Pixar’s latest release is the unexpected fourth installment of the Toy Story franchise. Is the film worthy of existing after the beautiful finality of the third feature?
Last weekend Disney and Pixar released Toy Story 4, a film that many thought could be unwarranted. The third film in the franchise was a fitting conclusion to the series. One that saw Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy’s toys move on past Andy as he headed off for college. The film was a funny, beautiful, and emotional conclusion to one of the greatest film series of all time. It was a definitive end to the story that had started 15 years prior, as Woody and the gang said goodbye to Andy and now belonged to a little girl named Bonnie.
Toy Story 4 begins with showing how Bo Peep was sold 9 years prior to Andy giving his toys to Bonnie. From there we pickup with the gang still adjusting to belonging to a new kid. Woody is finding life difficult as he’s no longer the most important toy in the room, often regulated to staying in the closet while Bonnie plays with everyone else. When Bonnie goes to Kindergarten orientation, Woody sneaks into her backpack in the hopes of helping her adapt to this new environment. There she creates a new toy named Forky, who doesn’t understand what being a toy means. With Forky now being Bonnie’s favorite toy, and Woody putting loyalty to “his kid” above all else, our favorite cowboy doll makes it his mission to keep Forky safe- no matter how many times he tries to throw himself away.
From here the story expands with Bonnie and her parents going on a road trip that leads to Forky jumping out a window, and Woody unexpectedly reuniting with Bo Peep- who has a very different view on life as a toy. The film introduces a slew of new characters, from the hilarious Duke Caboom (a Canadian Evel Knievel) to Gabby Gabby (a baby doll that yearns for a kid). Overall the film doesn’t fit many of the queues for a traditional Toy Story film. The usual, “Buzz isn’t Buzz” take is gone. The film barely uses the full supporting cast. In a way it calls back to the first film more than anything else. Focusing much more on Woody and Buzz than anyone else in the gang.
By heading back into a format more similar to the original film, Toy Story 4 gives us a story that feels less like a continuation of the series we’ve been following for almost 25 years, and more like a singular story featuring the characters we know. In doing so the film becomes stronger- but almost hinders the franchise as a whole. The Toy Story series has always taken deep emotional and existential questions or situations and used toys to explore the possible answers and solutions. That’s what makes it such an amazing and heartfelt series. But the questions and answers given this time seem to circumvent some of the answers given in previous films.
It’s hard to expand on the full story without giving away some major spoiler filled plot points, but overall the story falls in line with a similar thread to the previous films. In a way this is without a doubt the deepest Toy Story film yet. It poses the most questions about what it means to be alive- and to live your life as your own individual. It looks back on many of the elements of the previous films, and the larger questions asked, and says, “what if there are other answers that can still bring a happy ending.” It also gives light to some of the deeper issues of the human psyche, touching on depression and mental health issues in a way that is soft enough to fly over the heads of younger kids.
In a way the questions posed by Toy Story 4, and the slight answers given, are quite possibly the best elements of the film. They’re what help elevate the film to a point where it becomes meaningful, and thus becomes more than just a cash grab. This is a story that many of us who have grown up with our own Woody doll with our name on the bottom of his boot, need to hear. It’s a reminder that sometimes we need to be pulled out of the trash by someone else. It’s a reminder that some things that we thought were lost, could still be found one day. But most importantly it’s a reminder that no matter how lost we may feel at times, life can take us in the most unexpected directions, and thus help us find our perfect happily ever after.
In terms of the franchise as a whole, it’s hard to decide if Toy Story 4 is in fact a film that needed to be made. In terms of stories that need to be told to kids, and to the adults who live in this dark world and have grown up with these characters. It’s a story that I’m glad we will have for the rest of our lives. The franchise has always found a way of taking a bigger step with each entry in the series. In Toy Story 4, Pixar has taken the biggest leap yet, and one that may in fact make it the best Toy Story film yet.