Pixar Animation Studios’ Toy Story 4 has been released. For Disney, it is the third release of the year after Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel. It is directed by Josh Cooley and has already emerged as the 12th Pixar film rated at 95% or higher on the Tomatometer.
Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the gang embark on a road trip with Bonnie and a new toy named Forky. The adventurous journey turns into an unexpected reunion as Woody’s slight detour leads him to his long-lost friend Bo Peep.
As Woody and Bo discuss the old days, they soon start to realize that they’re two worlds apart when it comes to what they want from life as a toy. The first 40 minutes or so were more than excellent. The ending (without spoilers) was sad but not as much as Toy Story 3. Yet it was heartbreaking.
The finale of 2010’s Toy Story 3, with its echoes of the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, just seemed so… final; a sublime evocation of the bittersweet sorrow of growing up that probably meant more to adults than children.
What could another installment possibly add? Did we really need to know what happened next?
For the first movement of Toy Story 4, I found myself concluding that the disheartening answer was “probably not”. Woody and Buzz et al are still wonderful creations, and time spent in their company is rarely wasted.
But riffs about new owner Bonnie starting kindergarten and once-favored toys getting left in the cupboard smack of old ground being retrodden.
Toy Story might just be the most consistent film franchise in history, the fourth entry in the series delivering another insightful family fable.
The most memorable Pixar films manage to appeal to children and adults in equal measure, and Toy Story has always excelled at navigating this tricky tightrope.
Woody is both a child’s plaything and a father figure, a character both age groups can project themselves onto.
Here, Woody is suffering from a kind of empty nest syndrome; increasingly useless to Bonnie and no longer the leader of the toy gang, Woody has lost his sense of purpose, a helicopter parent unable to hover.
The nice thing about Toy Story 4 is that it can deliver the right and happy ending in this situation much more quickly than American society can.
Which is why Woody realizes that Gabby Gabby isn’t bad, she’s just sad and bitter because her dodgy voice box has prevented her from attracting the attention of a child who might love her the way Andy loved Woody.
So Woody gives her his and eventually, she’s able to connect with a child the way Woody once took for granted because he had never known a world that didn’t give him an Andy.