G. They finally did it! They created a movie that I can completely agree with a G rating on. Oh, wait, I have to play Devil's Advocate, don't I? I tend to think that a lot of stuff is okay. But I know that parents on pages that I frequent think that everything is offensive, so I'm going to really try and throw this rating under the bus. The dummies are terrifying. I'll give you that. Bunny and Ducky fantasize about beating people up and killing them with laser beams. I still give it a G. My son didn't freak out, so that's a big win. G.
DIRECTOR: Josh Cooley
I was wrong. I'll admit it. I saw the trailer and went "meh." Toy Story 3 had such a perfect ending. It definitely felt like it dismounted perfectly. Rarely do we see a movie trilogy that's so tight and actually managed to close up a franchise well that the very notion of a Toy Story 4 seems offensive. And that trailer? Man, I was not impressed by it at all. But I was wrong. I was completely wrong. It took the combined reviews of Rotten Tomatoes to get excited for this movie. But when I saw it, it was great.
How the heck do you make Toy Story 4 work, especially after Toy Story 3? The Andy story was done. The toys were going to continue living with Bonnie and that's all we really needed to know. Bonnie was a sweet girl and it left on that note of "And they lived happily ever after." But there was one more story to tell and that story needed to put a cap on the entire franchise. I didn't know that the Toy Story movies really needed an epilogue. But like Spider-Man: Far From Home, apparently an epilogue can go a long way. Pixar and the Toy Story folks seem to understand that the adventure is really very much second to the emotional journey that the characters go through. It's so weird, because Pixar has made us all think like toys. If I completely summarized the emotional journey that Woody goes through in this movie, it wouldn't make a lick of sense. These seem like "toy problems." I left the movie, completely overwhelmed by the emotional journey I had gone through and then thought, wait...am I supposed to be a "lost toy"? MILD SPOILERS FOR BOTH TOY STORY 4 AND SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME: Is the message that I have to take care of myself for once because Far From Home would disagree. Sometimes I think of this blog as cinematic therapy. I emotionally experience films and I encourage you to do the same. I always want to cry at movies, but I'm not much of a crier in that way. So writing this stuff out is to figure out what I both believe about the movie and what I believe about life. I can't believe how much I'm going to want to tie into Far From Home because I just left the theater about an hour-and-a-half ago. But I'll avoid that until I write the Far From Home analysis. I don't believe that the people at Pixar are making stories about toy problems. The beginning of the movie, very much like the beginning of Up, nearly made me break down. It's about break ups and dealing with responsibilities. Bo Peep (it sounds even goofier typing it) is given away to another family. She has finished her goals. I'm a goal oriented guy. My list, I typed blindedly, will never end. I just keep piling stuff that I want to do in life onto the pile. But Bo Peep had done her job. She was appreciated when she was around, but sometimes that isn't everything. The big metaphor in this kids' movie is one of retirement. I don't even know if Pixar movies are made for kids anymore. The more I sit on that conclusion, the more it makes sense. Toy Story 4 is about retirement.
From a teacher's perspective, I'm constantly having to deal with someone not needing me anymore. This is me feeding my own ego, but I am an important figure in students' lives for years. There's an emotional distance between me and my students. We respect each other. We laugh together. But like a toy and a child, there's an emotional distance that eventually grows when we don't have that symbiotic relationship anymore. Students grow up. They go onto bigger and better things. They should. If they don't, that means I haven't really done my job, I suppose. But there is something remarkably depressing at the end of the year for me. I haven't really taught seniors before. But as much as they praise you for being the person who taught them to love English when they are juniors, you are chopped liver when they are seniors. All the dedications to the teachers that aren't you gets to you after a while. It's a bit of a bummer. Toy Story 4, believe it or not, deals with that. For a moment, I want to explore why these movies keep on dealing with adult situations. The entire Toy Story franchise, I suppose, deals with the concept of not being important anymore. The first film dealt with Woody's jealousy over Buzz being the new favorite. I don't remember part 2, sorry. Toy Story 3 deals with Andy growing up and leaving. Toy Story 4 is realizing that people don't need you anymore because you are old. Outside of people leaving, the secondary message of Toy Story 3, which of these apply to kids? I mean, any day of the week, I'll let my kids learn that message. Kids deal with friends leaving when they move. I can't imagine what will happen to my kids if their friends decide to move away. I know that parents divorce, and I can see Toy Story acting as a balm in that case. But dealing with retirement? That's so bizarre. I suppose the first film kind of can be about jealousy in general. But retirement? Woody straight up retires in this film. He puts away his need to keep working and taking care of others and learn to take care of himself. Epiphany! He has completed his character arc!
The first film is all about Woody's selfishness. Very rarely is it actually about Andy in the first film. It's about how much Andy should be paying attention to Woody. By the third film, Woody sees himself as a caretaker of both Andy and the toys. He's ready to go to college with Andy to take care of him there, but learns that other people need him more. Okay, that's pretty great. But Toy Story 4 makes a clear break between selfishness and self-care. He lost Bo Peep (similar to the way she lost her sheep?) and now has a second chance at happiness. The film kind of plays around with the concept that Woody may have made the bad decision nine years ago when Bo Peep left. I don't know if the film condemns him for the choice he made. Bo doesn't seem that mad. She wishes he joined her, but doesn't really seem to hold it against him. She does kind of view him as an idiot for doing so. From Bo's perspective, Woody is noble, but dumb. He's the good guy of the piece for the majority of the movie and only once does she hold it against him. What I love is the complicated relationship that Woody and Bo deal with when it comes to morality. Often, Woody's dilemma's aren't as clear cut as they are in the first movie. Woody is at fault for what he does to Buzz in the first film. But Woody now has two bad options in a lot of cases. He knows that he is devoted to his kid, even if that means taking a back seat to her other toys. In this case, it's Forky...a spork with googly eyes. The film shows his maturity by treating this fork like he's the most important toy that ever existed because Forky is that important to Bonnie. But it is interesting to see that the other toys get mad at him for not taking care of himself. He only took care of himself in the first film. Now, his devotion to others is actually kind of infuriating. I think that the other toys know that he's in the right to put Bonnie and Forky first, but they also like being listened to. Woody's life has become such an exercise in routine and strength that he can't see that a little vulnerability goes a long way. The constant reminder that he's not Andy's toy makes him question the power dynamic. It's all very interesting. God, getting older is just getting depressing and Toy Story 4 is the film to remind me of it.
What's really weird is that this definitely feels like the last film for the Toy Story franchise. I know that I thought that with Toy Story 3, but this has such a cap on it that I would be shocked if we saw more Toy Story movies, at least ones with Buzz and Woody in them. Considering that this feels like the end of an era, it's bizarre that Buzz Lightyear has so little to do in the movie. Don't get me wrong. I totally approve of the focus of this movie. But it's strange to think that Buzz and Woody are iconic friends at this point. I mean, "You've Got a Friend in Me" still plays in the movie. Originally implying that the toys are friends to their owners, that song has definitely shifted to Buzz and Woody being the best of friends. This is a story that culminates with Woody leaving everyone to live a life of quiet love and marriage with Bo Peep. (No, there's no toy marriage. I just read between the lines.) Buzz has a role in the movie. He's not completely removed from this movie. But he almost could be. It's weird to think about that. In one way, the movie would almost be stronger without Buzz. Buzz is tying Woody back to Bonnie's house. He has that friendship that has been there for almost decades. It would make sense for Woody to move on knowing that Buzz moved on as well. But Woody has to make the more complex choice of love or friendship. Geez, I've been there. I mean, my wife's my best friend now. But it is hard to say goodbye to people. But then why isn't Buzz there for the entire film? Part of me think I would have noticed even more that Buzz had nothing to do. Buzz doesn't really grow that much. He almost becomes more sentient. This has to be a bit of a bummer for Tim Allen, who has probably cherished this character. (If Tim Allen doesn't like Buzz Lightyear, I'm flummoxed.) It seems like Tim Allen and Tom Hanks are friends and now they just have to say goodbye. I mean, I'm giving them permission to hang out, but it seems like this is something important that is just going away. If the other movies are Buzz and Woody adventures, then this just feels like a Woody adventure. But I guess that the stories have always been about Woody. We call them Batman movies, not Batman and Robin movies. Buzz Lightyear really acts like a foil. There's not a ton of growth almost because Buzz is unable to conceive of complicated thought. I know that's unfair and I'm sure there are a handful of examples of Buzz dealing with complex emotions. But Buzz often doesn't make mistakes. Woody does. So having Woody being so right that he's wrong is a tale that would only get muddled with the constant attention of Buzz Lightyear.
I really liked the movie. I'm really surprised that I did. I tend to roll my eyes at people who lose their minds over stuff like this. But I consistently like a lot of the stuff that Disney rolls out. As a dad, it's great to see a movie that's well made for my kids. It's not absolutely perfect, I'll grant you. But it is really a phenomenal addition, almost because of the smallness of this piece. As much as I adored Toy Story 3, I'm considering placing it second to Toy Story 4.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.