One of the joys of the Toy Story franchise over the years has been the new toys that we meet in each adventure. Joining the gang in Toy Story 4 are such inspired new creations as Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), Forky (Tony Hale), Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki).
The latter is the smallest toy in the Toy Story universe, part of a discontinued line of small figures from the 1980s. She was a lost toy but has found a new life alongside the long-absent Bo Peep (Annie Potts) in a park and fairgrounds in the town of Grand Basin, where she and Bo cross paths with Woody (Tom Hanks) and the rest as they seek to rescue their kid’s new favorite toy, Forky.
Giggle is Ally Maki’s first voice role in a full-length animated film, with fans knowing her beforehand from recurring roles on TV shows like Wrecked and Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, as well as numerous guest stints on Dear White People, NCIS, New Girl, The Big Bang Theory and many more. While she doesn’t know yet whether Cloak and Dagger is coming back for a third season, her jaunty, energetic performance in Toy Story 4 is likely to make her a lot of new fans.
Den of Geek spoke with Maki last week in Los Angeles just as Toy Story 4 was opening, where we learned how she got the role, how Giggle changed along the film’s long production, and why she thinks the Toy Story movies are still a treasure for adults and kids alike.
Den of Geek: When you got the call or email about Toy Story, what went through your mind?
Ally Maki: I couldn’t believe it, and I’ll tell you it wasn’t a call or an email. I got a letter, which is so crazy. It’s so old school. Basically it was on this really, cool, fancy paper that had the Incredibles family on the top, and it was like, dear Ms. Maki, we’d love to put you in the movie Toy Story 4. I was like, you guys, this has got to be a joke. This can’t be real. Who’s pranking me? Who sent the letter? This is amazing, but I asked (producer) Jonas Rivera about it so many years later, and he’s like, “We do that for every single character in every single film. We send out a letter, because we like to do that, and we’re old school like that.” And I love it.
Every single character in every Pixar film?
That’s their tradition, and he goes, “I’m so happy that you brought that up.” He goes, “We just send them out, and I don’t know if anyone actually reads them, or if they’re agents ever actually give it to them.” I was like, “Are you kidding me? It’s framed in my office in a gold frame, and I’ll forever just look at it.”
When this was first announced, I think a lot of people were like, they ended the trilogy in such a great place, how are they going to keep this going? Were you curious about what they might do for a next step?
Yeah, I think so. I just felt instantly their love and their passion for these characters. I mean, what’s amazing about the crew, basically Mark (Nielsen, producer), Jonas, and Josh (Cooley, director), is they all started as interns at Pixar. I mean, Jonas Rivera was an intern on Toy Story, so you feel their heart and their passion for these characters. They want more than anyone for this story to be done right, and so I know that they weren’t going to release anything unless it was exactly how it should have been, so I think from day one I felt in such great hands, and I just felt all the love and warmth surrounding the whole Pixar family, so I was not worried.
Is this your first voice role for an animated film?
For an animated film, yes. Yeah. I mean, I grew up doing voice over for computer games, and I’ve done a couple of things like Robot Chicken and stuff like that, but yeah, on this level, I mean, I basically got the cream of the crop. I’ll never get better than this.
Do you have a different method of preparation for voice work?
Yeah. I honestly feel like voice over is now my favorite method of performing, only because it really takes you back to your true, base instincts. It is 100 percent imagination based. When I went in for any of the sessions, you’re not given anything beforehand. Basically they take one copy of the scene out, and they put it there, and you’re basically told by Cooley what’s going on, and then they’re like, “Go.”
So you have no time to overanalyze it. You have no time to hesitate. It basically is just truly your first instincts of creating this world completely in your imagination, and I loved it so much. I honestly loved it so, so, so much, and it was the only job where they would say, “Go to a 10.” I’d be like, “Really?” Then I would do it, and they’d say, “Okay, now take it to a 12.” I was like, “This is the greatest job ever.” When does anyone ever get to tell you it’s okay to be a 12? To be that excited and be that emotive?
Did you come up with your own sort of backstory for Giggle, or do they give you background information on her?
When I first got that letter, I also got a black kind of notebook that was like a CIA style secret notebook that had drawings of her, and also a little bit of her backstory, so I knew she was this toy that had been canceled because she was a choking hazard, so I know she kind of had a little bit of that trauma. Now she’s a police chief, so I think that’s where she finds her identity and purpose. So yeah, I knew a little bit, but I learned so much about her along the way, because she wasn’t a police chief until many versions later.
So she evolved as over the course of the production?
Yeah. She was always Giggle in her heart and spirit. They always wanted her to be the tiniest, but the feistiest, but in the first drawing I got, she had a pink bow in her hair, and a pink and purple dress on, and then months later, they were like, “Hey, we have a surprise for you.” I was like, “What?” They were like, “We gave her a job.” She became a police chief. It was the greatest.
What else did you learn about her as the production went on?
I think I just learned a little bit more about her dynamic with Bo. They started to build that more, because I think in early drafts they loved that girl power duo, but as it went on and on, they kept saying, “Okay, we really like that. Let’s try and get more of that, whatever that is.” So I loved that. In later drafts you could see how Giggle would kind of finish her sentences, or just really know every thought that she felt before she even said it, and there was a lot of that.
Did the voice change over the sessions?
Well, from day one, they had always said, “We want just authentically who you are. That’s why we cast you.” And they said, “Every character we cast for a Pixar film is because we want the true heart and soul of the person.” So that’s kind of why they do that kind of blind casting thing where they don’t know who you are. They just hear your voice and what you bring to the character. Yeah, nothing really changed. I always tried to make her as authentically true to what I thought she would be from day one, and all the way up until the end of the movie.
When did you see a final version of what she would look like?
After she became a cop, one time they came and showed us like the black and white sketches of her, and that was the first time I saw her in motion, but it was still black and white. Then the first time I saw her animated was our very last session, and they brought in her opening scene, and that was a culmination of everything. To see her animated, and moving, and speaking, it was just almost too much for my heart to contain. I was just like, “Ah, what’s happening? This is real.” Because once you see the animation, it really makes it real.
Now seeing the finished film, what do you take away from the movie, and what do you want audiences to take away from Giggle and from Toy Story 4?
Oh my gosh. I just think for me, as someone who grew with the franchise and someone that was such a big fan, and the movies touched me so much personally, it was the chapter that I needed. I don’t want to say a final chapter, but it was just the chapter that I personally needed as an adult, and I think that’s what Pixar does so seamlessly, is you can be any age and you can find something that you can learn from these films in terms of friendship, and identity, and finding your voice, and I think that’s so beautiful. A lot of this film is about listening to your inner voice, finding your confidence, speaking up for what you believe in, and second chances. So, I think all of that, and it’s great for a little kid, and it’s great for adults, so anyone can love it.
Toy Story 4 is in theaters now.
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye