In 1995, The Walt Disney Company and a computer animation studio named Pixar brought the original Toy Story to the world, showing for the first that that a movie can be animated and rendered entirely on computers. Before that, of course we had computer generated special effects and short films, but for an entire film to be done on computers was nothing short of revolutionary, not only for pushing the limits of what was technologically possible in the early 1990s, but for the entire medium of animated features as a whole.
Fast forward to 2019 and every animated film coming out nowadays is entirely CGI, even those produced by Walt Disney’s in-house animation studio. Toy Story, though, remains the pace-setter. The original film was so successful that it spawned two other sequels, in 1999 and 2010 respectively, each one with its own high mark of success…and with the way Toy Story 3 ended, I didn’t really think they could send things off any better.
So you can imagine my surprise and disdain when I heard the news that this movie, Toy Story 4, was in production. Why on EARTH is Disney trying to milk this cow again, I thought at the time. It doesn’t exactly help that Disney, maybe more than any other studio in the modern era, is the largest producer of sequels – Marvel movies included – and reboots. I didn’t know how what approach they would take with this movie; would they basically use this as a reboot point, a near-carbon copy of the first, except with Bonnie instead of Andy? Yes, damn it, I was cynical.
Then I saw the teaser trailer. You know, that one.
Introducing new characters isn’t new territory for the Toy Story franchise; the second installment brought us Jessie and Bullseye, while the third brought us Bonnie. Here, though, Bonnie begins kindergarten and thanks to her classmates not exactly being social with her – oh, the flashbacks that one gave me – she’s not having an easy time with her first day. Enter Woody, voiced once more by Tom Hanks, who has snuck into her backpack to make sure she gets through the day. Thinking fast, he rummages through the trash bin, and brings out some crayons, red pipe cleaners, a popsicle stick, and a spork. It’s from all this that trash becomes treasure, with Forky being introduced into the world.
Slight problem, though. He wants no part of it all, having been perfectly content being a single-use-utensil, never mind the fact that Bonnie is attached already.
This isn’t the first Toy Story film to deal with such an existential crisis, lest we forget Buzz Lightyear’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that he’s merely a toy and not an intergalactic Space Ranger in the first installment, but this one gets deeper with the idea, going on about what is one’s purpose in this world; a topic that has Woody thinking very seriously about his own purpose post-Andy.
We also see (in an opening scene flashback) what happened to the sheriff’s love interest, the Annie Potts-voiced Bo Peep, in a sequence taking place before the events of the third movie; there, she’s attempting to help rescue R.C. from being swept away into a storm drain but she’s bought by an unknown man and taken away. Woody tries to save her, but Bo convinces him that everything will be alright. That tugging you hear is my heartstrings, one of several times that happened in this picture.
I’d be a fool to not point out just how breathtaking the detail is in the movie, from the landscape shots, to the fur detail on two carnival toys, (voiced brilliantly by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), to the flowing water that looked like it was a true-life shot; make no mistake, other CG studios do a damn good job these days but when it comes down to it, Pixar is still the undisputed king.
In writing these posts, reviews, whatever, I do my best to skirt around spoilers or huge plot points but I’m hesitant to write much more detail on this one. Partially because the film is efficient with its time, clocking in at just over an hour and a half, and also because this is something that needs to be experienced.
The original Toy Story was one of the first movies I ever saw in a theatre in 1995, and it will forever have a place in my heart. Same with the second installment, as it was the last movie I’d see in the theatre together with my Grandpa before he passed away two and a half years later. The third, oh you best believe that resonated with me, at the time getting ready to start my senior year of high school, facing all these big decisions and what have you.
Toy Story 4, then, resonates with me for a whole different set of reasons, be it a surprise reunion, saying goodbye, or just trying to figure out where one fits in. There aren’t a lot of movies out there nowadays that still have me thinking about them days after seeing them, but this is most certainly one of them. There aren’t a lot of movies out there either that have me tearing up in the theater, but this did the job.
Which is something special, since I’m still thinking about it after watching Child’s Play earlier this afternoon…but that’s a different post.
One more thing. Disney, I plead with you…as an avid moviegoer, as a stockholder, as someone who grew up watching these movies…there’s no better way to end this series. Any further sequel to this will ruin it. You did good. Now stop.