As a reporter, I have opportunities to visit animation studios and get a sneak preview of their upcoming films. It’s an exciting experience to step foot in these studios, to see such their rich histories and marvel at the legacy they are creating. But there’s nothing like visiting Pixar Animation Studios. When one gets an invite to go there, it’s hard to say no. So I was caught off guard when said invite came. Needless to say, I immediately said yes.
As a Pixar fan, I was going to enjoy every single moment and every single second of being on their campus in Emeryville, CA. It goes without saying that it was a life-changing experience. And so, after all the flights and getting settled into the hotel, I joined a group of journalists to take a look at the Pixar campus to see what Toy Story 4 is all about. More on this and reaction to the footage we were shown, below.
Among the first things you will notice is the obvious entry gate, with the Pixar sign above to welcome those who work there or have the rare chance to go in. The sign alone just gave me chills. I never thought I would ever get the opportunity to visit. But here I am. And upon entry, and walking down a straight path, you see two things. On your left are the Luxo Lamp and the blue and yellow ball with a red star. These two are iconic figures in the Pixar pantheon as it is the first animated short the animation studio produced.
And on the right-hand side is the Steve Jobs Building. This is where all of the magic happens. Once inside, you will see how large and spacious the building is. The intricate brick walls are decorated with Toy Story 4 character portraits, and the exposed metal frames add some personality. There’s also large character statues of the Parr family from The Incredibles, Guido and Luigi from Cars, and two Buzz and Woody figures built entirely out of LEGOs.
There is also a shrine dedicated to all of the awards that Pixar has won in the past. Anything from an Annie Award and a Golden Globe to an Academy Award are on full display. It’s a recognition of all the hard work that the studio has done, and will continue to do. Not only that, but there is a Pixar Archive facility located offsite. But we will have more on that later.
Walking towards the other end of the atrium there is a very private screening room, where the animation, camera and lighting, and story teams get together to view the film in order to see what needs improvement. So imagine what it was like to know that Pixar would be moving forward with Toy Story 4.
Pixar says they pride themselves in putting story first, so it was a bit of a shock to know that they would be releasing Toy Story 4. Why would they, after Toy Story 3 was considered to be the perfect film to end on. Well, our interview with director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen showed that Pixar wouldn’t just make a sequel for a cash grab. They’re doing it because there is a story to be told.
And after watching the footage, it looks like they have delivered.
We were shown 17 minutes of footage, and I couldn’t help but feel sentimental and excited about the upcoming sequel. We saw the opening minutes of the film where audiences will be taken back to a time when the toys were with Andy. A large rainstorm is beating down on the family house, and all but RC are inside the house. RC is in trouble, because if he doesn’t get rescued, he will be washed away, by the rainstorm, and swept away into a sewer drain.
So Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) jump into action. While the brave sheriff risks his life, the shepherdess delivers commands to each of the toys. The toys know exactly what to do and it’s clear they’ve had practice runs for just these sort of occasions. Needless to say, the mission was successful, but nothing could prepare them for someone who wants to buy the Bo Peep figure and lamp stand. It’s at this point that we see Woody do everything he can to save Bo. But she accepts her fate, and before she can be hauled off, she offers him to get inside the box and says that toys get lost all the time.
It’s clear that Woody and Bo care for each other, but Woody declines the offer saying that he is Andy’s toy. And the two part ways. As the film progresses, we see a montage of Andy playing with Woody, with each swipe, we get to see Andy get older, but the magic of playtime never diminishes. It’s even more effective with Randy Newman singing in the background.
It’s then that we see Woody and the gang with Bonnie, his new owner. Although, Bonnie doesn’t seem nearly as interested to be with him as she does with some of the other toys. While there is a sense of rejection at play, Woody remains loyal and protective of Bonnie. He even goes as far as sneaking into her backpack as she goes on her first day of kindergarten. Though she is very reluctant. And like any new kid at a school, she doesn’t know where she fits in. Luckily, Woody gives her all the tools she needs to build Forky. And this puts a smile on her face.
But what she doesn’t know is, in creating Forky (Tony Hale), she created a new life. Woody introduces Forky to the gang. But the others aren’t quite sure what to make of Forky, who isn’t built like any of them. Even Forky doesn’t believe he’s a toy. He often speaks using very few words, and says trash a lot as he heads towards the trash can. But Woody knows that Bonnie cherishes Forky, and not only defends him from the ridicule of the other toys, but also stops Forky from going to the trash.
Bonnie is so proud of her work that her parents tell her about the RV trip and that she can bring all of her toys with her, including Forky. And it’s there that Woody goes on the adventure of a lifetime, as he is separated from the gang when he tries to rescue Forky from running away.
As the two rendezvous to the RV at the next rest stop, Woody sees Bo Peep’s lamp stand in the Second Chance Antiques Shop, a dusty metropolis of old antiques. The shop is full of old vintage toys, furniture, and other knick-knacks. It is there that they meet Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), an old 1950s doll. She reveals that she is in the shop because of her broken voice box. But once she discovers that Woody was probably built around the same time as her, she will do anything to get it.
Woody is able to escape with the help of Bo Peep, who has changed since she was given away. but Forky is not so lucky. The former lamp porcelain figure is now a survivalist who places herself out in the open to be played with by young children who are at a nearby playground rest stop. It is a joyous moment that reminds us of what it was like for Woody and Bo to be played together when they were with Andy. When playtime stops, Bo Peep is able to slide into hiding, where she reveals her own RC car which has been stripped down and covered with a rodent pelt. Inside is an assortment of tools that repair any damage she may have sustained during playtime. She reveals that she has been on her own for seven years.
We meet Giggles McDimples (Ally Maki), a Polly Pocket-like character who accompanies Bo on her adventures. She is so small, she can perch on top of Bo’s shoulder. But don’t let Giggle’s small stature deceive you. She has a personality that cannot be contained.
We saw some additional footage that takes us back into the antique store, the inside of a vintage pinball machine, and more of the carnival and state fair. I won’t get into any more details so as to not get too spoilery, but it looks like Forky won’t be the only one to be questioning his purpose being a toy. And that presents us with a new reality that Woody has to face. Is there happiness beyond being a toy for one child? What exactly is a toy’s purpose in life?
After the visit, we got to see the upper-level floor of the Steve Jobs Building. Each of the offices is dedicated to a certain aspect of the film. Camera and lighting, story, animation, and more. Of course, we will have more on this a little later. But the walls are decorated with all sorts of concept art for Toy Story 4. And you can see them in my Instagram posts and the image gallery below.
Toy Story 4 opens in theaters on June 21, 2019. Click right here for more on the film, including trailers.