After hearing that Pixar had decided to release a fourth movie in the Toy Story saga, I was filled with multiple emotions – sure enough there was a lot of excitement but there was also a creeping sense of dread. After the emotional rollercoaster ride that was Toy Story 3, it seemed we had said our goodbyes to the toys, just as Andy does, in his heart-wrenching monologue to Bonnie during the final scene. A scene which perfectly captured the bittersweet sorrow of entering adulthood. What more could Pixar have to offer after such an emotive and fitting farewell? Would Toy Story 4’s definitive ending be as compelling as the previous one had been?
These concerns dissipated within the first few moments of the film alongside the trademark score and classic blue-sky cloud sequences as we were transported back: both into our infant selves and to a time when Woody was the most important toy to a young Andy. This flashback showcases a crucial decision which becomes the crux of the movie itself – what is a toy without the love of a child? Unlike its predecessors, Toy Story 4 is a film which questions the nature of the toys themselves, exploring their inner voices and the choices that they make, to control their own destinies.
After Bonnie’s first day at Kindergarten, the gang are greeted with the first friend that she makes (quite literally) a spork-turned toy named Forky! Unlike the other toys, Forky doesn’t want Bonnie’s love and longs to return to the comfort of the trash can. Woody makes it his mission to ensure that Forky learns to be a loyal toy for Bonnie, a task which allows him to forget his need to be wanted, a need which we see is no longer fulfilled by Bonnie, who favours Dolly and Jessie over the cowboy. One criticism to be made of this ‘Woody’ centric plot it that it only allows for small features from the majority of the toys. As an audience, we barely hear from the Potato Heads, Hamm, Slinky Dog or Rex (who is my personal favourite) they are mostly portrayed as the entourage, worrying about Woody in the background. However, this choice does allow for the inclusion of an old friend and new toys that Woody and Forky meet on their journey back to Bonnie. The old friend being Bo Peep, brilliantly portrayed by Annie Potts, a resourceful and self-dependent survivor, having spent years living as a lost toy, she scoffs at Woody’s need to be owned and loved by one kid. Bo introduces Woody to her insecure motor biker friend Duke Caboom, played by the ever swoon-worthy Keanu Reeves, who agrees to help the pair rescue Forky from the clutches of the smiling terror Gabby Gabby and her entourage of quite frankly, chilling ventriloquist dolls.
In typical Disney style, the movie flirts with elements of different genres, so that there truly is something for every member of the family. Whether that be the scares from the ventriloquist dummies, the blossoming romance between Woody and Bo Peep or the laughs from the newbie carnival fluffies duo, Ducky and Bunny! Toy Story 4 addresses some real existential questions: what does it mean to feel like you don’t belong? How can a toy be perfect and still unloved? Is it possible for two people from totally different worlds to come together again? These grown-up storylines set a new precedent for the franchise as a series which can tackle difficult and mature content in a light-hearted manner.
The ending itself did feel somewhat hurried, leaving Woody with the same two choices that we are shown in the very first scene of the film. Beyond this classic film trope of a protagonist stuck at a crossroads, is the necessity to find happiness for yourself, once you have lost your purpose. Woody does just this, finding a new role while continuing to do what he does best – helping and looking after other toys. As the credits appeared, I was left feeling overwhelmingly pleased that the latest instalment of my favourite saga was just as heart-warming as I had hoped!
– Emily Bond