If you have seen the highly anticipated 4th installment of the Toy Story series, this review will be a fun conversation-starter. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, wait to read this after you see it! This post discusses everything about the movie, especially the ending. So . . . spoiler alert! Consider yourself warned, partner.
In one of the first scenes of the movie, that old familiar song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” played and I immediately got all the feels. The nostalgia of Randy Newman’s music, the sight of that comforting kid’s bedroom, and even Laurie Metcalf’s voice talking to Andy made me sigh and settle into my movie theater recliner. I was ready for this movie, and like most Disney Pixar fans, I’ve been waiting more than two years for it to be complete.
If you follow my articles, you know I’m a life-long Disney fan and I birthed a mini Disney fanatic as well. We eat, sleep, and breathe Disney pop culture. Disney Pixar movies are particular favorites of ours and the characters are like familiar old friends. Needless to say, a premiere like this was a big deal.
The hype around Toy Story 4 has made it like the toddler’s equivalent to Avengers Endgame. The huge buildup Toy Story has had is unprecedented, from the pre-screeners and critics showering it with praise, to even typically stingy movie sites like Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 100% rating. Between this pre-movie exhaltation and my longtime love for Disney and Toy Story, you’d expect (as I did) a rave review of a film that is now my number one favorite of all time.
Well, not exactly.
Toy Story 4 had a lot of good. But in my opinion, it also had plenty of bad, in terms of inconsistencies and poor storyline choices.
The good was certainly in the artistry and the voice acting. The animation was, not surprisingly, beautiful. The glistening carnival lights, the realistic movements of the charming characters, the classically colorful details for which Pixar is known — it’s all gloriously brought to life. One of my favorite scenes is at the beginning of the movie when Woody retrieves Forky from the highway and walks back with him to the RV Park. The way they make this spork walk — you can’t help but smile and belly laugh! Not to mention the dialogue of this scene, which even my 4 year old astutely pointed out was much like a parent-child interaction. Older, wiser Woody is teaching young Forky about life and the infantalized utensil just keeps asking to be picked up. “Carry me!” Forky asks. “No!” Woody replies countless times . . . and then is seen carrying the pacified plastic Forky. If you’ve lugged a whining toddler around Disney World, this scene will be a familiar favorite of yours too!
The Pixar Easter eggs were fun as usual, and I spotted a couple that the Internet was not instantly buzzing about! Did you catch Bo’s sheep in the antique store bring her a grape soda bottlecap from Up? And I think the white guitars on the prize wall at the carnival are fashioned after Coco’s guitar (see below.) But I was disappointed about the classic Pizza Planet truck Easter egg in this film. As fans of Disney Pixar movies know, the old Pizza Planet truck makes an appearance in every Toy Story movie — and even other Pixar movies. The truck itself was not in this movie, but instead they placed a Pizza Planet tattoo on the carnival worker’s leg. That truck is such an iconic part of the Toy Story franchise and I missed seeing it. I mean, this is most likely the last Toy Story . . . give us the whole truck, Pixar!
More “good” about this film were the classic Toy Story one-liners by hilarious toys, especially Forky, the new spork toy which Bonnie made. Forky is the naive new arrival who is learning everything along the way in a toddleresque sort of way. What I liked about him is that he innocently ponders many of the things we all do, but — in true childlike fashion — lacks a filter and just says them. (No surprise that he will star in a series of shorts called Forky Asks A Question on Disney+ this November.) Forky verbalizes what moviegoers are thinking, from calling the creepy ventriloquists “terrifying” to answering the audience’s decades-old question in the end credits: “How am I alive?” “I don’t know.” Ok then!
Even the film’s creators seem to love Forky, who accurately portrays kids’ creativity and imagination. (I mean seriously, have you seen what a toddler can do with a can of Play-Doh?!)
“Forky really was the biggest move we made of what a toy can be in this universe, we’ve never really seen anything like that, and it really did spring out of our own observations of our children and how they play,” said producer Mark Nielsen. “We love Forky. He was actually a great chance for us to voice what’s in Woody’s head, Woody talking to Forky and explaining the value in a toy and how important it is, that love for a child.”
Forky and the gang bring the humor in this movie, which was a big pro. On opening day when we saw it, there was consistent uproarious laughter from the audience unlike I’ve heard in any other movie. And the majority of the belly laughs were coming from the adults! Kids enjoyed the silliness and the kind of slapstick humor of new furry friends Bunny and Ducky, but there was so much humor that was kind of over their heads that it made me think. . .what age group was this film made for?
Obviously, it’s a family movie with kids in mind, but I honestly feel like this Toy Story was made more for an older audience. There was less kid-play, less toys, more grown-up thoughts. And after 24 years, perhaps Pixar realized their original audience is all grown up now. The packed theater where we saw Toy Story 4 was filled with plenty of young kids, but there were tons of high schoolers, college-aged adults, and even older adults without children. I feel like this movie was made for the viewers who grew up and the story grew up as well. And I’m not sure I loved that.
After Toy Story 3, fans were all asking one question: Where the bleep was Bo Peep?! I mean, her total absence from the third movie often made me wonder if Annie Potts had a big contract dispute with Disney or something. Fast forward nine years and for a character who did not have a huge part in the first two movies, Toy Story 4 seemed to bend over backwards to feature Bo again. (Maybe Annie got a raise?!)
Bo returns like a new version of herself. She’s dressed more modern, she talks a little edgier, and all her experiences out in the world have made her a hero in her own right. It was clear that Disney Pixar wanted to put some focus on a strong female lead, which is fine, but I guess because of the inconsistency from the last way we saw her, it felt forced.
Bo and Woody were the stars of this show, along with new characters, and I really missed our old gang. There was not enough Buzz for me (even though he talked to Bonnie . . . what the what?!) and it felt like our old friends like Rex and Hamm had hardly any lines in this film.
What I didn’t love about this Bo and Woody focus was that it felt like more of a love story than a toy story, which is inconsistent with the message of the franchise, including what producer Mark Nielson stated in the quote I mentioned earlier about “the value in a toy and how important it is, that love for a child.” Isn’t Woody’s whole thing that toys are made to make children happy? He even teaches other toys this. I got the feeling Pixar tried to show Woody still does this by helping kids at the carnival win toys, but it was a stretch, and felt like it was thrown in to sloppily clear up that inconsistency.
Toy Story‘s message has always been about the love and happiness that toys bring to children, and it has also always been a story about friendship and loyalty. And this, my friends, brings me to my BIGGEST beef with Toy Story 4. Woody should NOT have left his friends! Separating Buzz and Woody was like the ultimate insult to Disney fans.
I hated the ending! There, I said it. It’s true Disney blasphemy, but I needed to say it! Everyone — the stars included — warned us that this movie would be a tear-jerker, and I did cry at the end. But it wasn’t because I was touched and recognized the validity of the message as I felt in Toy Story 3. I cried because I was disappointed.
Woody left the gang — not to mention a still-young Bonnie, no matter how much he told himself she was no longer interested in him. He left for himself and he left to be with Bo, who basically convinced him that kids lose toys all the time so it’s ok. His allegiance to Bo really made this feel more like a love story with an older target audience.
Woody leaving his best friends and his kid was totally uncharacteristic of this beloved character. What about everything Woody preached over the years? Think about when Buzz reminded him in 2, “Somewhere in that pad of stuffing is a toy who taught me that life is only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.” And in the closing scene when Woody says he’s ok with Andy growing up because “when it all ends I’ll have old Buzz Lightyear to keep me company . . . for infinity and beyond.” Did Pixar conveniently forget these promises? These weren’t just lines, they defined who Woody is.
When Disney announced that Toy Story 4 was coming out, many people asked why it was necessary when Toy Story 3 had such a climactic ending with the beautiful image of Buzz and Woody watching Andy drive away from Bonnie’s house. I didn’t question this before, but I’m honestly asking it after seeing it. Why did they make a fourth? Besides the obvious answer “to make money,” evidenced by the pervasive merchandise this release brought to every store from McDonald’s to Pottery Barn Kids, I’m not sure I agree with it.
I know my opinion is not a popular one. People seem to be loving this movie, and I think in general most of us were just happy to see our old friends back on the big screen. I’m sure I’ll enjoy Toy Story 4 more after I see it again, and there were indeed plenty of great things about it. But I felt the movie grew up too much and the ending did not do justice to the relationships of these special characters which so many of us cherish.
I’d love to know what you think! Tell me in the comments below. I never debate politics or religion but Disney movies are fair game!
Perhaps Disney has fooled us all and we’ll just be back here in 5 or 10 years discussing Toy Story 5. Andy may be in a nursing home by then, but it will still be fun . . . to infinity and beyond.