Tom Hanks’ career is the stuff of Hollywood legend: an enterprising light comic actor who made the transition to dramatic roles by winning back-to-back Oscars and never looking back. Of all the characters in his long career, however, none are as beloved as Woody the Cowboy from Pixar’s Toy Story series. He returns to the franchise for the fourth time in Toy Story 4 opening this Friday, and spoke about the experience at the recent press day for the film.
Question: What were your thoughts when you first heard they were doing Toy Story 4?
Tom Hanks: I have always been dazzled when they come back and say, “We’re going to try another one.” The question is always, “Really? Ain’t you guys bold. You think you can match that last one we did? Good luck.” Then as soon as they start talking about Gabby Gabby or Duke Caboom or Forky – and this really should be called Toy Story Forky, that’s how essential he is – and you think, “they did it again.” These crackpot geniuses up there at Pixar. The 900 or so of them that operate in their darkened rooms and eat takeout food for months at a time.
What was brand new on this one was that Annie [Potts] and I got to record together at the same time. That never happens. You’re always in a sound stage by yourself, not being able to move off mic. And we got to actually relate with this vast history between the two of us. You leave a recording session thinking “wow, we took it pretty far there.” But every time we showed up for the next one, something was revealed to us in the pages that they had for us. So we always knew what territory we were going into, just never the specific route.
Q: What were your first thoughts on the first Toy Story, when all of this began?
TH: With the first one, and this is now 24 years ago, we actually did read a script. There was a screenplay that looked like every other screenplay. You read that and then you saw every storyboard animatic of the entire film. With the second movie, there was still a script, but we realized there’s no real way you can appreciate the weaving of imagery and character that Pixar did on the paper. So we waited to see the sequences put together. On the third one, they didn’t even bother doing anything other than showing us the movie in animatic form before we began recording. And on this one, I never read a complete script. I don’t think anybody did. But we read the sequences that we were in, and it had a continuous running dialogue of what was going. These movies are made with a great flexibility. They work on it. We record it. They start off with the storyboards and words that you say. Then you record them. Then they go away for six months and refine and alter and change and test what we have done up to that point. And so every time we would show up to work, there would be some new iteration of this idea that had been presented to us at the beginning of what everybody is going through.
Q: What’s worked – and what continues to work – so well about your partnership with Tim Allen?
TH: We actually have become very close simply because of the union of Woody and Buzz. After we made the second one, we began to have regular lunches about every three months or so. We sit down and we talk for about three-and-a-half hours straight every time we get together, and we seek each other out in order to touch on all the aspects of our lives. Certainly professionally. But it would not have come out were it not for him being Buzz and me being Woody.
Q: Woody is the character you’ve kept coming back to over the course of your career. Can you relate what that means and how that’s played out?
TH: Woody has been the great gift that I’ve seen play out again and again in my own family. You see it around the world, even in cultures where it’s not in my voice. It’s Spanish or Mandarin or what have you. Woody still is this three-dimensional emotional bag that kids carry around with them. What I have truly appreciated is that no matter how old you are now, when you see one of the movies, you’re the same age you were when you saw the first one. And there is not a bump, there’s not a jolt. There’s no nostalgia. Nothing ages poorly. It’s exactly as it was and sort of always will be. And I think in some ways, it’s like the definitive Disney enterprise. There is a cohesiveness and an eternal quality to not just the stories and the characters, but the emotional bonds that we all have with each one of them.
There is a profound thing that comes from being Forky or Bo or Woody. That brief story. You’ve been at Disneyland. I don’t know if they have it in Disney World. They have a big extravaganza: fireworks and dancers. The closing of the show is the Mark Twain steamboat coming by, and all of the Disney characters are dancing on that steamboat. Belle and Sleeping Beauty and Mickey and everyone. Mulan is there. They’re all there. Captain Hook, Peter Pan. I was there with my family, and my daughter, who is in her 30s, burst into tears. I said, “What’s wrong?” And she said, “Look dad. Look at the end of the boat”. And it was Woody and Buzz. She said, “Dad, you’ll always be on that boat dancing for as long as Disneyland is here.” And that’s more than just a cool thing. It’s actually some sort of talisman I think that we all carry with us now just because we were smart enough to say, how do you think we should do this guys? Come on guys. How do you think we can do it?