Why make another one? 'Toy Story 4' producer Jonas Rivera addresses the elephant in the room

How does Woody handle his second chance? That’s the riddle at the heart of <i>Toy Story 4</i> (Disney)
How does Woody handle his second chance? That’s the riddle at the heart of Toy Story 4 (Disney)

Why do we need Toy Story 4?

The ending of Toy Story 3 is one of the all-time greats. The third film in the trilogy brought the story of Andy and his toys Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of the gang, to an incredibly gratifying conclusion that reduced audiences around the world to floods of tears.

Having just escaped certain doom in an incinerator at the hands of Lotso, the toys were given a new lease of life when Andy donated them, job lot, to Bonnie, the inquisitive young toddler who had already proved herself to be a worthy custodian earlier in the film.

Addressing universal themes of grief, change, growing up, a loss of innocence, and family, it tied up the stories of all three films in a neat bow, and sent our heroes on their way with a bright future ahead of them. Audiences left theatres wiping tears from their eyes, safe in the knowledge that everything was going to be OK.

Andy passes the torch to a new generation in <i>Toy Story 3</i> (Disney)
Andy passes the torch to a new generation in Toy Story 3 (Disney)

And then, in 2014, Toy Story 4 was announced.

It wasn’t a huge bombshell to insiders – Toy Story, Pixar’s 1995 debut, is essentially the studio’s Mickey Mouse. It’s the cornerstone on which the studio was built on, and it paved the way for an incredibly successful 20-film run, earning the studio 19 Oscars and over £10 billion at the global box office.

Toy Story 4 was inevitable, but it prompted a fair bit of cynicism from its fans. To them it was like Marvel Studios announcing Avengers: Endgame 2. Because of the cathartic closure it represented, Toy Story 3 was hallowed ground. But now there was going to be another one? Why?

Read more: Don Rickles has a posthumous Toy Story 4 role

And it wasn’t just the general public asking that question, it was also being asked by the creatives at Pixar tasked with the job of finding the story for a fourth instalment. It’s perhaps why the film has been pushed back from its initial 2017 release date, not once, but twice.

Toy Story 4 producer Jonas Rivera admits it’s been hard-going.

“It has, I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t,” Rivera told Yahoo Movies UK earlier this year at a preview event for the film. “I mean, it has been tough. They’re all tough. But I think there’s a weight to this that we want to honour that and not diminish that.

“We’re fans too. Not just Toy Story fans, but just fans of movies. And so I just wanted it to be rewarding.”

Jonas Rivera, winner of Best Animated Film for ‘Inside Out’ arrives at the Governors Ball after the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Jonas Rivera, winner of Best Animated Film for ‘Inside Out’ arrives at the Governors Ball after the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

As is always when you’re searching for something elusive, it’s best to return to where you last saw it, which is exactly what the Toy Story 4 writing team did for inspiration.

“When we started to crack this open, we just sat and watched [Toy Story 3] over and over and over, and we thought about this ending, and how proud we were of that ending, and how that felt,” explained Jonas Rivera.

“And most people feel like that was such a beautiful ending, as do we. Andrew Stanton [Toy Story 4 executive producer, and co-writer on all four films], when we were in the story room, he said something that really became our mantra and resonated with us. He said ‘people said that this felt like the ending, and that’s great: it is a great ending. But it’s not the ending.’”

Read more: Pixar boss promises ‘no more sequels’

He’s kinda got a point. Each of the Toy Story films – including 3 – ends on a promise of more to come. Toy Story introduced Andy’s puppy Buster in the final scene asking ‘how will the toys cope with that?’.

Toy Story 2 ended with Woody accepting that he wasn’t worried about Andy growing up, as he’d always have Buzz and Jessie for company. Talk about foreshadowing for 3.

Tom Hanks returns to voice Woody in <i>Toy Story 4</i> (Disney)
Tom Hanks returns to voice Woody in Toy Story 4 (Disney)

Toy Story 3 is the ending of Andy’s story,” shares Rivera. “But the protagonist of Toy Story is not Andy: it’s Woody. So at our point of departure was that Woody, he’s the character that we need to delve into. If we see that he’s had this second chance of life for a toy, our thematic question was ‘how does he handle it?’”

The 30-minute preview we saw showed that Bo Peep, Woody’s love interest from Toy Story who was sidelined for the subsequent films, was going to have a big part to play in answering this question. Toy Story 4 opens with a flashback scene that explains why Bo Peep didn’t return for Toy Story 3 – Andy’s mum gave her away when his sister Molly outgrew here – and it’s a heartbreaking moment.

Bo – still voiced by Annie Potts, but radically changed – returns later in the film when Bonnie takes the toys on her road trip vacation. She’s reunited with Woody at the Second Chance antique store (see what they did there?). But with no owner, she’s enjoying her own independence, living a carefree, nomadic life.

Woody, meanwhile, is no longer the top dog amongst the toys. Bonnie’s not a bad kid – she’s no Sid – but she’s just not that into cowboy toys. A scene from earlier in the film sees Woody gathering dust in the wardrobe while Bonnie plays shop with other toys.

These two storylines combined hint at a parting of ways down the line. Could Toy Story 4 end with Woody seeking his own independence, leaving Bonnie, Buzz, Jessie, Rex etc for a new life with Bo Peep?

Woody and Buzz meet new characters Ducky and Bunny at the carnival in <i>Toy Story 4</i> (Disney)
Woody and Buzz meet new characters Ducky and Bunny at the carnival in Toy Story 4 (Disney)

Whatever goes down, it’s going to be another tear-jerking finale. Both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen – the voices of Woody and Buzz – have talked at length about recording a final scene that they struggled to get through without crying.

“It was awesome,” reminisces Rivera about that final session in the audio both. “And I don’t want to give anything away, but I can tell you that I felt the power of it. And not only just the story, which I’m really excited about, but in the way those two gentlemen responded.

“As a producer, I always feel like I’m the first audience member of the movie: I get to see it before anybody. I’m there front and centre. And it’s seeing the artists and how they respond to it. And when I saw them process it, and see where we were going, and what we were doing, and that it kind of hit them. And it wasn’t just sadness, it was more like a sense of pride. It really moved them both.

“Tom had to ask us to turn around. He didn’t even want to face us. He’s such a nice guy. He said because he just really wanted to embody Woody. He didn’t want anything in his peripheral vision but Woody, which I thought ‘what an honour to work with this great actor, and have him treat this character as if he would treat it like he was doing Shakespeare’, you know what I mean?

Read more: Tim Allen couldn’t get through Toy Story 4 scene

“And the fact that I could see it meant so much to those men was like another one of those receipts: Wow, if you could get Tom Hanks to feel it so much that he has to kind of turn around and honour the work… that was really moving and touching. It made me feel proud of it.”

With this much commitment from the filmmakers and cast, you can bet Pixar wouldn’t have gone ahead with a fourth Toy Story if they didn’t think it was worth it.

Toy Story 4 is in cinemas from 21 June. Watch a trailer below.