Duke Caboom, Gabby Gabby and Ducky & Bunny are the latest examples of the studio’s unparalleled ability to create memorable and emotionally satisfying characters.
What’s always made Pixar’s Toy Story films so special, their true superpower, has been their characters. And their characters’ character. Sometimes funny. Sometimes sad. But always uniquely and poignantly human. Audiences have been introduced to some of animation’s most endearing, entertaining and memorable characters - most notably Woody and Buzz Lightyear - courtesy of this venerable film franchise that, back in 1995, launched an industry with the world’s first CG animated feature film. In fact, Pixar is at it’s very best when delivering what seems like a never-ending stream of richly developed and expertly crafted characters that audiences instantly relate to and connect with emotionally. We see a little bit of ourselves in Pixar film characters, even though, in the case of the studio’s latest film, Toy Story 4, for the fourth time, they’re… well… toys. Once again, the studio has produced an animated gem that lets us view the world from a toy’s perspective. Which, dare I say, these days, is quite welcome.
Without giving away too much of the film – please consider there may be spoilers ahead – Toy Story 4, which opens tomorrow in theatres, reunites Woody with Bo Peep, who, absent from the last film, is back with attitude, quickly proving that the attraction between the two still burns bright, eventually forcing our “lonesome Cowboy” to face his own doubts about what his role in life really is. But, alongside the welcome return of Bo and the emotion of her reunion with Woody, Toy Story 4 introduces several great new characters that play pivotal roles in the film: Duke Caboom, Gabby Gabby and Ducky & Bunny.
But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s first talk about a character that didn’t make it into the final film… but almost did. In fact, he’ll eventually be seen in deleted scenes on the DVD release. That would be Santa Claus. According to the film’s director, Josh Cooley, “There was one character that I loved so much, that actually was more of a gag than a real character, but it's the one that I was like, ‘Oh god, that's a baby I wish we didn't have to destroy…’ and that was Santa Claus.”
As Cooley tells the story, he and his producers, Jonas Rivera and Mark Nielsen, visited a large number of antique stores while doing research for the film, and it seemed that every shop had a motion sensor-enabled dancing Santa Claus. The herky-jerky motion kind. So, they put one in the film. For a while. “When Woody and Bo come back to the antique shop, they’re talking about how creepy everything is,” the director reveals. “Woody had a line, something like, ‘Man all the toys in here must be desperate.’ And then you hear, ‘Tis the season for desperation.’ And as Woody turns around, there in the darkness is Santa Claus, holding a little Christmas candle that’s up-lighting on him! Bo says, ‘Santa, what's going on here?’ Santa starts telling them how horrible the store is now. Woody says, ‘Look, I just need to get my friend Forky’ and all of a sudden, Santa involuntarily starts dancing and blaring, ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells!’ And he’s all upset, yelling at them, ‘You set off my motion detector!’ Then he says, something like, ‘Oh, where was I? Oh yes… get out!’ Then you hear, ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells… get out!’
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the Santa scene didn’t make the final film. But as Rivera explains, that type of ruthless story editing happens often, and with characters and scenes everyone loves, but knows need cutting. “I think we tried really hard to make it work, but it was interrupting the main story too much,” he says. “And that's terrible, because you do have these things you fall in love with. There are so many fun ideas that come and go. But, you try to keep the best ones and make sure they’re not stepping on the story. So, when you strip it down, Santa was getting in the way of their mission. It’s always about finding the balance between what's important and what’s not, and unfortunately, great stuff like that falls off.”
As far as new characters that did make the film, we have immediately bonded with our new favorite Canadian Pixar film character, Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves. 2019 has been a big year so far for Reeves: He’s embraced his inner assassin for the third time with John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum; he’s spoofed himself, adorned thoughtfully with lens-less glasses, in Always Be My Maybe; and, most importantly, to audiences around the world (well, as of June 21), he’s now a legendary animated daredevil action figure.
After being approached for the role, Reeves first met with the filmmakers to discuss Duke Caboom before agreeing to take the part. To understand how funny the filmmakers’ recollection of their work with the actor is, you have to “hear” Reeves’ voice as he discusses his animated role. “Keanu actually created the character of Duke Caboom,” Cooley shares. “We had the idea of Duke… we had more of a bravado kind of character, a little guy, but very in your face. The first time we reached out to Keanu, he didn't say ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I’d like to come up to Pixar and meet you guys.’ So, he came up Emeryville. By himself. We’re sitting in the atrium, having lunch together, and we pitched the character to him. He asks us, ‘What do you think Duke is like? What does he do?’ We told him, ‘Well, he’s like an Evil Knievel toy that would actually pose on his motorcycle.’”
“So, Keanu suddenly starts hitting various poses, grunting, ‘Ho… Huh,’” Nielsen adds. “That all came from him. It got to the point where he got so excited, he jumped up on the table, in the middle of the Pixar cafeteria, posing and shouting, ‘Hoo! Hah!’ People were staring, asking, ‘Is that Keanu Reeves on that table?’ ‘Yes, it is. He’s posing.’ So, all of that was his idea.”