Toy Story 4 Villain

Sid. Stinky Pete. Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear. Every Toy Story movie needs a villain, and Gabby Gabby is the latest in a line of great baddies. As with her predecessors, the Toy Story 4 villain is a complex character whose motivations are somewhat understandable – even if the way she acts on them is terrible. Voiced by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, Gabby Gabby is a vintage baby doll who lives in a huge antiques mall and relies on ventriloquist dummies to do her bidding. Not only is she one of the most exciting new toys, but she just might become the most interesting villain in the series.

During a recent visit to the Pixar campus, we had the opportunity to watch a scene featuring Gabby Gabby and learn all about this intriguing new character.

Meet Gabby Gabby

Mad Men and Good Girls star Christina Hendricks lends her voice to the Toy Story series’ first female villain. Director Josh Cooley said Hendricks was “perfect” for the part – a fact made even more clear by the actress’ first recording session, when she revealed that when she was a child, she played with ventriloquist dummies instead of Barbie dolls. “She also said, ‘I have a lot of doll heads in my house right now,’” Cooley adds.

The antiques mall is an absolute treasure trove of objects, making it the coolest new location the toys visit in Toy Story 4. It’s here that Woody and Forky go to find Bo Peep, and where they (along with the rest of us) first meet Gabby Gabby. She resides in a large China cabinet that (aptly) looks down upon the rest of the shop and is filled with other, similarly precious and delicate antiques. Woody encounters Gabby Gabby when she’s on her evening stroll in a baby carriage being guided by ventriloquist dummies. At first, Gabby Gabby seems relatively harmless. She offers to give Woody a lift in her baby carriage, and the two quickly realize that they were manufactured around the same time. They both also have voice boxes, but Gabby Gabby’s voice box is in need of repairs; when she tries to play it, the recording is mangled and slow, and it’s here that Woody – and the audience – begins to understand that Gabby Gabby’s fascination with Woody’s voice box could have some dire consequences for our old pal.

Part of this is in Gabby Gabby’s facial expressions and Hendricks’ line delivery. There’s a vague eeriness lurking around the edges of her bubbly, feminine personality. Like other baby dolls from the ’50s and ’60s, Gabby Gabby’s eyelids flutter at odd intervals – just one of the “subtle irregularities” the animation team leaned into to signal to the viewer that something isn’t right about this vintage doll. “One of the benefits we had in working with Gabby Gabby was knowing she’s the antagonist of the film,” says characters shading lead Alex Marino. “So that opens up some doors for some specific deviations. Where other characters tend to be a little bit softer, we actually pushed in her eyes more angularity, more contrast, more harshness. Just to let you know there’s something a little different about her, maybe a little bit jarring visually, but still hopefully cute.”

Toy Story 4 - Benson

And Her Creepy Friends…

Gabby Gabby is sort of like the cutesy mob boss running toy life in the antiques mall, and every boss needs their own capos. Enter the ventriloquist dummies, who act as Gabby Gabby’s henchmen. Given that ventriloquist dummies are only able to move properly and speak when operated by a ventriloquist, these guys are extra unnerving because they don’t talk and they have a very unnatural way of moving around. Supervising technical director Bob Moyer explains that because dummies “naturally have a creepy quality to them,” they thought it best to take the “less is more” approach. Their appearance will predictably elicit comparisons to Slappy, from the Goosebumps franchise, but these guys are a little creepier than R.L. Stine’s iconic creation. (It’s also worth noting that most ventriloquist dummies look incredibly similar.)

While their silence and strange movements certainly emphasize the dummies’ creep-factor, these elements came from a desire to remain fairly accurate to the functions of a dummy. Moyer says they “studied the internal controls of ventriloquist dummies” to make sure that Gabby Gabby’s sidekicks functioned and moved similarly. “The body was designed to move very awkwardly, as if somebody was controlling them from the inside” – because dummies only really operate when someone else is calling the shots. “Everything had to feel slightly off,” says Moyer. Where Gabby Gabby gives off a vague feeling of something being not quite right, the dummies intensify that feeling and make it more overt.

What Makes Gabby Gabby So Great

Aside from the fact that she’s voiced by Christina Hendricks, there are other things that make Gabby Gabby such a compelling addition to the Toy Story rogues gallery. First and most obvious is that she is, well, a she. Gabby Gabby is the franchise’s first female villain; that she’s potentially the most interesting baddie in the series isn’t entirely coincidental. It certainly gives her a unique perspective, not unlike that of Bo Peep, and the contrast between the two – and their similar histories – is fascinating. Both Gabby Gabby and Bo Peep are considered “baby toys.” They’ve been around longer than some of their peers, and they’ve both become lost toys – passed on from kid to kid until they were finally abandoned. It’s the Pixar version of exploring the thin line between heroes and villains, not unlike comic books and superhero movies, or M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.

Though they share similar backgrounds, Bo Peep and and Gabby Gabby have ultimately become very different toys. Gabby Gabby is desperate to be adopted by a new kid and escape the antiques mall. She keeps her clothing and appearance as clean as possible, knowing that there’s a world of difference between old junk and a precious antique. It’s also why she wants to get her plastic baby-hands on Woody’s voice box; what good is a talking doll if she can’t talk? Gabby Gabby’s existence and motives are based on her perception of value, which is largely superficial. Meanwhile, Bo Peep decided to take control over the situation she found herself in, discovering a sense of freedom, independence, and – ultimately – self-fulfillment in the process.

Like other Toy Story villains, including Lots-o’-Huggin’ and Stinky Pete, Gabby Gabby is emotionally and morally complex. We sympathize with her motives, her desire to escape the confines of the antique mall and find purpose, and her need to be loved and find a real home. But the way she goes about achieving these goals is… kind of disturbing.

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