She hasn't been seen in this universe since Toy Story 2, but, according to the filmmakers, the new and improved Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) is hugely important to the storyline and the themes of Toy Story 4. The next chapter in the mega-successful animated film franchise hits theaters on June 21, catching fans up with Woody, Buzz, and friends, introducing some brand new characters, and in Bo's case, reacquainting us with some overlooked ones. Andy's sister Molly's porcelain lamp isn't living the child's bedroom life anymore, and during a visit to Pixar Animation Studios this spring, Bustle learned how the movie's fiercely independent heroine is going to challenge everything Woody knows.
"We wanted to really stay true to who she was, because there’s no point to giving the audience — the world — a brand new character. We could have just done that with any toy," Story Artist Carrie Hobson says, explaining that the process of redefining Bo began with looking at everything that had come before for her. "The limitations were that we just saw so little of her [in past movies], but taking those as seeds of ideas. You saw that she had this way of poking at Woody, and she would call him out on things. And then we saw that she was sarcastic and that they had a history together."
In the first Toy Story 4 trailer, we see that Woody runs into Bo mid-adventure — as he and art-project-turned-toy Forky (a new character voiced by Tony Hale) are trying to return to Bonnie — and that she hasn't been claimed by a child for quite awhile. (Yes, the film does explain exactly how she left Andy and Molly's house to begin with.) Her life as a "lost toy" is one that she's chosen, and her contentment with that new normal throws Woody, who's always believed that toys like him exist to make children happy. But that doesn't mean that Bo's got it all figured out either.
"Her greatest strength is her flaw," Hobson continues. "So she’s gotten tough and she’s had to be out there in the world and do things her own way and play on her own terms which is great, but then also as a result of that, sometimes people do get a little shut off in letting people back into their life."
During a press conference, producer Mark Nielsen confirms that Bo "absolutely has her own arc" beyond her reunion with and impact on Woody, though the romantic implications of their push-and-pull relationship are still there. Director Josh Cooley says that the Toy Story series is "built upon" the idea that "everything has a purpose" — and Bo has found one that directly contradicts with Woody's.
Nielsen even says that the movie was "kind of code-named 'Peep'" at the studio, such is the size of her role. And across departments, a group within Pixar came together as "the Bo team," to shepherd the re-development of the character in all aspects. Getting the look of the new Bo involved tons of research and brainstorming. The team studied aging porcelain to see how and where to add tiny cracks in her paint job; they looked to gymnast Aly Raisman and Dancing With The Stars pro Sharna Burgess to influence her movement.
In keeping to the already established characteristics of Bo, the team wanted her to be strong and athletic enough to thrive in the dangerous life she enjoys, but still retain her femininity. As you probably noticed in the trailer, she's no longer sporting her full skirt — at least not in the traditional way. Instead, she uses it as a cape, a bag, or a parachute — whatever the situation requires. Her staff is also multi-purpose, and the animators watched videos of bo staff martial artists, spear throwers, and monkey staff performers to decide how she might handle it.
While many of the members of the Bo team that we meet are women, the team isn't exclusively such. "It could be natural that women are drawn to lead a female character like Bo," Directing Animator Becki Tower says. "But it’s also really refreshing to know that artists of all kinds can embody and take over characters all different ways."
"I think that’s the joy of animation — that we are getting to create fish or robots or whatever we want and that we get to be the voices of these and hopefully connect to people in ways they don’t expect," Hobson adds.
In her newly expanded position in the Toy Story world, the hope is that Bo will do just that. Whether she convinces Woody to abandon everything he knows and join her freewheeling existence remains to be seen.