How popular are toys with kids these days, anyway? Now that we have smartphones and tablets, children are more interested in imitating their favorite Twitch streamers and YouTubers and building towers in Minecraft and/or Fortnite than playing with their Batman action figures, right? And if that’s true, doesn’t it beg an even more disturbing question: is the limitless potential of digital entertainment actually stunting the development of creativity in our youth? After all, if you can play out the fantasies of a team of adult developers, why work on your own imagination? Well, if these hack writing prompts actually are interesting to you, I’ve got some bad news! The filmmakers of Toy Story 4 couldn’t care less about such modern issues. They just wanted to put a button on this saga that started back in 1995.
The word “saga” does feel pretty heavy for Toy Story, but four movies is a lot of movies. It’s weird that we got here, given that each film in the series could have served as a satisfying conclusion to the story. But, at the same time, it shouldn’t be surprising that a series about the sentimentality associated with commodities would itself be continually commercialized. Toy Story 3, the seemingly unnecessary, decade-later sequel, managed to pull off a perfect, definitive ending …that lasted all of a year until Pixar started pumping out new shorts for the Disney Channel. Shorts I have not seen, by the way, but must help set up the status quo of Toy Story 4.
Andy’s toys have been fully assimilated into Bonnie’s playtime with one sad exception: Woody. The poor sheriff keeps getting left in the closet when the other toys are played with, leaving him distraught. Woody has fought against obsolescence since the first Toy Story, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he leaps into action instead of wallowing in self-pity. When Bonnie goes to her orientation at her new school, Woody sneaks into her backpack to make sure her day goes well. When the other kids ignore her, Woody brings her some supplies, which Bonnie uses to create a new friend: Forky.
Forky (Tony Hale) is a spork with lopsided googly eyes, a single pipe cleaner for arms, and a popsicle stick stuck on with putty for legs. He’s an abomination. Nonetheless, when Bonnie brings him home, he comes alive, to the surprise, perhaps even horror, or Bonnie’s other toys. Given that he’s mostly garbage, Forky wants nothing more than to be tossed in the trash. Not wanting his kid to be separated from her favorite toy, Woody takes it upon himself to thwart Forky’s attempts to throw himself away. But an impromptu family road trip is going to test Woody’s ability to keep all the toys together.
Woody has always been the main character of these movies, but Toy Story 4 sidelines even more than the preceding three movies. Rex, Hamm, Slinky, the Potato Heads, and even Jessie don’t do much this time around, giving up their screentime in favor of some of the new toys. Apart from Forky, this movie has two other new scene stealers: Ducky and Bunny (Key and Peele), a pair of stuffed animals with some pretty crazy ideas. And I don’t want to complain too much, the movie still makes time for a lame Buzz side story (he’s an idiot now?) and brings back the Bo Peep character in a big way.
My only real reservation regarding Toy Story 4 is the implications of its ending. All these movies are about how borderline immortals deal with the fear of abandonment: The first one showed Woody’s fears of Andy rejecting him or becoming a lost toy, the second dealt with concerns of Andy outgrowing Woody, and the third showed what happened when Andy finally did need to move on. Ultimately, each movie concluded the joy of being loved (or played with) was worth the pain of loss. More importantly, it emphasized (especially Toy Story 3) that the toys sticking together was all the matters. Remember the scene where they all hold hands as they face certain death?
Well, Toy Story 4 is not satisfied with that conclusion. And on one hand, it shouldn’t be, right? If it was, then there’d be no reason to make this movie. On the other hand, the way it decides to go almost makes Toy Story 3 irrelevant, which doesn’t sit right with me either. And it makes me worry that if they stupidly decide to make one more movie, they’d have to break this one’s ending too. Yet again, to go back to my stupid intro, it’s probably getting pretty hard to find a kid who’s stoked to play with a floppy pullstring cowboy doll anymore. So I don’t know, time will tell how well this ending sits with me.
All that aside, Toy Story 4 is a weird, funny movie. Certainly among Pixar’s funniest films. But, let’s be clear, that’s a miracle. Just like Toy Story 3, this movie probably should not have been made. This is behavior we should not be rewarding. Anyway, great film, go see it!