Though Woody and Buzz’s original owner, Andy Davis, is mostly missing from “Toy Story 4,” his legacy looms large over the plot of the new Pixar movie. It’s not hard to see why. Even nine years after the release of “Toy Story 3,” Andy’s voice actor, John Morris, says people still bring up that film’s tear-inducing ending where Andy hands off his beloved cowboy to little Bonnie.
“A lot of people tell me ‘Oh my gosh, I just broke down and cried!'” Morris told TheWrap. “I think that ending just taps into a universal milestone of childhood ending and entering adulthood. While recording that scene I went back to how I felt when I left for college and left childhood, and because it became so emotional for me, I think it became emotional for the audience.”
Now 34, Morris said that memories of standing in Pixar’s recording studio as a boy nearly 25 years ago came to mind as he watched “Toy Story 4” at its Hollywood premiere. While there was much skepticism about whether “Toy Story” needed a fourth installment after such an acclaimed trilogy capper, Morris was impressed by how the latest film explored how Woody’s devotion to Andy and Bonnie is challenged by his discovery of a new world with more kids that need a toy to play with.
“The scene that stuck with me most is where Forky and Woody are walking back to the trailer and Forky asks, ‘Who’s Andy?’ because even though he’s just come into existence even he can tell that Andy is important because of how Woody’s talking about him. And that contrasts well with Harmony and Bonnie and what those kids need growing up. It’s nice seeing that message that there are all kinds of different kids out there.”
While his “Toy Story” days have come to an end, Morris wants to take the passion for voice acting that came with a childhood behind the microphone and instill it in a new generation. He’s currently working on a series of projects, including a one-man play and documentary, that reflect on his time as Andy and exploring the unique challenges and quirks of voice acting.
“I think what I love most about it is that when you just have your voice and no physical set or costume, you have to completely rely on your imagination,” he explained. “I was a lot like Andy, completely imagining new worlds and stories with his toys. Sometimes I would be given some character design to work with, but I didn’t always have that, and I got to just imagine how the scene would go and the animators would build around it.”
And to Morris, one of the most imaginative voice actors he’s ever heard is John Ratzenberger, the “Cheers” star who followed up his decade as Cliff Clavin with a voice career that has made him a Pixar icon. Along with playing Hamm in the “Toy Story” series, he’s also had a role in many other Pixar films that have been made, a consistency that was lampooned in “Cars” when his talking truck character, Mack, watched car-infused spoofs of all the roles Ratzenberger had played through time.
“I think it’s so impressive that he’s been able to show such an incredible range with Pixar over the years,” Morris said. “And another person I really love is Nancy Cartwright, who plays Bart Simpson. It’s always something I love when an actor plays someone who is a different age and gender than you.”
Such a profound difference between character and actor can knock a lot of fans for a loop, something that Morris often experiences with kids who do a double take when he tells them he played the kid in “Toy Story.” But with his new project, Morris hopes he can demystify voice acting for kids and show them a little bit about how their favorite animated TV shows and movies are made.
“They always see the final product, but not a lot of kids and families see the process,” he said. “I’m hoping I can bring that process and the medium to the stage through my personal experiences growing up as Andy.”