When comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele signed on to voice Toy Story 4’s Ducky and Bunny — the mischievous plush carnival prizes who escape their arcade constraints with the help of Buzz Lightyear — there wasn’t much question as to which comedian would get to play which stuffed scene-stealer.
“It was just so natural in terms of their energy,” Josh Cooley, the film’s director, tells EW. “Keegan just kind of bounces off the walls and Jordan is very kind of thoughtful and has a much lower energy, and since we knew we wanted to have a size difference between the two [characters], it just seemed funnier to have this little smaller guy voiced by Keegan and be a lot more energetic and bouncing off the walls.”
Yet the recording booth never knew any inertia, at least not when Ducky or Bunny took their turns at bat. The filmmakers made an extra effort to always schedule the ever-busy Key, 48, and Peele, 40, to record together — a surprisingly rare practice in animation, but one that’s growing increasingly more common in bigger animated studio features (elsewhere on Toy Story 4, Tom Hanks and Annie Potts also laid down their dialogue in tandem for Woody and Bo, who share most of their screen time). Unsurprising to fans who have followed Key and Peele’s careers since their sketch comedy days, Cooley dubs the pair’s Pixar performances “easily the funniest recording sessions I’ve ever been a part of.”
The director gushes, “All I had to do was bring the scripts with the intention of what the scene was about, with some dialogue which they would read through a couple times, but then they would just take it to so many more levels further than I could ever possibly imagine. But the thing that was so great was that they weren’t just being funny for funny’s sake. Those improvised lines cemented the characters’ world views, if you will. Every single thing they said was in character and on point for the story, and that’s a talent in and of itself that is extremely hard to do, but to watch these two guys do it and be able to read each other’s minds at the same time was amazing. It was so hard to not ruin the takes with laughter.”
Among the pair’s more memorable improvisations in the booth is a song Ducky and Bunny break into when they find out they’re on the way to meeting their first-ever kid, an anecdote Key recounted on The Tonight Show: “They put a bunch of lyrics down for us one day and said…we’re wondering if you could just kind of burst into song. And we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, whatever song you want.’ And they’re like, ‘No, we don’t really have the song. Could you write a song right now?’ We sang for 20 minutes straight, they recorded for about 30 minutes, and there’s about five seconds of it in the movie.”
And as for the divvying up of roles itself, Peele’s part as the more subdued, more stuffed Bunny to Key’s pugnacious, plucky Ducky is “the first time in his life he’s ever been taller than me,” Key joked. “He is holding that close to his heart. We were looking at the characters for the first time and he was like, ‘So, I’m the big one? Alright.’”