The last time audiences saw Bo Peep in 1999's Toy Story 2, she was a very different character; soft, stereotypically feminine, and cautious about the world around her. As the head toy of Andy's little sister Molly's room, though, she was practical, a problem solver — and her disappearance from the fold for Toy Story 3 (2010) was explained away with a single line.
Why Bo Peep disappeared for over two decades is explained in Toy Story 4's opening scene. It's appropriate, given the impact Bo has on not just the film's overall story but the characters who inhabit it, as well. Bo's long-standing relationship with Woody — equal parts flirty and friendly — plays a large part in Toy Story 4. Because if Bo can find another purpose and life beyond being a kid's toy, then maybe Woody can, too.
The first official images of Toy Story 4's updated Bo Beep drew immediate comparisons online to Star Wars' Rey, the hero of the new trilogy. Ignore the blonde hair, pastel get-up, and literal porcelain skin and, sure, it's a fair enough observation: She's got a staff and a tough, problem-solving exterior. But Bo was redesigned and reconfigured for Toy Story 4 with love and care by a group of women known at Pixar as "Team Bo." And as they point out, comparing Bo, long voiced by Annie Potts, and Rey would be a disservice to both characters. The fact that the comparison has been made at all is the real issue.
"Maybe it lends itself to, we just don't have enough references out there of strong, badass women," Becki Tower, directing animator on Team Bo, told SYFY WIRE. "Like with Rey, we're all pointing to one [reference], but maybe we should be pointing to 600 because there are so many out there.
"The ball is rolling and we're seeing more and more and more powerful, competent, incredible female characters put up on screen," she continues. "And of course we're all going to reference each other because they're groundbreaking in their own right."
Carrie Hobson, story artist on Team Bo, adds: "Nobody's trying to copy anybody else, we're just trying to create these awesome characters."
For Team Bo, it was important to redefine Bo, but within the parameters audiences already knew. Meaning that Bo's changes had to read as character growth rather than an outright change.
"I constantly hear, 'oh, she's graceful and she's beautiful and she's refined' and, you know, that can take you into a whole different, old way of thinking," Tower says. "It could be more submissive if you're not careful, older, traditional. And for us to use those adjectives and redefine it in a modern way was really enjoyable. And just to really shows how competent she is as she's moved into this new world and life where she's out on her own and really just show her strength and show that you don't need anyone — you can go out there and survive and be so fulfilled and a definition of a toy that we haven't seen before."
Unlike Woody, Buzz, and the gang, who've been living in relative comfort in first Andy's and now Bonnie's care, Bo's created a new life for herself.
"She's out there and she's embracing that she's porcelain and she's living a risky lifestyle, which means that she's kind of used to doing things her way and playing on her own terms," Hobson says. "If Woody wants to help another toy and she doesn't want to help that toy or do something, it's going to be a little outside of her comfort zone, maybe it's going to be hard to let someone back into her life. She's going to be at a different place than Woody is. He's been in a kid's room for all these years, so I just feel like they're already on different tracks."
But just because Bo has a hard time playing by Woody's rules doesn't mean she hasn't made plenty of new friends along the way. There's the Polly Pocket-esque Giggle McDimples, who's a tiny, no-nonsense cop, as well as daredevil action figure Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves). With these new characters, Bo has once again taken on a kind of leadership role, as has always come naturally to her. When Woody comes across Bo once again in Toy Story 4, he's amazed by the changes he sees in her, and her self-reliance and newfound understanding of the world helps him realize that maybe there's more to being a toy than being there for a kid.
"She was a treasure that wasn't brought out [in Toy Story 3]," Tower says. "There's a richness and history there and ties from long ago. She keeps being referenced but it's never really explained what happened to her, and it was a great opportunity to take a deep dive into [Woody and Bo's] relationship and what it might be or might not be."
Hobson adds: "Woody has gone through a lot of arcs, a lot of changes already. We've seen him go through many stages of his life. And when you say 'Bo's back!' I'm like, 'Okay, cool. What happened to her?' And I hope that we give the audience something they are excited about."