Toy Story 4

In my opinion, the original Toy Story trilogy is one of the greatest film trilogies ever made. All 3 instalments of that trilogy are entertaining, heart-warming and a brilliant demonstration of the progress in computer animation. At their core, they are all about growing up and grappling with the world around you, which is perfectly bookended in Toy Story 3 when Andy leaves for college and passes his toys on to the new child, Bonnie. As somebody who has grown up alongside these films and was 13 when Toy Story 3 came out, I straight up cried watching it. I struggle upon every re-watch not to tear up. It is one of very few cases that I can think of where people found the third film in a trilogy to end that trilogy perfectly (in a list that includes such hits as Back to the Future Part 3 and Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi). So you can imagine my surprise when PIXAR Studios announced that it would be entering production on Toy Story 4, a mere 9 years later. Over the course of those 9 years, there were short films which returned us to Bonnie and the rest of the toys, and this seemed to be all we would ever get, which was and is absolutely fine, but apparently PIXAR had a bigger story that they needed to tell.

The plot follows Woody as he attempts to look after Bonnie’s new favourite toy- a spork named Forky- whilst on a family roadtrip. Along the way, Woody loses track of him in an antique store and is re-acquainted with his former one true love Bo Peep, who is existing as a Lost Toy. Together they embark on a mission to rescue Forky from the clutches of an antique doll named Gabby Gabby, who has a broken voice box and wants Woody’s as a replacement. The first thing you may notice about this plot description is that I have not mentioned the rest of the toys. Rex, Slinky, Jessie, The Potato Heads and all the rest have gone unmentioned, because whilst this is a Toy Story movie it might be more accurate to call it Woody: A Toy Story, which is not inherently a bad thing. Woody is a hugely entertaining and lovable character, but if PIXAR was just going to focus on him instead of the group I think the title should have reflected that. The other toys do have a subplot, but sadly it doesn’t have much to do with the main plot and it is a little sad to see these terrific characters sidelined. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Buzz Lightyear.

Over the course of the Toy Story trilogy, Buzz has undergone some major character development. He’s gone from a deluded Space Ranger to accepting his place as a toy to being a great leader for the rest of the toys with his own moral compass. He is as much a fleshed out character as Woody is, but Toy Story 4 relegates him to being a punchline. His subplot is that he thinks his audio files (activated by the buttons on his chestplate) are his conscience, and that doesn’t track as character progression to me. That being said, when the film isn’t doing that he gets to have some genuinely good interactions with the rest of the cast, in particular the new plush toys Ducky and Bunny. These two characters are voiced by the always hilarious duo Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who bounce off of Buzz’s dialogue with ease, providing a really fun relationship. On top of this we have newcomer Duke Kaboom: Canada’s Greatest Stuntman who is a wind-up motorcyclist voiced by the soothing tones of Keanu Reeves. I actually had a similar toy during my childhood, so I can personally attest to how fun these toys can be- and how heartbreaking Duke’s story is. All behind the scenes information will tell you that this was supposed to be a small role, that supposedly Keanu had concocted so much backstory for that PIXAR fleshed out the role. I have nothing to say about this and this was purely an excuse to remind you all of how wonderful Keanu Reeves is.

The real stand out performances for me are the female leads Bo Peep and Gabby Gabby voiced by the effervescent Annie Potts and Christina Hendricks. Both characters have clearly decided what they want from life but have to amend their way of thinking. Bo is a Lost Toy who clearly enjoys living without an owner, and has concluded that this freedom is the best thing for all toys. She only helps to rescue Forky because she loves Woody, but in doing so she comes to realise that a child’s needs are just as important as her own. Gabby Gabby on the other hand wants nothing but to be played with by one girl named Harmony. When this does not go as she expected, she realises that she doesn’t need the love of one particular child but of whichever child chooses to love her. In essence, both Bo Peep and Gabby Gabby come to the conclusion that they can be played with and loved by anyone, but Gabby is willing to stay in one place for longer than Bo. Both characters are more similar to each other than they would admit, and so they start off disdainful of each other before their relationship progresses naturally. Again, Toy Story 4 only focusses on a few characters, but these stories are handled with real care and have as much heart as was present in any of the 3 previous films.

While we’re on the topic of “things that are present across the quadrilogy” it’s time to talk about composer Randy Newman. I really like his music and I think that it suits this franchise beautifully. You’ve Got a Friend in Me is so globally recognisable that I’m surprised that PIXAR haven’t made it their official theme like Disney with When You Wish Upon a Star. I’m also incredibly grateful that they haven’t, because it would completely alter that songs context and limit the way that PIXAR films can open (like the subtle Incredibles 2 opening). However there is a noticeable difference to me between the score for Toy Story 4 compared to the former trilogy and that is the amount of re-used music present. I am all for continuing musical motifs, and it is one of my favourite aspects of film scoring, but the blatant use of it here is really jarring to me. Operation Pull Toy and Buzz’s Flight are particularly guilty of this, but on the other hand the new pieces of score are as good as anything that he has previously composed. My personal favourites are School Daze and A Spork in the Road which hit all the right emotions.

Finally, I couldn’t do a PIXAR film without talking about the animation. I think that if you want an accurate timeline for this company’s progression in computer animation then the Toy Story quadrilogy provides 4 perfect snapshots. Toy Story in 1995 was their first full length feature film demonstrating where PIXAR started from. By the time Toy Story 2 was released in 200 the technology had improved so much that they had to rebuild the character models from the ground up. By Toy Story 3 in 2010 their human characters finally looked closer to humans than clones of Andy, and in Toy Story 4 you can see Woody’s stitching. I don’t think that this progress will ever cease to amaze me, and I hope that I never take any of this progress for granted.

Ultimately, the world did not need Toy Story 4. It was probably ever going to serve as the epilogue to an already close to perfect trilogy, but despite its flaws, it still has the heart that made this franchise great. Toy Story 4 was unnecessary but, frankly, I don’t think that matters. I don’t think it ever matters because while some people might not like it, we are always going to get sequels, prequels and reboots for as long as the cinema industry continues to exist. All we can hope for is that we enjoy them, and in the case of Toy Story 4, I did. It still made me feel emotions, and I would absolutely watch it again. As far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough to exist.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Toy Story 3

I try to remain as unbiased as I can in my writing and only occasionally do I believe I’ve faltered. This is one of those occasions because Toy Story 3 is very special to me. Being born in 1997, I have grown up alongside PIXAR and, as a child, Toy Story was my go-to film. Even as I grew older and entered my teenage years I found myself returning to it and its sequel time after time whenever I was in need of some comfort. Toy Story 3 marked the first time that something I had been emotionally invested in since childhood came to an end. Wow, what an end it was.

We follow Buzz, Woody and the gang as they are accidentally donated to Sunnyside Daycare, mere days before Andy is due to leave for college. Woody, determined to remain by his side, attempts to return home but it picked up by a girl named Bonnie whose toys inform Woody that Sunnyside is not all sunshine and rainbows. He must choose between abandoning his friends for Andy or saving them. This is the darkest of PIXAR’s films so far in both colour and theme. The entirety of the third act takes place at night, as do the flashbacks, not to mention the time spent in bags and boxes. That is the haunting irony of Sunnyside Daycare, which should mark a delightfully pleasant retirement for Andy’s toys but is more like a war zone. Instead of remaining in the Butterfly Room with the 6 year olds, they are taken to the Caterpillar room where the 4 year olds dwell. Their first playtime in years ends with them covered in paint and drool in a blatant disregard for the age suggestions on their original packaging. I was never like these children, always taking great care with my toys, so to see them treated this way is heartbreaking. It may also be the most accurate depiction of children in children’s media.

It may seem like the children will end up as the antagonists but no, it’s much much worse. Lotso-Huggin’ Bear is a vindictive plush toy who was “abandoned” by his owner and now rules over Sunnyside with an iron fist. As Ken Doll so astutely observes, Lotso has transformed Sunnyside into a pyramid and placed himself on top. As a result, Toy Story 3 sort of becomes about overthrowing an unjust system of government which, after Wall-E, leads me to wonder how the people at PIXAR feel about The System. Of course, this is a children’s film, so Lotso eventually gets his comeuppance but not before the most gut-wrenching betrayal I’ve ever witnessed. The films climax takes place at a landfill where it seems as if our heroes are headed for certain destruction via a massive furnace. Lotso has the chance to save them but instead chooses to save only himself, leaving everybody else to continue their final journey. Inevitably they do not perish but we still have to sit through a scene where they embrace their own mortality and their end. This may be the darkest thing that PIXAR has ever done and I commend them for it. As a company, they have never spoken down to children and, in this moment, they are treating the children as adults. It shows a real sign of respect on PIXARs behalf for their young audience.

As the final film in a trilogy, Toy Story 3 wraps up the story perfectly. I’ve spoken before about the importance of payoff and how rewarding it is for longtime fans of a franchise. It’s especially prevalent in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and in moments of Avengers Endgame but Toy Story 3 might outshine both of them. On a surface level, we get to witness the end of these characters’ arcs but it runs deeper than that. Parts of the film like Buzz’s escape from the Caterpillar Room and the entire opening sequence directly parallel moments in previous instalments. However the best homage to Toy Storys past lie in the score. Almost every single track from the first 2 films make one final return here. There’s Soldiers Mission, Woody’s Roundup and the most heart-wrenching of all You’ve Got a Friend in Me. The score can make or break a film. It’s there to illicit certain reactions and emotions but if it doesn’t do that, the film doesn’t come across the same. The music is designed to emotionally manipulate you- that’s its job- and Toy Story 3 uses that to its advantage. I must have seen this movie at least once a year since it was released and I have wept every single time. Even re-watching it for this piece, knowing that the story continues, I can’t seem to help myself. Nostalgia is a very powerful emotion and it will win me over every single time. The difference in detail between the CGI of this film and the CGI of the original Toy Story is enough to blow me away.

My generation are the last to witness this franchise upon release. Current and future generations are able to sit through the entire thing in the space of an afternoon. They won’t be impacted in exactly the same way but I wonder if they will be impacted in some way. That’s the thing about PIXAR- their pieces are timeless. They aren’t designed to appeal to one ausdience in the here and now, but to every audience of every age. I know that children will watch Toy Story 3 in the years to come and that they might consider it just another PIXAR film but it will continue to stick with me

To Infinity and Beyond…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer