Keanu Reeves became the latest Hollywood star to enter the Pixar universe in 2019 when he voiced Duke Caboom in Toy Story 4. However, the long-awaited sequel wasn’t the first time his character had appeared on the big screen. Here’s a look at the daredevil’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in a previous animated adventure.
Pixar Studios instantly revolutionized the world of feature-length animation in 1995 with its debut cinematic outing, Toy Story. Directed by John Lasseter, the tale of anthropomorphic toys was the first time that audiences had been given the chance to see a completely computer-animated movie on the big screen. And they sure lapped it up.
Indeed, Toy Story grossed a whopping $373 million across the globe to become one of the biggest box office hits of the year. Critics were also enamored with its groundbreaking animation, hilarious script and pitch-perfect voice performances. It later picked up three Oscar nods – for Best Original Score, Best Original Song and Best Original Screenplay.
For those who somehow have managed to avoid its many charms, Toy Story is set in a universe where toys magically take on a life of their own when humans aren’t around. Voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, respectively, its two leading characters are old-school cowboy Woody and newfangled spaceman Buzz Lightyear. The former is initially threatened when the latter arrives on the scene, but the pair eventually become the best of friends.
The film’s phenomenal success inevitably inspired Pixar to return to the world of Woody and Buzz in 1999. But unlike most sequels, Toy Story 2 is widely regarded as superior to the original. This time around, Buzz Lightyear and co. come to the rescue when Woody finds himself in the clutches of a toy collector.
Toy Story 2 was originally supposed to bypass cinemas altogether and go straight-to-video. But Disney bosses were so impressed by the early story reels that they decided to give the toy characters a second big screen outing. Whereas the Pixar team typically take years to work on a project, Toy Story 2 was developed and completed in the space of just nine months.
But the studio’s efforts paid off, and Toy Story 2 grossed almost $125 million more than its predecessor. In fact, at the time of its release, the only other animated feature to earn more at the box office was 1994’s The Lion King. Furthermore, it also won the Best Picture – Musical or Comedy award at the following year’s Golden Globes.
Incredibly, the Pixar team managed to strike gold for a third time when they returned to the franchise in 2010. Toy Story 3 sees the loveable toys attempt to escape a day care facility after being mistakenly donated. Meanwhile, the moment where Woody and the gang appear destined to die in an incinerator is widely regarded as one of the most emotionally affecting scenes in the studio’s history.
Once again, the critical reception was universally positive, and following in the footsteps of Up, Toy Story 3 picked up a Best Picture Oscar nomination. It also won Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature at the same ceremony. And its worldwide gross stands at a colossal $1 billion, making it the first feature-length animation to achieve such a figure.
Meanwhile, Toy Story 3 was presumed by many to have been the final chapter of Woody and co.’s adventures. Indeed, in 2010 Pixar’s Lee Unkrich revealed that the studio had no plans to return to the franchise. However, just three years later, rumors began surfacing that Pixar had gone back on their word. And in 2014 a fourth installment was officially confirmed.
Head of Pixar John Lasseter assured fans at the 2015 D23 Expo that the movie wasn’t going to be a simple cash-in. He also revealed that the story would center on Buzz and Woody’s quest to track down Bo Peep. Jim Morris, Pixar’s president, stated that the movie would take more of a rom-com approach than its three previous chapters.
Following various behind the scenes problems, Toy Story 4 finally made it to the production stage in September 2018. Both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen returned to reprise their beloved roles. And the latter admitted on The Talk that month that he “couldn’t even get through the last scene” due to its highly emotive nature.
Indeed, during a November 2019 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Allen mentioned the final scene in the same breath as Gone with the Wind. He told the host, “It’s a Scarlett, I don’t give a damn moment. I read it and I had to turn around from looking at it in the studio, it was so emotional.”
And co-star Tom Hanks backed up Allen’s claims during a 2018 interview with British radio DJ Chris Evans. He said, “When I realized what they were going for, I realized, oh, this is a moment in history. The emotional range of the movies has become more and more deep and profound and affecting.”
Meanwhile, after skipping Toy Story 3, Annie Potts returned to voice the character of Bo Peep. Don Rickles also agreed to play Mr. Potato Head for a fourth time, but he sadly passed away before the script was finished. However, in a touching move, the studio managed to assemble enough material from archival recordings to ensure that Rickles’ familiar tones could be heard in the franchise once more.
The biggest new addition to the team of toys was Forky, an everyday kitchen utensil transformed into a makeshift plaything. The character is voiced by Tony Hale, who played Veep’s Gary Walsh and Arrested Development’s Buster Bluth. When asked about his decision to sign up for the role, the actor told Deadline in 2018, “A utensil’s existential crisis? I’m in.”
And Hale wasn’t the only major name to join the franchise. Indeed, one of the decade’s most successful comedy duos, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, also signed up to voice Ducky and Bunny, a pair of plush toys won at a carnival. And as you’d expect, the pair were allowed to improvise several of their lines.
But the most high profile new voice undoubtedly belonged to Keanu Reeves. The Hollywood favorite’s involvement in Toy Story 4 was first revealed by Tim Allen, aka Buzz Lightyear, during his aforementioned appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s show. The comedian told the host, “Keanu Reeves has got a great part. Actually, little inside story, even he said…, ‘This sounds too much like Buzz Lightyear.’ And his character does have an edge to that.”
Reeves himself then confirmed he was now a part of Toy Story history in an interview with Collider in December 2018. He told the site, “I got a call which was really cool out the blue from the lovely people at Pixar and the creators of this number, this edition, or continuation of the story. They pitched the character to me and then we spoke and they allowed me to kind of riff on it.”
Incredibly, despite a career spanning over three decades, Toy Story 4 was the first time that Reeves had voiced a character in a big screen animation. However, he had fulfilled such a role in 13 episodes of small screen spin-off Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures. He also lent his voice to The Animatrix, an anthology of sci-fi shorts inspired by the The Matrix films.
Reeves remained tight-lipped about his involvement in the film. But an official character description, released alongside a still of the character, later shed some light on the matter. It read, “In the all-new story, Duke Caboom is a 1970s toy, based on Canada’s greatest stuntman, who Woody meets in an antique store. Riding his powerful Caboom stunt-cycle, Duke is always prepared to show off his stunt poses with confidence and swagger.”
But then came the twist. The description continued, “However, Woody learns quickly that Duke has an Achilles heel. He has never been able to do the awesome stunts advertised in his own toy commercial. For years, Duke has been sitting in the antique store, constantly reliving the failures of his tragic past.”
Toy Story 4 may be the first time that we hear Reeves’ voice in a Pixar movie. But, surprisingly, it isn’t the first time that his character has shown up on the big screen. Indeed, it turns out that Duke Caboom made a very brief cameo in one of the studio’s previous hits.
Nathan Fariss, a Pixar supervisor, had previously teased the cameo during a 2018 interview with Buzzfeed about Incredibles 2. He told the site that one particular Easter egg “probably won’t make any sense until Toy Story 4 comes out. I didn’t even know anything about it before. You might see it and go, ‘What the heck is that?’ And then move on.”
And one particularly eagle-eyed YouTuber managed to discover just exactly what Fariss was talking about once the description of Reeves’ character had been revealed. Indeed, if you look closely in one of the scenes where Jack-Jack is in his crib, you’ll notice a mysterious figure next to some blocks with the letters “W,” “D” and “Y.” And that figure perfectly fits the description of Duke Caboom.
Indeed, the previously unseen toy is sporting a handlebar mustache, a feature that was mentioned in the character’s description. He’s also dressed in the kind of outfit that you’d expect from a daredevil motorcyclist. And the YouTuber’s theory gained further credence when an official image of Duke Caboom was unveiled to the public.
Indeed, Duke Caboom was displayed in all his glory for the first time on official posters and merchandise at Toy Fair 2019. And with his white stuntman suit and handlebar mustache, he looks exactly like the character lying in Jack-Jack’s crib in Incredibles 2. Fans also got to see him posing on a motorbike adorned with the Canadian flag.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Pixar have teased a character from a forthcoming movie without audiences’ knowledge at the time. Indeed, in 2001’s Monsters Inc, the star of 2003’s Finding Nemo made a fleeting appearance. And the villainous Lotso from 2010’s Toy Story 3 briefly showed up in 2009’s Up.
In fact, Pixar have become renowned for cramming each of their films with nods to their others. The number A113 and the Pizza Planet truck have featured in nearly every movie made by the studio. And unsurprisingly, as the film that kickstarted everything, Toy Story has been referenced more than any other.
Indeed, Buzz Lightyear’s famous saying, “To Infinity and Beyond,” is also quoted in A Bug’s Life. A Jessie doll is placed on a table in Monsters. Inc, while a Buzz Lightyear figure can be spotted next to the waiting room’s toybox in Finding Nemo. And then there’s the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, which show up in Bob Parr’s office in The Incredibles.
Of course, there’s much more to the Evil Knievel-esque character than his mustache and motorbike. And in a March 2019 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the man who voices him, Keanu Reeves, revealed that Duke Caboom has many hidden depths. Indeed, like many other Toy Story characters, he’s also suffered his fair share of heartbreak.
Reeves told the magazine, “Every kid has their toy, and Duke let his kid down when he couldn’t do what the commercial said he could. So he’s a wounded person! He’s needing to have some, I don’t know, catharsis. Some feeling. I wanted him to have a real sensitivity and a soft heart.”
Reeves continued, “I also saw him as a character that has a really wide dramatic bandwidth in the sense of being so big. ‘Kaboom! Kapow! Let’s go!’ But who can also then share his wounds, like, ‘You have a kid? I had a kid. I let him down!’ And he can get quiet. So it was really a lot to play with on the playground.”
But being a new addition to the established cast, Reeves was careful not to step on anyone’s toes. He added, “I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything that would go into Tim Allen’s space as Buzz Lightyear. That was one thing I was really paying attention to when I was thinking about the character and how he would talk. So I made Duke a little more gravelly but still tried to give him energy and a big personality.”
Reeves then revealed why he decided to make his character such an outgoing individual. He added, “I just thought that Duke should love what he does. He’s the greatest stuntman in Canada! I wanted him to be constantly doing poses on the bike while he was talking, to have this great extroverted passion.”
And the star went to great lengths to convey his feelings on the matter. Indeed, Reeves reportedly leapt onto the table during a meeting with Pixar bosses in order to show how animated he wanted his character to be. And the team who witnessed this exuberant display were impressed by Reeves’ enthusiasm.
Indeed, director Josh Cooley credits the actor for making the team realize that they hadn’t expanded on the character as much as they could have. Cooley also appreciated the balance that Reeves brought to Duke Caboom, telling Entertainment Weekly, “It’s not so much [that I wanted Reeves to do] Bill & Ted. But I wanted to hear the honesty in the character and the truth come out and not just that we’re playing a crazy character.”
Cooley then added, “And so there’s a bit of an intensity to Duke, and I knew Keanu could do that, but I didn’t know if he could do the comedic side of it, and I was taught quickly that he can, because he was killing me. And I could tell in the room, he was just having a real fun time doing it, and that comes across in his performance.”
And Jonas Rivera, a Toy Story 4 producer, was also impressed by Reeves’ contribution to the film. In an official statement about the movie, Rivera said, “The first time [director Josh Cooley] and I talked with [Reeves] about the role, [he] became Duke Caboom. [Reeves] was asking great questions that dug deep to find the soul of the character.”
Meanwhile, fans will see Reeves’ efforts on the big screen when Toy Story 4 hits cinemas in June 2019. The movie was originally scheduled for release back in the summer of 2017 before being pushed back to June 2018 and then yet another 12 months. The movie will also hit new streaming service Disney+ once its box office run has come to an end.