We all have that one film we play on repeat, whether you’re a child or an adult, and for Ally Maki, that film was Toy Story. It was one of the first films that she saw in a movie theater, and it was the one film that she related to, because the characters resonated with her. They were the Asian-American representation that she was seeking as a young girl. Those characters had no boundaries for her and no limitations.
I caught up with Ally Maki at the recent Toy Story 4 press day ahead of the film’s release to talk about why her character inspired her to “unlock my true potential” and how her 73 Questions video led to her landing the part of Giggle McDimples, Toy Story 4’s smallest ever character who can kick your ass and tells you how it really is.
Let’s start with how Pixar found you, it’s such a great story about how they saw your 73 questions on YouTube.
It was really crazy that that actually happened. It was just me making a video on a Saturday with my friends for no reason and for no purpose with my dog and my nephew.
I really wanted to make a video through my specific lens and how I saw those videos and how I would be in that particular video if Anna Wintour came to my door. [laughs]
I really wanted to make it and that video only got a few hundred views. After all of this happened, someone said, “We were one of those views.” Someone at Pixar was one of those few views that it got and it resonated with them in some crazy way. That’s why we say, make your own content.
And here we are.
Here we are and it’s so crazy.
Did you have a Polly Pocket when you were little?
Oh, girl, I had a whole collection. I had the full collection. My mom had them in her garage, and we were able to find them and dust them off. I had the mat and the houses.
What was your reaction when you heard you were going to be Toy Story’s smallest ever character?
I couldn’t believe it. I was wondering how is this even possible? To be the smallest character in the universe, but also to be the first ever Asian-American within that universe, it’s just too mind-blowing to believe. It’s so important.
I love that she’s so honest and frank. I love that this time, we had such fierce female characters. What was it like seeing that on the page?
The thing was we didn’t get scripts. The first time I went in, I had no idea what I was walking into. When they instantly reassured me, they said, “We 100% want just you. You don’t need to put on a voice or a character. We just want the essence of what you want to bring to the character.”
I felt so free at that moment when they gave me the license right there to make her as fierce as I wanted. And, Josh Cooley had this incredible vision for her.
How long did it take for you to do the voice? I spoke to Madeleine the other day, she was five when she did the voice of Bonnie and now she’s ten-years-old.
I know. It’s been three years from the first time I walked in. Cooley told me that 85% of what’s in the film for Giggle McDimples was the first 45 minutes of our first session ever. It truly was me going off of my gut instinct for what she would do and for what she would be in the circumstance. I loved that.
Who was in your recording session?
It was always just Cooley and I in the booth with a couple of other people. It was always just us and it was cool to see Cooley play every character under the sun.
It was just awesome because you’d be in the booth with the mic and they’d say “Scene whatever.” They’d take out these thick pieces of paper, and they’d walk you through the scene. You’d do the scene a bunch of times and they’d put the paper back in the secret vault.
It took me back to why I love performing in the first place. I grew up doing theater, so it had the very live, trust your own instincts, create the world in your head. I thought you’d go in and see the movie before your eyes like ADR style. It’s not. It’s nothing like that. It’s just pieces of paper, and you’re creating this world along with Cooley’s vision with it.
You’re really going to your 14-year-old self doing voices on the floor. So, it was just really cool.
What was it like seeing the completed animation for the first time?
I just wept. It took me a few days to process everything. It was just a magical experience. I think aside from being a character in the film, I think for someone who grew up as a fan of the franchise, it was everything that I wanted it to be.
It was the message and story that I needed as an adult who grew up with these films. There’s a lot that happens. You know, you’ve seen it. What’s so great about Pixar is that they know how to get the message across for the adult in you and for the child in you.
You said you were a huge Toy Story fan growing up, what was your first memory of seeing Toy Story?
It was one of the first films I ever saw in the theater and so that in itself was crazy. There are certain things you’ll never forget. That’s why it sticks out so much to me.
It was that one movie that I watched over and over and over again. That was that movie for me. That resonated specifically for me because as an Asian-American female, you’re not seeing a lot of representation on TV, in film and in magazines. So, to see toys that can be anything. Rex could be me. Hamm could be me. I saw myself in all of those characters without boundaries and without limitations.
You’re also on a lot of the merchandise, and you have little girls dressing up as you. What does that mean for you to see that?
That to me is the number one and to me the most important thing, personally. I see myself in all of them. I look back and I think to myself, ‘I wish that I had something like this when I was 12-years-old.’ I’ve learned so much about myself and who I can be and what potential I can have in this world and the voice that I have.
So, I imagine if we can inform these girls at a much younger age that they are empowered to speak and to be everything, I can’t imagine what role models we are creating at such a young age. It’s so so beautiful. So, Giggle inspires me to unlock my true potential. She’s helping me to do that as an adult.
She’s so kick ass and so honest. I love that about her.
There’s no hesitation.
And that size does not matter. I’m five foot.
Exactly. I’m five foot one. You really do think about it if you’re shorter. I’ve constantly seen the world where I’m looking up at people. How do we not let that feel that we are, in turn, smaller than everyone, in terms of spirit, size, dreams, everything? For her, she’s showing that it’s not about size and that you are equal with everyone.
Do you have a favorite scene?
Oh, the ending. That ending. The message of the ending. For me, I think what I needed and what other people needed. It will fulfill them, and it will make them feel something and teach them a life lesson in a beautiful and wonderful way.
It’s the perfect message.
Exactly. It’s not a cliche. It’s true humanity.