Toy Story is one of the first movies I ever remember seeing in theaters. It was one of my favorite movies growing up, and probably one of the most important movies of my childhood; not only did it introduce me to Pixar, a studio that has produced so many of my favorite movies, but it set my imagination on fire with its concept of what toys do when we aren’t playing with them. It was something every child could relate to, since we all had toys.
And as I grew up, so did Toy Story. I was roughly the same age as Andy when each movie released, and the franchise continued to be pitch perfect in its translation of the relationship between toy and child. And when it came time to say goodbye to the toys- through Andy giving them to Bonnie- it was emotional. It was something hugely relatable. Who on earth would have thought a movie about toys would have been so emotionally impactful?
To me, Toy Story 3 was the perfect conclusion to the story, so when Disney/Pixar announced Toy Story 4, I was skeptical. I mean, we’d already said goodbye once, did we really need to go back again?
What Toy Story 3 was, however, was a good conclusion to Andy’s story with his toys. It was the perfect goodbye, the perfect relation to all of us kids who were growing up and parting ways with our childhood. But Toy Story 4 is the perfect farewell to the characters of the toys themselves, and proves to be just as essential to the franchise as the three movies that came before it.
That said, it also feels different from the other three movies. Toy Story 4 is unequivocally a personal story for Woody, but in a way that the other three weren’t- which is strange, as the other three movies were absolutely personal to Woody, too, from being replaced as the “favorite toy” to nearly getting stolen by a collector, to watching his kid grow up and finding a new one. But this movie is even more personal to him, because it is about his life, not his kid’s.
Of course, Bonnie is a major focus, and Woody’s whole goal in this movie is to make sure she’s happy- just like he did for Andy. And that means keeping her newest toy- a plastic spork character that Bonnie made in Kindergarten- safe. And just like with Andy, Woody is dedicated to making sure Bonnie is happy- even if she doesn’t play with him anymore.
But when Woody comes across a lost friend, things change. Back in Toy Story 3, it was only mentioned briefly that Bo Peep was gone, but we never knew her fate. But as Toy Story 4 opens, we aren’t taken to Bonnie’s room, but back to Andy’s, somewhere between the second and third movies. After a daring rescue mission to save RC from the drain during a fierce thunderstorm, we discover that Bo Peep and her sheep were given away by Andy’s sister, Molly. It is heartbreaking to watch the rushed goodbye between Bo and Woody, and felt instantly like the missing piece of a puzzle we’ve been trying to solve since 2010.
So when Woody runs into Bo again on his journey to get Forky back to Bonnie (the spork keeps trying to throw himself away, as he thinks he’s trash), Woody is torn between getting himself- and the utensil- back to Bonnie and being with Bo again. Of course, Woody doesn’t realize this; he’s dedicated to Bonnie just as he was to Andy. But seeing Bo again throws him for a loop.
As with every installment in this franchise, it explores some very unique themes in regards to the lives of toys. The first movie, as we all remember, delved into the concept of what happens when a brand new toy comes to the room. The sequel dealt with toys that are collectibles. The third with toys whose owner has outgrown them. And with 4, we have a few new things to explore.
First, we are asked what defines a toy? That’s where Forky comes in (and he’s a brilliant character); made from spare bits and pieces (and a spork) from the trash, Forky becomes Bonnie’s new favorite toy. And while it takes Forky a little while to realize what he means to Bonnie, it really shows us that what makes a toy a toy is the love of a child. While we’ve never really explores why toys are alive in this series, I think this is probably the closest we will come; after all, the spork was just a utensil until Bonnie made him a toy. If anything brought him to life, it was Bonnie’s love for him.
Secondly, we get to explore the world of lost toys. Its something we can all relate to, as we’ve all lost a toy in our lives. And I’m sure we’ve always wondered what ever happened to those toys. Did someone else find them? Did they end up in the trash? Broken? Forgotten? It’s the world that Bo Peep inhabits, and something that is fresh and different for this franchise.
Thirdly, it explores a toy that was never played with, in the villain. With a defective voice box, Gabby Gabby has always longed to have a child play with her, but never got the chance, because she was broken. And while she- and her ventriloquist doll henchmen- are very terrifying for a G-Rated movie, she ultimately just wants what Woody has always had: the love of a child. Of all the villains in the franchise, Gabby is possibly the most relatable, and definitely the most redeemable.
And finally, it comes full circle for Woody, as a toy who is no longer played with. Instead of being replaced by the latest craze in the action figure market, now he’s simply a toy that his child isn’t really interested in anymore. In the opening of the movie, we notice that Bonnie often leaves Woody sitting on a step stool while playing with everyone else. And she even takes his Sheriff badge and gives it to Jessie, culminating in her leaving Woody in the closet with a few other forgotten toys.
As Woody is coming to terms with no longer being a favorite toy- not having been replaced like he was temporarily with Buzz, but more having been outgrown, as Bo Peep was with Molly- he struggles to find a reason to be important for Bonnie still. He makes it his personal mission to protect Forky (even from himself, as he constantly tries to throw himself away), going so far as to jump out of the moving car when Forky does the same. It shows his grown as a character- in the original, Woody was mortified when he and Buzz were left at the gas station- but it also shows a character who is struggling with no longer being useful as he once was.
So when Bo reappears in his life, he’s at a crossroads. When all is said and done, and Woody ultimately decides to become a lost toy and stay with Bo, and he says his goodbyes to Buzz and Jessie and the other toys we’ve come to love over four movies (and several shorts), it was emotional. It was a goodbye to the characters, but in a different way than the ending of Toy Story 3. Instead of saying goodbye to their kid, this time, they are saying goodbye to a friend, and we are saying goodbye to the end of an era.
Many sequels fizzle out; Pixar themselves haven’t even been immune to this, as more often than not, people praise their original movies more than the sequels. But when it comes to revisiting their characters, the Toy Story bunch- the ones that started it all- have been revisited the most. And Toy Story 4 proves that there’s a reason we keep coming back to Andy’s toys, and proves that toys aren’t just for kids; there’s real emotion in this movie, and whether the characters are made of plastic or flesh, they are entirely relatable, no matter how old you are. When announced, I didn’t think Toy Story 4 was necessary, but now that I’ve seen it, I know that it is possibly the most important chapter in this story. And as someone who’s been watching Toy Story since I was seven, this was absolutely my favorite movie in the franchise.
For anyone who loves this series, Toy Story 4 is a must. It’s the franchise at its best, and it’s Pixar at its best, too.
Sometimes I don’t get to everything I thought about the movie in the written review. So here are some loose thoughts I had that didn’t really work themselves into what I said above.
- As with every new Pixar movie, this movie really shows the technical achievement of the studio; this one, more than any, as we can compare the same characters over the course of Pixar’s legacy, all the way back to the beginning. And in this movie, I was amazed at how realistic the toys looked; I mean they actually appeared to be made of plastic. There was careful attention made to how toys moves in this one, especially with things like Gabby Gabby’s eyes, which were the sort of doll eyes that open and close on their own. And mundane things like cobwebs and dust looked as realistic as, well, real life.
- Something else that was special about this movie was how it showcased the wonder of the world from a toy’s perspective. And that’s something that I think about a lot. You don’t have to be standing on top of Everest or at the Grand Canyon to see wonder in this world. Wonder is all around you, if you only open your eyes and look for it. It can be in a cluster of lamps in an antique store, or in your own home. As long as you can open your eyes to it, you’ll see it. Seeing the world from Bo’s perspective really sent a unique message that I didn’t expect to find in this movie: Anything can look beautiful and amazing if you look at it right.
- One of the things that initially caught me as strange was Buzz, who didn’t seem to be quite as bright as he was in previous movies. That said, I remembered they had to reset him several times in Toy Story 3, so perhaps something was lost in translation.
- Another thing that really made it feel uniquely Woody’s story was that the other toys- with the exception of Buzz, weren’t really major characters this time around. They were all still present, and still voiced by the same actors (Mr. Potato Head’s voice was using archive recordings, as his voice actor, Don Rickles, passed away a couple years ago), but their parts were much more reduced than they had been in previous installments. While fans might miss these other characters being front and center, it really isolated Woody and makes his swan song feel like it was his story.
- New characters like Forky and Ducky and Bunny were hilarious and great additions to the series. And like I said, Gabby and her goons were creepy, but ultimately redeemable, which made for a nice change compared to the other villains of the franchise. But probably the best “new” character was Bo Peep. Sure, she’s not actually new, but she’s able to be explored in this movie more than she ever was in the other movies, and makes us wish she’d had more of a role in earlier installments.
- Woody may be without a kid anymore- and Bonnie’s going to be alright without him- but his new mission to travel with the fair and help Bo, Ducky, and Bunny make sure all the other prize toys get to go home with children seems like an honorable life for Woody to live. After all, he was dedicated to making his kids happy, and now, he can work to make so many children happy. And more importantly, he can be happy too.
For Pixar, the fantasy adventure Onward is the next movie on the roster, followed by Soul, a movie we don’t know much about other than the tagline, “What is it that makes you… YOU?” Pixar has also booked three other release dates going as far as 2022, but we don’t know what those movies are called just yet.
As for Disney, well, you name it. We’ve got Spider-Man: Far From Home in a couple weeks, as well as a re-release of Avengers: Endgame with some added material to try and get that movie past Avatar’s box office record. Also in July is Lion King, and later this year we have Frozen 2, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
And for Woody and friends? Well, this really felt like an ending, and it felt like a perfect ending for Woody, in particular. This movie did a real good job of coming full circle on his story and giving him a proper send off (I’m not crying, you’re crying). As of now, there haven’t been any official announcements of a fifth movie, and Tom Hanks stated on Ellen that this was the final movie in the series. One of the producers, however, had this to say about a sequel: “Every film we make, we treat it like it’s the first and the last film we’re ever going to make. So you force yourself to make it hold up. You don’t get in over your skis. Whether there’s another one? I don’t know. If there is, it’s tomorrow’s problem.” I, for one, felt that this was the best conclusion they could do, but hey, I thought that about Toy Story 3 until yesterday, so if they decide we need to revisit the toys again down the road, I’ll be in the theaters to see it.
Here’s another fun look at Toy Story 4, and how it actually bares similarity to a G-Rated Logan: