Many derided the idea of another Toy Story, myself included. How dare Pixar, the studio above it all (sans Cars), so blatantly pursue easy cash after decidedly ending the franchise in 2010? Toy Story 3 offered a perfect trilogy-capper, a resolute finale and emotional whopper for those of us who grew up on Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy’s toys. Apparently they knew something we didn’t. Lo and behold, Toy Story 4 is a whopper itself, a bookend giving people something they didn’t know was missing from the previous film.
Whereas 3 was about Andy moving on, 4 is about Woody moving on or trying to move on. The former might have been more daring and a little more substantial, but the latter is no slouch in touching on the existential crises of our beloved toys. It’s also quite funny. Like, laugh-out-loud funny, nearly end to end. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are back together again as two plush dolls in a carnival with designs on getting picked OR ELSE. Ditto the film’s chief villain, a Gabby Gabby doll traumatized by abandonment, now running the back-alleys of an antique store with creepy ventriloquist dummies at her beck and call. Even better is Keanu Reeves as an egotistical, insecure Evil Kenivil-like action figure, or Annie Potts finally getting her shot to fully, truly shine as Bo Peep, Woody’s former love who spends her days free at last on the carnival range. But this is Woody’s story, a tale of an old toy who’s no longer useful to Molly, and knows nothing else than caring and watching after her. He doesn’t have a purpose without a child to look after, a deft metaphor for any parent worth their salt watching their child grow up and potentially outgrow them. The parent metaphor doesn’t end there, as Woody is charged with teaching makeshift toy Forky how to be a toy instead of, well, trash. We learn what ultimately enlivens these inanimate objects, what separates toy from trash, so don’t be surprised if every kid out there starts writing their name on the bottom of every toy they make or own.
Toy Story 4 more than justifies itself, it balances novelty and nostalgia, giving meaning to childhood tears and parental fears, and it broadens the scope of a series that has spanned three generations now. A kid who grew up on Toy Story might be watching Toy Story 4 as a new parent today, and that’s a big feather no other animated franchise can lay claim to in 2019, the year of franchise fatigue (unless you’re Marvel or Disney). With new friends and old, Pixar continues to lay waste to our cynical grown-up sensibilities.
P.S. Dear parents, it’s not hard. If your child is being disruptive, take them outside. Stop being a selfish ass-hat and think about the rest of the audience.