The Toys Are Us
Everybody entering this movie has one question on their mind, why? Why did they make Toy Story 4 when Toy Story 3 had the perfect ending to a trilogy? Is there truly a story left to tell, is Pixar just going for another cash grab, why are we revisiting this? I too had many of those questions going into this movie and was very skeptical of what I would be walking in to. However, Toy Story 4 surprised me in the best way possible. Not only does it reach the heights of the previous films before it and at times exceed them, but it manages to be a strong fulfilling story in its own right with plenty of the heart, a lot of the humor, and many tears that we have come to expect from Pixar movies these days.
After the heartbreaking yet heartwarming ending of Toy Story 3 Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang are now living with Bonnie and fulfilling their lives as toys. When Bonnie creates a new toy out of a spork and names it “Forky”, she finds happiness while mixed in a new environment of her life. As Woody tries to acclimate Forky into the role of being a toy, Forky grows sentient and begins questioning his role and purpose as to why he was created. When Forky tries to escape due to the pressure of being a toy, Woody and the gang must embark on a journey to bring Forky back through wonderous new environments and an assortment of brilliant new characters.
That’s the plot on the surface, and yet Toy Story 4 manages to go much deeper and more philosophical than one would expect. Andy has gone on to college and is beginning his new purpose in life, which was why the previous film had such a perfect message and ending of growing up and moving on. While Andy moved on, Toy Story 4 explores whether or not his toys have moved on as well.
At the center of this is Woody who has become something of an empty nester as Andy has moved on. While Andy is not in the movie, his presence and emotional attachment he and Woody had is a primary motivator of the movie. Woody used to take care of Andy and all the other toys but now that aspect of his life is over, what is he supposed to do as a toy when Bonnie is playing around with the rest of the other toys and not Woody?
This is one of the reasons why I loved this film so much, it tackles a central question that everyone has had or will have in their life: what is my purpose? It is ironic too that many viewers are questioning the purpose of this film at the same time the main characters are exploring their purpose. The movie uses a wide variety of characters, some old and some new, to explore this heavy question and successfully brings some well rounded fulfillment and intrigue.
The movie has a great balance of new characters and old characters. Woody and Buzz are very much the heart and center of the franchise and while their friendship is not the center of this film, it is still great to see them on another adventure and wrestling with very adult themes and questions. But the mix of new characters brings a lot of great humor and enjoyment to the film. From Ducky and Bunny to Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), each one serves to bring a lot of fun and brevity to the franchise that might have grown stale by this time. I loved all the new characters and they are now an integral part of the universe to me along with Woody and Buzz. It is a little sad that some of the original characters don’t get as much screen time as they did before, but the way the story uses everyone is more than satisfying to me.
The film also manages to be multiple films in one. It has horror elements with an antique store set piece and a sympathetic villain. It has excellent comedy given to us through the great comedic duo of Key and Peele and the meta referential Forky. It manages to be a fun adventure movie with great suspense. It is a romantic comedy at times, this film has something for everyone to enjoy making it another great family film by Pixar.
But the main reason why I love this movie is the deep questions it asks and the emotional impact that allow it to resonate powerfully with people. When Bo Peep, Woody’s long lost love, enters the fray she begins to show him a new side of being a toy and what their purpose can be. Woody begins to grapple with the concept of whether he should live for the purpose that has been expected of him (a toy for kids to play and make memories with) or whether he can live for himself. That is a huge and emotionally resonate question that Pixar explores and is something that anyone can relate to. How often have we been told what we SHOULD do, either by our parents or society, instead of doing what we WANT to do? It is a heavy hitter and is very mature and surprising for an animated movie to tackle when most modern movies can’t reach this amount of depth in a satisfying way. This is probably the deepest Toy Story has ever gotten and with the mix of questions it asks and the humor and heart at its center, it is one of the better films Pixar has made!
Toy Story 4 has a few flaws that didn’t take away from my experience and are really small, but notable in my reflection. This film doesn’t have as many Woody and Buzz moments which was a little disappointing considering their friendship is the heart and soul of probably the entire Pixar company. Yet what they do end up doing with the characters is more than fulfilling so it didn’t bother me too much.
The other issue is the one most people will take issue with and it’s the fact that Toy Story 3 had a perfect ending and going back to the story seems a bit redundant. Some of the themes from the previous film are revisited and that may make people feel fatigue, but in my opinion I felt they went deeper and delivered another perfect ending to a perfect franchise. You may feel differently though given where you are at in life.
If this is truly the last Toy Story movie, it manages to be a perfect sendoff to our beloved characters we have grown up. It tackles the same questions of growing up and mortality that the previous film does while also going deeper and grasping with self-actualization and purpose as well. It has a great mix of humor, heart, suspense, and tears for all families to enjoy. The deep messages and realizations that happen make this film stand out amongst the rest and leave everyone emotionally satisfied. I loved Toy Story 4 and even though I didn’t ask for it, it was the best and most unexpected gift I could have asked for. No matter what happens next, these toys have a special place in my heart and will always be a friend to me.