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Last week an announcement was made that Toy Story 4 had brought in a brand new screenwriter in the person of Stephany Folsom. She replaced the writing team of Rashida Jones and Will McCormack who previously had been writing the film. While it's great news that somebody else is involved in this project, the fourth entry in the Toy Story series already has a release date, and it's only a year and a half away. Considering how much time animated films usually take to complete, one is forced to wonder just what the state of Toy Story 4 actually is. Is this movie in trouble?
If a new screenwriter has been brought in, that means the script needs work. Scenes will change at the very least, if not be completely replaced. This will necessitate bringing voice actors in to record new dialogue, and recording is almost always done before anything is actually animated. Computer animation takes an awfully long time to complete, and if it can't even be begun until these other steps are finished, the clock will be ticking.
First off, it needs to be said that animated films are often handled differently than live-action, and the fact that the script is being worked on at this late date is not, in and of itself, an issue to be concerned about. Story is king at Pixar and quite often the story is changed or tweaked over time as new ideas come along or old ideas are discovered to not be working as intended.
Usually, however, the same people who came up with the initial story and script are the ones working on the changes. In this case, we have somebody entirely new working on the screenplay, and there's every reason to believe the screenplay that Stephany Folsom is starting with may need serious help.
We learned that original screenwriters Rashida Jones and Eric McCormack left Toy Story 4 at the same time we learned that Pixar head John Lasseter was taking a leave of absence following allegations of misconduct. While Jones has stated publicly that Lasseter's behavior was not the reason they left, she still didn't paint a great picture of working with the studio, which gives the impression that writing Toy Story 4 was not an easy process.
At the same time, you have John Lasseter's departure itself. Lasseter has a story credit on Toy Story 4 and was originally set to be a co-director, though he stepped down from that role several months ago. If Lasseter is currently not involved at all in Pixar operations, how will his absence impact this next stage of story creation for the film? It's possible that his previous work on the new story was minimal and thus won't be missed, but if the opposite is the case, what happens for the next four months until he comes back?
And all of this took place after Toy Story 4 saw its release date slip a full year. Originally set for a release this coming summer, Toy Story 4 swapped release dates with Incredibles 2 because the movie was already having problems moving forward.
Nobody was expecting Toy Story 4 to ever even happen. The third film seemed to wrap up the story quite nicely, and while Pixar always says they only make sequels when they find a good story to tell, considering all the issues this movie seems to be having, can we be so sure that Toy Story 4 is actually a story worth telling?
The Toy Story movies are the reason that many people love Pixar and most would likely agree that not making a movie is preferable to making a bad one. If the studio truly believes they can make a great movie by June of next year, then more power to them. If another release date push is needed, that would be ok, but at this point, Pixar has yet to officially announce any films past Toy Story 4 so there may not be another film to take its place. The movie business is a business after all and Disney is already expecting to see a film get released on that weekend in 2019.
Hopefully, all this is no big deal. Perhaps Stephany Folsom has actually been working on the script for months and the news of her hiring just came out recently. Perhaps she's not so much writing the screenplay as polishing an existing one, and only minor work will need to be done to finish things up.
There is a real fear, however, as Pixar has had difficulties like this before, where a movie just wasn't coming together and needed a lot of work to come up with something ready for the screen. That movie was The Good Dinosaur and things didn't end up turning out very well that time.