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The story of how Ally Maki was invited to play the role of Giggle McDimples, one of the newest (and smallest) characters in the Toy Story franchise, "is so bananas." According to Maki, she received an official letter in the mail (yes, that still exists) inviting her into the Pixar family.
"I was like, this is a prank. Who does this? Who gets a letter in the mail? It's like getting accepted to Hogwarts or something," Maki said. "You're just like 'Oh cool, I got a fancy letter in the mail that's going to change my life forever. I don't even know how to process it.'"
But that was only the beginning of the surreal experiences — like meeting Tom Hanks for the first time, which Maki said was her biggest fangirl moment.
"I didn't know he was going to be there. They teamed us up on the same day to do behind-the-scenes interviews and I walked in and they were like, 'Oh yeah, Tom's coming down.' I was like, 'Tom.' And they're like, 'Hanks.' And I was like, 'Right. Yeah, yeah. OK. Cool. You know, thanks for the heads up,'" Maki detailed. "And that day I hadn't gone into hair and makeup yet so I had the craziest yoga bun and I had a big oversized jacket on and I had a giant pimple on my face and that's how I met him. And I was like, 'You know what? This makes sense.' It's like my 14-year-old awkward self meeting Tom Hanks for the first time. So that's cool."
Maki voices the character of Giggle McDimples in Toy Story 4, a tiny but outspoken toy who befriends Bo Peep.
"I think when I first read it I thought, 'Giggle McDimples. Oh, maybe she'll be really sweet.' But the fact that she was so feisty with it and the laugh wasn't a giggle, it was full-on, all-out laughter, that made me super happy," said Maki. "I just love that she's so feisty and witty and strong. When they made her a cop after a few drafts, that was the icing on the cake. I was like 'OK, now she's perfectly Giggle McDimples, the police chief.'"While Maki is no stranger to performing, voice acting presents the unique challenge of not being in the same room as your co-star. But Maki said the experience actually felt like a return to the ways children use their imaginations for play — a fitting feeling for a Toy Story movie.
"I feel like in that process I was able to go back to the main reason why I loved performing in the first place," she explained. "Because normally as an actor you go in and you're worried about all these things and you're prepping and your preparation and you have all these people and the different characters. But this one, it was 100% imagination-based...You go in and you have these pieces of paper and you just build it in your mind. And I thought that was such a fun process because it's what really performing and using your imagination as a kid is really all about. You know, it's just you and the toys."
In the fourth iteration of the Toy Story franchise, the female characters seem to be more important than ever. The main child is a girl (remember Bonnie from Toy Story 3?), Bo Peep is arguably the hero of the film, the "villain" character is a female doll, Jessie has an important leadership role — the list goes on and on.
"It's been so awesome to see the way that they've brought strong female characters into the fore," said Maki. "I mean, it's just everything that I would have wanted as a girl that grew up with this franchise. And you know when I look back to my 14-year-old self and I didn't have that many examples of representation of women that look like me in TV and film and in magazines. So I think this film, in particular, meant so much to me because you could see yourself in any of the toys. You could see yourself as Rex. You could see yourself as Slinky Dog. They surpassed any barriers really. So to now add the female aspect on top of that is just so, so empowering and I think it's going to inspire a lot of young women."For Maki, seeing the way this type of representation impacts young people has been inspiring.
"The greatest thing about this whole thing has been seeing 10-year-old girls with the doll and seeing Giggle McDimples is now just a part of their childhood and reality. So when they're going to say 'Oh yeah, I could be a cop.' Right? That's just their normal. And I think that's so beautiful because I think when I was a child it would have been like, 'I don't think I can be a cop. I'm not strong enough or cool enough.' But now I think what's cool is you're seeing all these different female characters and these little girls are saying, 'Oh yeah, obviously I could be any of those things.'"
But it's not just audience members that Maki says will be influenced by Giggle. She said Giggle has also impacted her own perspective on the world.
"She's pushing it in this male-dominated field and she's unabashedly unafraid to do that. She's a role model for me," Maki said. "I'm always like, 'What would Giggle do?' if I'm hesitating on something. Like, Giggle would just be like 'Yes, I'm doing that' or 'No, I'm not doing that.' So she's teaching me to be more definitive in how I look at the world."
From that very first Hogwarts-type letter to the film finally hitting theaters, Maki said the experience has taught her a lot about herself — a message she hopes viewers of the film will receive as well.
"I think I've learned so much, but I think the main thing over the past three years is I found so much of my own personal voice and inner confidence through being Giggle and just being part of the Pixar family," said Maki. "And I think the greatest thing I've learned about being in this film is that I can just be 100% myself and that's enough. I think that's what I'd want everyone to know is just be yourself and that's all that really matters."
Toy Story 4 is now in theaters.