Munir: Hello and welcome to our last review of A Decade of Pixar. Today, we’re reviewing Pixar’s latest film, Toy Story 4 (which is still playing in theaters). Released nine years after Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4 has been met with universal acclaim and box office success, surpassing the earnings of its predecessor, something rare in franchises where most sequels tend to earn less than what came before (except if you’re called Marvel). However, when it was first announced, I can’t say I was excited about the film. Toy Story 3 ended the franchise in a great and fitting way, and the thought of another film was just milking the cow. I was worried that it would ruin what could arguably be called a perfect trilogy, and I was not excited to see it; it wasn’t a necessary film at all. Well, now I think that Toy Story 4 is a great film and a wonderful conclusion to Woody’s arc. It shares the same themes as the rest of the series, but it’s also different because now the toys are living new lives without Andy. It’s also hilarious, with the new characters being great additions, and it sticks the landing with a wonderfully heartfelt ending. In a year of mostly disappointing blockbuster films, I think Toy Story 4 demonstrates that, when it comes to this franchise, Pixar can’t go wrong. What do you think of it, Virginia?
Virginia: I had a similar initial reaction to yours; Toy Story 3 wasn’t my favorite film in the series, but it was a complete and fitting ending. Promotional materials surrounding Toy Story 4 did start to intrigue me, and I was cautiously excited to go see it opening night. That being said, I really, really did not like this movie. Don’t get me wrong; Toy Story 4 is a very entertaining movie. I certainly wasn’t bored by the gorgeous animation and familiar faces. But any enjoyment I had experienced up to that point was spoiled by the film’s last half hour or so. I know a lot of people (including yourself) who are happy with the ending and Woody’s decision, but I was troubled by it, and it bothers me more over time. For me, the Toy Story movies have always been about Woody and Buzz’s friendship, and Woody’s never-ending loyalty and desire to love and be loved by a kid. After the end of Toy Story 4, I couldn’t stop thinking about Buzz’s speech to Woody in Al’s apartment in Toy Story 2: “Somewhere in that pad of stuffing is a toy who taught me that life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid. And I traveled all this way to rescue that toy because I believed him.” I understand that Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 4 are different films at different stages of the series – and, honestly, wildly different points in our pop-cultural history – but I felt betrayed and disgusted at the end of Toy Story 4. I’m glad so many people love it, but it’s the first Toy Story film I don’t want in my movie collection.
M: I see your point, but as you say, I think both films are different stages in life, and I believe that what Toy Story 4 did was make Woody happy for once without being dependent on another. Yes, over the course of three films, he was absolutely loyal to Andy, but even at the end of the third film, he understood that he had to let him go. And with Bonnie, it’s clear that she doesn’t like him anymore, and it was just sad to see him trying to be there for her when she clearly didn’t need him. That he would prioritize his happiness for once was a cathartic moment for me. After all the years of being there for someone else, I think it was fitting he also found happiness on his own. While I think the first film dealt with Woody and Buzz’s friendship and it has been a strong focus in all the films, for me, the Toy Story movies have always been about Woody. How he adapts to the changing world, how can be a leader to the other toys, and how he can make children happy. And while I understand what you said about Buzz’s speech in Toy Story 2, I feel like here, it’s not the same. It’s not to be in a museum just watched without anyone really caring about you. But here, he has friends, and he’s with the love of his life. He has love around him, and he has a noble purpose, which is to match toys with kids, so it’s not like he has completely forsaken his mission. I just think that Woody has sacrificed a lot in his life (including Bo, as clearly seen at the beginning of Toy Story 4), so him finding happiness in the end was really nice. As for his friendship with Buzz, I think it was a wonderful moment and a telling sign of how strong their friendship is that Buzz understood what his friend needed and let him go. I think it would’ve been selfish if he wouldn’t have let Woody stay with Bo. and I was sad but also very happy to see how strong their love was for one another.
V: There’s really no way I was going to be in favor of the film ending this way, but it seemed to me that throughout the movie, Woody was winning Bo over. I really thought that she was going to go with him in the end, because in my point of view, she is the wrong one. Molly and Andy were very different kids, and from what we have seen, Molly didn’t care for her toys in the way Andy did, or Bonnie does. I believe this has everything to do with Bo’s ridiculous attitude in 4. Personally, I didn’t find her likable in this movie at all, and she reminds me of Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Specifically in the first two movies, she didn’t have much personality and didn’t do all that much, but now they are retconning that. They even show a flashback of her saving RC years ago, so it’s not like she has changed over time, they are just retconning who she already was. I really loved the scene where she gets taken away, actually. This was the most emotional point of the movie for me, and I could really feel the emotions going through both her and Woody’s heads. But modern-day Bo, who I jokingly call Imperator Furiosa, is self-righteous and a totally different entity than from the previous films. I also find Bonnie’s treatment of Woody in this movie strange, as in Toy Story 3 she became all but obsessed with him, and he was the toy she was most excited for out of what Andy gave her. In the context of the other movies, 4 really doesn’t work for me on a number of levels. I could enjoy it more on a stand-alone basis, but I’m not capable of separating remakes or sequels from the originals because they’re inherently connected.
M: We’re really disagreeing on this one, haha. I actually liked Bo very much. I never was someone who felt sad when she was excluded from 3 because I didn’t care much for her in the other two. I feel like that was precisely why the filmmakers could basically create a new character in this one. But I also think that it makes sense that she’s not the same Bo Woody knew. She’s been on her own for a long time, and that would change you. I also think she has a good arc in the film because she starts out as someone who only cares for herself but gradually starts remembering why she’s there. Maybe she’s not ready to be with a kid again, but at least in the end, she’s helping other toys find kids. I think Woody helped her see that, while she helped Woody, it’s OK to think of oneself for a change. Regarding Bonnie, I think that Woody and Bo going with Bonnie would not have worked because they would have still been stuck at the same place as the beginning. Maybe Bonnie would’ve liked Bo, but Woody was still going to be relegated to the closet. And, as for her sudden lack of love for Woody, I think it fits well because she’s a little girl. I remember loving my toys but also getting bored with some of them and just leaving them sometime afterward. With Andy, Woody was an important toy because he had sentimental value, but Bonnie already had other toys before Andy gave her his. I think it makes more sense that she would prefer Dolly, Mr. Pricklepants, or Trixie, who have been with her longer. And she also displays the same impressionable phase that Andy did in the first Toy Story. For Bonnie, Forky is her Buzz, and just like Andy was obsessed with him when he first got him, I think Bonnie is the same with Forky.
V: I agree, she was never one of my favorites in 1 or 2. I also agree that changing her personality after the time jump makes a lot of sense, as her life has changed dramatically. What I really question is how different she is in the flashback, because that’s difficult to account for. I don’t find her likable in the present, but I also understand that that’s a personal thing. I don’t like characters that I perceive as arrogant or self-righteous, and unlike Woody in the first film, she never develops beyond that. Woody is the one painted as being in the wrong, and the one who must learn and grow. I’m not sure if it’s realistic, but to me, the thing with Forky was stupid. He offers something unique to the series in that he’s a homemade toy who comes to life, but I found Bonnie’s fascination with him to be ridiculous and somewhat annoying. When I was a kid, I had a lot of toys, but certain ones were really important, and I still have them today – including a beat-up Woody doll, funnily enough. But I know we’re all different, and it’s interesting how the series shows different kids interacting with toys in unique ways. One thing I want to make sure I remember to mention is Buzz’s storyline in Toy Story 4. I really don’t like how he and Jessie are reduced to side characters, and he is turned into a joke. He had running gags in Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, but here it feels like the bit about his inner voice constitutes his whole role in the film. This feeds back into the movie being about Woody and Bo when to me, this series is and should be about Woody and Buzz. Jessie is my second favorite character in the series after Woody, and she really feels short-changed here as well.
M: I do agree that the original gang gets less screen time in favor of the new characters. It would annoy me more if the new characters were bad, but I like all of them. However, I do think that Buzz and Jessie should have been featured more prominently. What do you think of Gabby Gabby? I really like her arc in the film. And, as you say, it’s interesting to see different types of kids and how they have different interactions with toys, and the scene between her and Harmony really illustrated that.
V: I think Christina Hendricks did a great job voicing Gabby, and it’s interesting that for once a Toy Story villain gets redeemed instead of traumatized. Her motivation is a little too similar to Stinky Pete and Lotso for me, though. I thought I would like Ducky and Bunny, and they did get a couple of chuckles from me, but I don’t understand their narrative function within the film. They agree to help Woody and Bo if they can get a kid (Bonnie) to play with, but in the end, they stay with Woody and Bo, and this decision is never explained. Giggle McDimples annoyed me and served no purpose, in my opinion. My favorite new character is Duke Caboom; I simply thought he was the most fun, and he didn’t present any obvious problems for me.
M: Agreed about Duke. He was a blast, and I also agree that while Ducky and Bunny are funny, their mission in the film is never clear. But I don’t think Gabby’s motivation was the same as Stinky Pete and Lotso. The only thing that I can find similar is that both Stinky Pete and Gabby had never been played with. But, Gabby wants that more than anything. Stinky Pete just wanted to be adored from afar. He didn’t want to be with a kid. And Lotso was traumatized after he was replaced, and he never wanted to be attached to one kid again. Gabby’s arc, on the other hand, is just to be loved and played with. I feel like her arc and Woody’s mirror each other. In the end, she’s just beginning her life as a toy while he’s closing that chapter. It’s a beautiful circle. I also wanted to say that maybe the reason the gang wasn’t featured so prominently is that their arc really ended in Toy Story 3. They are loved by Bonnie and have no worries. The only one that has trouble adjusting is Woody, and that’s why the film doesn’t use the other characters as much. They don’t have any drama now.
V: That’s a fair point, but I find it troubling because Jessie and Buzz are my favorites after Woody, and to me, the series is about them too. I also don’t like it when characters in a film serve no purpose or have a function that doesn’t make sense; I feel this way to an extent about the new supers in Incredibles 2, who only serve to be hypnotized by Evelyn in the film’s third act. Before we wrap this up, I want to touch on the fragility of the toys. In Toy Story, a toy being broken was a huge deal, and this was explored further in the second film. In this universe, if being broken doesn’t kill you, it is still likely to ruin your life. I don’t like how Toy Story 4 lightens this theme and basically drops the idea of disability or mortality being a constant possibility. The most obvious example is with Bo Peep, who simply laughs off her broken arm and tapes it back on. However, this is further exemplified with the stuffed animal who gets ripped in half; later in the film, we see his top half partying and having fun. Even when the Bensons open Woody up, remove his voice box and give it to Gabby Gabby, I found this disturbing. I understand that this may be another personal thing, but I found this scene unsettling and deeply disturbing.
M: I see your point, but I think that since the first film you can see that toys are adaptable. The best example is Sid’s toys, who are broken or mixed together from different parts, and they still survive. Also, I believe that being broken was a big deal for these toys because they were house toys. In Toy Story 4, we are shown toys that have lived harder lives than what our gang has, and they also need to adapt. That’s why I think Bo can laugh and just patch her arm like it’s nothing. The toys that live there don’t have kids, and they don’t need to be perfect; they just need to survive. I think that if you’re a broken toy in a kid’s house it’s a lot more stressful because the kid wouldn’t want to play with you anymore. But if you live in the open, I think that’s the least of your concerns.
V: That’s a fair point. Basically, I guess what we’re both saying is that Toy Story 4 is very different from the other films. 4 explores themes of uselessness and doing what’s ultimately best for yourself, while ideas and characters from the prior installments are minimized or excluded altogether. This may work better for some fans than others, as with the two of us.
M: Indeed. I can see why you didn’t like the film. I guess everyone has different expectations, and when a series is as beloved as this one, emotions run high. Personally, I really liked it. I don’t think it’s the best Toy Story, but it’s an excellent film and a fitting way for Pixar to end this decade. What do you think of Toy Story 4? Let us know in the comments and thank you for reading A Decade of Pixar. Stay tuned for more!