Toy Story 2. Finding Dory. Cars 3. Incredibles 2. Toy Story 4.
What do these films have in common? They’re Pixar sequels with female protagonists. In Toy Story 2, Woody was still the main character, but Jessie very nearly stole the show. She was just so spunky, vivacious, tough and vulnerable. If Pixar universes did overlap, I like to think she would be Ellie’s favorite doll! (And Ellie would’ve kept her forever). Dory was the focus of Finding Dory. Andrew Stanton was compelled to return to that world because there were so many questions he needed answers to about the blue tang. Cars 3 justified its existence with the inclusion of the sunny yellow Cruz Ramirez. Last summer’s Incredibles 2 gave Helen Parr the spotlight. “Parenting is a heroic act.” So she was always a hero even before the Deavors let her have her own glory.
When it was announced that Bo Peep would return in Toy Story 4, I was ecstatic, but not surprised.
It’s why I ignored much of the hand wringing over Toy Story 4. I know Pixar doesn’t make films solely for the box office returns, and I wasn’t worried about the direction the studio was headed. People say there’s too many sequels. But there are also original projects. And Pixar is still taking risks. Toy Story 3 ended on such a perfect note; the series was the rare trilogy where every film was excellent. So Toy Story 4 does represent a great risk. How will they outdo themselves? Seeing Pixar’s track record of introducing or centering female characters in its sequels made me all the more eager to see Bo Peep again.
The Evolution of Bo Peep
The filmmakers began their Bo Peep research by watching the first two films in the series. Bo was confident, flirty, and Woody’s voice of reason. She was his confidante. And as they began to think of ways to bring her back for the fourth film, they knew she would have to be the driving force behind Woody’s change. The challenge then became to turn her from a tertiary character into a main one.
The goal was to give Bo dimension. In one of the film’s clips, we see her take the lead in staging a toy’s rescue. Just as Woody was the leader of Andy’s room, she was the leader in Molly’s. Unlike Woody, she can’t be in the room forever. She’s part of a lamp; a baby lamp at that. She doesn’t have the long life of a toy like Woody and Buzz. Once that baby grows up, she’s gone. The story team, led by supervisor Valerie LaPointe, also thought about Bo’s life in the intervening years. Where were the most unexpected places they could take her? Would Andy’s mother have donated her, or would she be tossed out? How did the antique shop, one of the new locations in the film, shape her? Could she even be a Robin Hood type? And would she have given up toy life or want to remain one? There was something else to consider too. Bo Peep is made out of porcelain, so maybe she just wanted to be safe.
Eventually, they decided that Bo chose to live as a lost toy. But getting lost is such a terrible fate for a toy. How did that become something positive?
Who is this new Bo?
This is the Bo Peep we’ll be reunited with on June 21st: she’s someone who didn’t want to sit on a shelf and just wait for life to happen to her. She takes chances and is a bit unpredictable. Bo doesn’t play by toy rules and she even breaks away from her original toy mode. From what I saw at Pixar, the story team has stayed true to Bo. They used knowledge from Toy Story and Toy Story 2 as the base for molding her into a character with more to do. She’s playful, silly, a little sarcastic, but still caring too. And Bo, unlike Woody, knows the realities of the world. He’s been sheltered for so long. Another goal for the story was to figure out the effect she would have on Woody, and the realizations that they each impart on the other.
It’s also worth noting that this presentation was moderated by women only, so that’s one reason why they were so successful in redefining her.
Look and Design of Bo Peep
When it came to redesigning Bo, the artists had to strike a balance between reinventing her while also staying true to her original look. Pixar films usually involve research trips, and for this one, they went down to a doll factory in LA. There, they studied how the makers prototype the dolls and all of the thought put into hair, clothing, and shape.
We also saw the original Bo maquette that’s currently in the Pixar archives. They used that sculpt for their redesign of the character.
Drawings by character designer Daniela Strijleva were a huge inspiration in creating Bo’s new design. A Rosie the Riveter inspired drawing also helped them in reshaping her personality. Unfortunately we don’t have a clearer photo of director Josh Cooley’s concept art of Bo, but I hope my description can do it justice. She looked a lot rougher and even had a robot arm!
Another task for the artists and designers was refashioning Bo into an action heroine. They also had to achieve a balance where she could be athletic but still feminine. She needed to be instantly recognizable to audiences. So her dress was flipped inside out and used as a cape. Tiny versions of Bo’s iconic dress were sewed onto dolls for reference too. Viewers had to be reminded that Bo is only 10 inches tall, since her proportions are so human like. Her movements were also decreased to make her appear toy like.
Animating Bo Peep
As supervising animator Patty Kihm explained to us, certain characteristics determine how a character behaves in the world around them. A clear distinction had to be made between classic and modern Bo. Classic Bo was feminine with a dry wit, and prepared to always stay in Molly’s room. Her movements were reserved likely owing to the restrictive dress she wore. Modern Bo still has that dry sense of humor, but she’s matured and is much more independent now. She’s comfortable living on the road and is confident with her new life as a lost toy, along with being a leader. Her new outfit allows her to move freely.
Voice actress Annie Potts was another source of inspiration for the animators. And they added a subtle reminder to the audience that she is indeed porcelain with the crack in her hair. As I mentioned before, Bo is still feminine. The filmmakers wanted her to remain that way, because athletic or heroic women are often portrayed as masculine. (Keep in mind that they weren’t disparaging women who appear masculine, as one of the presenters, directing animator Becki Tower, was pretty masculine herself! Just another example of Pixar’s diverse workforce). One of the things I hoped for with this movie was that Bo wouldn’t evolve into a character lacking warmth or softness, because too often, action heroines are portrayed with masculine personality traits. Thankfully, my hopes were fulfilled! Bo was always sassy, and she still is.
We were very lucky to see the reference footage used by the animators. They studied gymnasts and dancers for their grace and strength to model how Bo Peep would move. Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman was just one gymnast they studied. They noted that she was powerful with strong lines and protected her body. Bo’s staff is also an extension of her body, for her poses and movements. It is not just a prop or accessory. They studied footage of martial arts for her staff movements as well. Bo’s feminine athleticism also adds an interesting layer to her character. The other layer is her knowledge that she knows she can break, but she still chooses to live as a lost toy anyway.
Towards the end, we got to ask questions. I had to mention how Pixar sequels make the female characters more prominent, and asked if it was intentional or part of a pattern. Valerie signed on for the film because Bo Peep was the biggest lure. Although her absence in Toy Story 3 was tastefully done, reminding us that we often lose the people we care about, Valerie still felt that it wasn’t fully addressed. And it just felt natural to make her a multidimensional character. And there’s always been something to mine in her relationship with Woody.
I found myself falling in love with Bo Peep all over again, and it’s clear that the film crew did too! And you all will do the same in just a month’s time.