Ally Maki has been making a name for herself in the entertainment industry in recent years, with her work on TBS’s Wrecked, Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger on Freeform, and as Ikumi on Dear White People. Now she will be joining the Toy Story universe with her role as Giggle McDimples in the sequel, Toy Story 4.
I had the opportunity to participate in a round-table style interview with Maki to discuss what it felt like to be voicing a character in a franchise she grew up with, how she developed the character of Giggle McDimples, and how much merchandise has she acquired of the soon-to-be-legendary Officer.
Can we talk about how you’re feeling on the inside about animating a voice for Disney•Pixar? Let’s just talk about it for a second.
Ally Maki: Can we talk about it? I mean, I don’t know how to process it yet. I’m still just, every day I was like, “How did you not talk about it for three years?” Because, honestly, I didn’t believe it was true. From day one, I just said, “This has got to be a prank. Something is going to go wrong along the way.” Because you know how these projects are. You never know if you’re going to make it into the final edit of the film. I remember at the after after party of the premiere, the Pixar one, I was able to talk to Bob Pauley, who he is iconic. He’s been, from day one, one of the animators. And he said over the last six years, they have had so many different characters and iterations. There were so many different storylines that got dropped along the way so, in that moment, I felt so incredibly lucky to even make it into the film and to be just such an incredible, new character within that is mindblowing. I can’t believe we’re here. This is bananas.
Did you grow up with these films? What does it feel like to be a part of this franchise now?
Ally Maki: [laughs] Yes. Yes! I keep telling them, “You know, you guys know that you hired the ultimate fangirl. I don’t know if this is going to be good or bad for you guys, but I’m going to be all over and freaking out every single day.” To be the tiniest character to exist within the universe is really awesome. And then, to be the first Asian American female within this universe is so incredible. To be a woman of color within this universe is really incredible. The new character in [Toy Story] 4 is, I mean, it’s been mind blowing to me at every level. And I was the age group that directly aligned with 1, 2 and 3. I think I was about nine when the first one came out and then high school and then college and now [Toy Story] 4 is just me as an adult. So, it’s really really special.
So, I’m curious where you found the essence of Giggle. Where did it start? Did it start with the laugh? Did it start with the script? Where did you start forming the character?
Ally Maki: I love it because the first thing I said when I went to the very first session, because I didn’t know that much, I said, “Okay. Is there something you guys want? Are you looking for anything specifically? Higher or lower? Do you want a character voice?” They were like, “No.” They were like, “Nothing. We just want you to be 100% you. For every Pixar movie we go to great lengths to make sure that we just cast the heart and soul and personality of the character.” So, already, I felt so free in that moment to just be myself and play and be different versions of her. It’s the best job I’ve ever had because they were like, “Alright. So, let’s take this line to a level 10.” And I was like, Oh my Gosh! This is the best job in the world! Most times people are like, “Can you do less? Can you be less? Can you be quieter?” And then I was like, okay. Great. So, I did the line and they were like, “That was amazing. Now, let’s take it to a level 12.” And I was like, yay! I have unlocked my true potential! That was how much fun we had. It was like going balls to the wall, but then still having the emotion behind it. It was just so much fun.
Can you walk us through a typical day of recording for you?
Ally Maki: Yeah. I remember the first session was crazy because they sent this fancy car. And I was like, cool, because normally I’m just driving myself around the streets, trying to make it there in one piece. So, I got this fancy car and then you roll up to the iconic Walt Disney Animation Studios and you see the dwarves holding up the building. And you’re going into the actual recording studio, where you know that there’s so much history and they did [Toy Story] 1, 2, and 3. And you’re meeting Doc, who is the engineer for all the films. It’s crazy. And you walk in and everyone is just so wonderful. I mean, Josh Cooley, working with him has just been a dream of a lifetime. He is the most kind-hearted, warm, funny, hilarious person. He played every single character for all three years. Just over and over. He played every single character from the smallest character to Buzz and Woody and he is just the greatest partner to have. So, basically, you just go into the thingy and I wouldn’t know anything. They don’t send you anything beforehand. There are no scripts. I didn’t know anything that was going on, which I think is so wonderful because it takes you back to the main reason why we love performing and using your imagination. Everything is imagination-based. And really all you are getting is you’re getting these scenes. They have these thick-pieces of almost cardboard ones, where you know there’s only one copy. And then they’ll take them down and put them in the vault because there’s only one copy of each scene. And that’s how we operated. So, everything was just like here’s what is happening. Woody is doing this and this. Now okay and go! So, it really is trusting your first, basic instincts and what you’re feeling in that exact moment. Cooley actually told me that about 85% of what is Giggle McDimples in the movie was from our very first recording session and the first thirty minutes of that recording session. To me, which meant a lot, because it meant my first instincts and what my first kind of feelings were for the character were what were really special.
What did you feel like when you saw what the rendering of what the animated version of you was going to look like?
Ally Maki: Well, the first session I went to, they were like, “Show her the animatic!” They are so excited to show me everything and I’m like, “Ah! Okay! Great!” So, the first thing they showed me was a little thing of her just moving around. It was just her. There was no scenery. There was just a white background and they had dubbed my lines from “Wrecked”, the show that I was on at that time, onto her thing. It was just so weird because it was this other character that I had played now merged on what would be Giggle McDimples. And when I saw that, it was again very freeing. Because I said, “They just want me to talk as me. They didn’t need any crazy character. I could just be myself.” So, that was the first time I had seen her. And, at that time, she was still in a little pink and purple dress.
So, she was not Officer McDimples yet?
Ally Maki: Yes! At that time, the very first iteration I actually also got this black notebook. It felt like a Pixar CIA notebook and you would open it and it had drawings of her in different ways. But she had a little pink bow and a little pink and purple dress at that time. She was still the same feisty spirit. And then over the months, I remember I came back and they said, “Hey. So, we have a surprise for you.” And I was like, “What? What is it? What could be more amazing than this?” And they were like, “She is now a cop. And we’ve given her a job and she is the police chief of Miniopolis.” That’s honestly the most perfect way. Which I was like, tell me more about Miniopolis…That place sounds amazing. Where is it? What is it? How do we get there? And I’ve been telling them that we need to do Miniopolisthe spinoff. Hey, Disney+…And we imagine she has a little trenchcoat or something. But, yeah, we’ll see.
We’ve seen so many toys in the Toy Story universe who are like, “Am I a toy? Am I this fictional character?” And she’s kind of very comfortable being both. She lives in Miniopolis, but is able to exist in the real world.
Ally Maki: Totally. Yeah. I know. With her, I think she’s 100% in with everything she’s doing. She’s not afraid to go on these missions. I think she’s very mission based. I think that’s where she finds her purpose. I think being a police chief is her life and she finds a lot of pride and identity in that, being out on the road with her main gal.
Speaking of new characters, one of my favorite things about Toy Story 4 and the expansion of roles for women and especially the relationship between McDimples and Bo Peep. So, in the spirit of imagination, what did you imagine is their backstory?
Ally Maki: Ooo! I just think they are so wonderful together and I love that they brought back Bo as this fully fledged, awesome, incredible. She’s got her staff now and she’s 100% truly herself and she’s obviously found herself out on the road alone without Buzz and Woody and the crew. She has become truly her authentic self. And I think the same for Giggle. She is like 100% authentically real and not afraid to be herself and I think together it’s like this ultimate superpower and superduo-ness and the way that they have brought female friendship and strength to the franchise, especially to the young girls who are watching these characters and saying, “Oh, I have a Bo. Oh, I have a Giggle.” And it means a lot.
Now, for the most important question of them all. Have you started collecting merchandise yet?
Ally Maki: I have a whole room of them. It’s actually getting to be a problem. I wanted to ask some toy collectors like how do you guys organize it? How do you guys display it so that it looks good and not just like cluttered? But I’ve been crazy. I’ve been charging it up on Amazon Prime and the Disney Store. And they are like, “Do you want the discount?” And I’m like no. I bought it full price. I don’t care. It’s fine. I’ll go into Walmart and buy the cheese. That was what made me cry shockingly. When I saw her on Babybel Cheese. I was like, “Wait. What’s happening? And why am I having a visceral emotion to this?” I don’t know why. Maybe we’ll dissect that at some time.