2009’s Toy Story 3 seemed like the definitive end to the Pixar series begun in 1995. After their owner, Andy, left home for college, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and company found a new home with the daughter of a family friend, Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw). The trial to get from Andy’s to Bonnie’s was fraught with true peril, unlike anything the friends had faced before, but they faced it together. This is the crux of every Toy Story film Pixar’s released in the last 24 years: moving on doesn’t mean letting go. Despite the uncertainty of the future, Toy Story 4 feels like a hard end for all the characters in Woody’s world. Having only recently watched 3, the closure in 4 is more concrete and serves as a fitting conclusion for a series that’s been about duty, friendship, and caring for others.
If you haven’t seen Toy Story 4, we recommend skipping three paragraphs down to avoid spoilers.
Woody and the gang acclimated quickly to joining Bonnie’s toys, playing all the games the sweet and imaginative young lady could concoct. But just like when Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) came aboard the crew, Woody slowly finds himself being left out of the games. He’s only known the goal of taking care of his Kid, so when he hears she’s scared to go to kindergarten, Woody sneaks along. When he sees her struggle to engage, Woody takes it upon himself to gather together some scraps so Bonnie can make something during arts and crafts time. What he doesn’t realize is that she would create a new toy, named Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), for whom Woody would become an eternal watcher as the new creation doesn’t understand its role in Bonnie’s life. When Forky takes off for the trash heap, Woody and the gang go to the rescue and bump into an old friend along the way.
Since audiences met Woody in ’95, the stalwart cowboy has done everything he can to stay on purpose: take care of his Kid. That meant he learned to befriend new arrival Buzz in the original tale, had to combat personal desire in 2, and fought his way through the worst part of the trash heap to get back home to Andy in 3. Woody’s an absolute hero through and through, which is why 4 is far more powerful emotionally for the characters than any previous journey. A specter chasing every toy throughout each film is the notion that your Kid outgrows you: physically and psychologically. Next door neighbor Spike tortures his toys in 1, an online toy dealer sees them as collectibles not to be played with in 2, and 3 is all about what happens to toys when their Kid goes off to college. Woody and company are a merely a microcosm of events which happen all the time to toys everywhere. They serve the purpose of comfort and play, of stimulation and friendship. They are constant companions until they are set aside and forgotten. Each toy knows this and carries this burden. Perhaps that’s why Toy Story 4 feels more joyous in its conclusion than any other film before it because, for once, the toys consider their own needs ahead of the Kid’s, that there can exist a balance in which a toy is permitted to move on, to strike out on their own, once their job is done.
That’s right, Woody leaves.
This isn’t the only aspect of Toy Story 4 that not only feels necessary, but absolutely right. The whole film has throwbacks to previous stories: Forky is the new Buzz, Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks) is an amalgamation of Lotso from 3 and Stinky Pete from 2, Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) returns, and plenty more , all which add to the sense of finality. Yes, the gang avoids a rather gruesome death in 3, a film which examines the irrefutability of time, but that’s all part of life, right? It ends. Toy Story 4, however, is far more joyous in establishing agency for its characters beyond the mission. Yes, they want to be played with, they are toys, but after three films where the lack of reciprocated love from a child leads to villainy, to see the writers take a different route, to offer peace to them all through choice is downright uplifting. Unlike the previous adventures where status quo is restored to one degree or another, Toy Story 4 doesn’t so much destroy the mission as it adapts it. Of all the films, 4 is the most joyous and accepting, a tone which it could not take on without the adventures that preceded it. As mentioned previously, the team of eight writers (YIKES!) creates some wonderful echoing here, but with some small changes. Instead of Woody being jealous of Forky and tossing him out a window (see: Buzz in Toy Story 1), he takes it upon himself to protect and teach Forky so that the new toy can be what Bonnie needs. In the case of Gabby Gabby, she hasn’t worked properly ever, which, she believes, kept her from having a Kid. When she’s finally in working order, thanks to a part from Woody, and still doesn’t get the response she’d expected for years, she’s heartbroken. She could choose to become Lotso, but instead turns inward, blaming herself for a perceived shortcoming. By story’s end, Gabby gets a happy ending as well from a place totally unexpected and entirely heartwarming. It speaks to Woody’s new mission and the role of toys the world over: to be that companion when the world seems darkest, the watcher on the wall, but to also be an abiding friend who listens and plays at an age when we all need it most. Woody is more than a sheriff, a lawman; he’s a peacekeeper who finally is given peace.
End of spoilers.
Fans of the long running series, or of just Pixar in general, are going to enjoy the bonus features. The included deleted scenes are accompanied by optional introductions to provide context for why these scenes didn’t make it past the storyboarding stages. Having seen the film, it’s quite clear why none of these made it into the film. Some are fanciful and others involve iterations of the characters that are different from the ones that ended up in the film, but each don’t particularly add anything to the overall story. Last seen in Toy Story 2, not including video games of course, Bo gets a delightful featurette including Annie Potts and the team, past and present, which worked on the character. It discusses the technological limitations the animators worked around in ‘95 and how they made visual the journey Bo’s been on since leaving the series. If you’re looking for another reason to fall in love with actor Keanu Reeves, who voices Duke Caboom, then make sure to check out “Toy Stories – Cast and Crew Remember Their Beloved Childhood Toys,” as several of the cast share stories of the toys which made their childhood come alive. (Non-spoiler spoiler: Reeves’s explanation of his toy is so sweetly innocent.) The most fun, though, is “Let’s Ride! With Ally Maki — A Humorous Lesson in Voice Recording at Pixar” in which actor Ally Maki, who voices character Giggle McDimples, learns, and by proxy us, how animated features are made. Rather than being a bland walk-through of meeting people as they go through the process, “Let’s Ride!” is far more animated and pokes fun at the true insanity involved in a frequently mundane and tedious process.
The fact that 4 does more than set itself back to some form of zero, that it does more than serve as a life lesson for the Woody and the gang, that it actually does more than wax poetic about the role of toys in relation to their Kid, and instead empowers the gang to make changes of their own will is absolutely refreshing and exciting. Whether Toy Story 4 is the last ride or not, there’s excitement in the air at the possibilities as we take comfort in the fact that the choices aren’t only Kid or retirement, that there can be a life lived in-between. There’s a wonderful lesson for audiences of all ages regarding the removal of binary thinking. If we can be free of that, anything’s truly possible.
Toy Story 4 Special Features (some features shift based on seller)
4K UHD and Blu-ray Features:
- Deleted Scenes Including Alternate Ending
- Woody & Buzz – A Look Back at a Legendary Friendship
- Bo Rebooted – Bo Peep Is Back and Stronger Than Ever
- Toy Box – Meet the New Cast of Characters
- Exclusive Included with Digital Code – Toy Story Rewind
- Toy Stories – Cast and Crew Remember Their Beloved Childhood Toys
- Let’s Ride! With Ally Maki – A Humorous Lesson in Voice Recording at Pixar
- Toy Story Rewind
DVD and Blu-ray Features:
- Audio Commentary
Available on digital beginning October 1st, 2019.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD October 8th, 2019.
Final (Film) Score: 4 out of 5.