I Was Never a Bo Peep Fan, But That Could Change
How Well Has the Character Been Handled?
When it was announced that Bo Peep would return for Toy Story 4, some fans got excited. And I could not help but scratch my head, because the character has never really interested me that much. I knew what she meant to Woody, but I did not feel certain that her return justified the making of another Toy Story film after Toy Story 3 seemed to wrap things up pretty nicely. But now that we've seen more of Bo Peep in promotional material, I cannot help but wonder whether Toy Story 4 will change my mind about the character.
In the first Toy Story, Bo Peep is introduced in the opening scene, where Andy plays with his toys and has her be the damsel in distress whose sheep are in danger. Once playtime is over, and the toys are free to move around, she thanks Woody for saving her sheep and suggests that she could have someone watch the sheep, so that she and Woody could be together for the night. So it's clear that she and Woody have a romance going on, and many people ship them together.
However, something that has always bugged me about Bo Peep in the first Toy Story is how wishy-washy her characterization feels. One moment, she's planning a date with Woody. And then later that same day, after Buzz demonstrates that he can "fly," she says, "I found my moving buddy." At the very least, this could just be a joke. But I have wondered whether, in that moment, Bo Peep became so smitten with Buzz that she no longer wanted the supposed date with Woody. It makes me question whether or not Woody and Bo were "exclusive."
To be fair, Bo does continue to show that she cares about Woody, trying to let him know that he does not have to worry about Andy being excited about Buzz. She assures Woody that Andy will always have a place for him. Later in the film, the night before moving day, she watches Andy sleep, and says to herself, "Oh, Woody, if only you could see how much Andy misses you." So she does still seem to care about Woody to an extent. What I've always found weird about her line here is that, by this point, she believes that Woody has murdered Buzz, as evidenced by her reaction to seeing Woody with Buzz's arm. I understand that people are complicated, and maybe she was trying to remember the good in Woody. But this always felt out of place to me, and kinda rubbed me the wrong way in regards to Bo's character.
A Lack of Agency
Another reason that I've never been much of a Bo Peep fan is that she seemed bland compared to the other main toys. She's mostly just a love interest who does not take much part in the action. When the toys turn on Woody after Buzz falls out the window, she says, "Will you boys stop it?" in an attempt to resolve things rationally. But she doesn't really get a say. And she does not really participate in the action when the toys throw Woody out of the truck. She covers her eyes briefly, and then just lets it happen. The only time she gets a say is after they realize that Woody was telling the truth about Buzz being alive, and she says the command, "Rocky! The ramp!" after which Rocky obeys, and lowers the ramp to help Woody and Buzz. The fact that it's mainly the male toys making the big decisions in the film is really a sign of the times.
In Toy Story 2, Bo's characterization feels more consistent within the context of that film. She assures Woody that Andy will like him with or without his hat. She does kiss Buzz on the cheek, but it is meant for Woody for when Buzz finds him. And she does show that she can command her sheep by whistling. But it feels like the creative team did not quite know what else to do with her. Along with Mrs. Potato Head, she stays behind in Andy's room while Buzz and the other main male toys go out searching for Woody. Again, it feels like the creative team did not know what to do with her. Another sign of the times is how the Barbies are just played off as an attractive sights for the male toys, with Mr. Potato Head trying to remind himself, "I'm a married spud. I'm a married spud. I'm a married spud."
However, a good sign that the times were changing was the inclusion of Jessie, who has more depth, and more of an active role in the plot. This was certainly a step that would carry over into Toy Story 3, in which Barbie subverts stereotypes, and shows that she can be strong and intelligent. Even Mrs. Potato Head is given a more active role. With Bo Peep absent from the events of the threequel, it kinda feels like Barbie is there to fill that void. And now in Toy Story 4, Bo Peep, with her blonde hair, blue outfit, and more active role kind of evokes Barbie's depiction in Toy Story 3 (Funny enough, the Live Action Toy Story YouTube video by JP and Beyond has Barbie in a Bo Peep outfit since they couldn't find a proper Bo Peep).
Who Is Bo Peep Now?
Bo Peep's depiction in all the promotional material for Toy Story 4 feels jarring to me. So much so that I have even wondered whether there might be some twist involving this Bo Peep not being the exact same toy we saw in the other films. I doubt that this would be the case since she seems to be familiar with Woody, and there would probably be a lot of negative fan reaction to such a twist (though the film has premiered in Hollywood already, I am not privy to what actually happens). To some fans, her portrayal in Toy Story 4 might feel like over-correction. But I think this is the Bo Peep we needed from the start, and I might end up really liking how she ends up being characterized in this new film. It probably won't change how I view her previous appearances, but I can appreciate Toy Story 4 for trying to step forward with her characterization, to infinity and beyond.