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When Toy Story 4 unspools in theaters June 21, moviegoers may notice that the sequel boasts a large number of “story by” credits — eight — including former Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter and writing partners Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, who left the project in 2017. Others credited include director Josh Cooley, story supervisor Valerie LaPointe, writer Stephany Folsom (Thor: Ragnarok), writer Martin Hynes (The Go-Getter) and Pixar’s Oscar-winning writer-director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E). Stanton and Folsom share the screenplay credit.
Those names reflect the long road to development for the sequel. While it had been expected that the best picture Oscar-nominated Toy Story 3 would conclude the iconic franchise, production of Toy Story 4 was announced in November 2014 with Lasseter — who helmed the 1995 original — scheduled to direct from a script by Jones and McCormack. Lasseter said the project was jumpstarted by a treatment by Stanton. In the summer of 2017 at Disney’s D23, Pixar revealed that Cooley, first unveiled as Lasseter’s co-director, would helm the movie and Lasseter would take a producer credit (in the end, he will not).
But in November 2017 — as The Hollywood Reporter prepared a story about alleged misconduct by Lasseter that included an unwanted advance by the exec toward Jones — Lasseter took a six-month “sabbatical” after having “difficult conversations” about unspecified “missteps.” Around that time, Jones and McCormick pulled out of the project, releasing a statement to The New York Times reading, “We did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances. That is untrue. That said, we are happy to see people speaking out about behavior that made them uncomfortable. We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences.” They described the studio as having “a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”
Meanwhile, that November, Pixar unspooled Coco, which went on to earn $807 million at the worldwide box office and the Oscar for best animated feature. That was followed by Incredibles 2, which opened last June and earned $1.2 billion worldwide. Following Toy Story 4, Pixar’s next scheduled release is Onward, written and directed by Dan Scanlan (Monsters University), which is slated to open March 6, 2020. And it’s been announced that Domee Shi, who won an Oscar earlier this year for her animated short Bao, is currently developing a Pixar feature.
Following the departure of the initial Toy Story 4 writers, Folsom and Hynes later joined the project. Lasseter — who took over as head of Skydance Animation in January — had initially introduced the movie as a romantic comedy and a love story between Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts). But as the story developed, the team felt it needed more depth after Toy Story 3 closed the three-story arc with Woody and his “kid” Andy.
“All of these movies are about how Woody changes: From going selfish to selfless in the first one, the second one is him understanding that things don’t last forever. The third one is about letting go. These are big changes,” notes producer Jonas Rivera. “We thought, if we’re going to do this, we need to think about, ‘What is the biggest change?’ What if [his relationship with Bo] was the thing that really changed him?”
With this film, Pixar is also entering a new era, with Pete Docter having taken over for Lasseter as chief creative in June, and Pixar president/co-founder Ed Catmull retiring last December. Rivera adds, “In some ways it’s unrecognizable. So much has happened. In some ways, it is the same. There’s the same spirit.”
Producer Mark Nielsen says that there’s “a lot of optimism about the future of the studio” since Docter, the Oscar-winning director of Up and Inside Out, was named Pixar’s chief creative. “He’s really looking out for the new voices and really loading up the development pool,” Nielsen says, adding, “It’s all original films after this one right now.”
A version of this story first appeared in the May 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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