allen aren't just paying lip service with their comments. Just that opening salvo opened the waterworks for plenty of viewers, and it seems likely that the masterful storytellers at Pixar will only ramp up the emotion as the story goes on. Essentially, it sounds like you may need to see Toy Story 4 more than once, as you might be crying too much the first time around to catch every detail. Make room on your calendar now: the movie arrives in theaters on June 21, 2019.

To Toy Story 5...and beyond?

Given that Pixar was once a famously sequel-averse studio — and given how long and hard the creative braintrust has had to fight to get Toy Story 4 ready for audiences — it might seem safe to assume that this fourth chapter is well and truly the end of the saga. But not so fast! According to producer Mark Nielsen, nothing is off the table where the future of the franchise is concerned. Out doing press to promote Toy Story 4, Nielsen told reporters, "Every film we make, we treat it like it's the first and the last film we're ever going to make. So you force yourself to make it hold up. You don't get in over your skis. Whether there's another one? I don't know. If there is, it's tomorrow's problem."

You know what that means, Toy Story fans — get those tickets early and often. Where there's an impressive box office tally, there's usually a way to continue a franchise, and this is one that's consistently proven itself worth watching. To Toy Story 5... and beyond!