In the beginning there was Toy Story, and it was perfect and complete.
Then came Toy Story 2, which might have been superfluous, except it wasn’t, and it deepened and expanded the themes of the first film while extending its trajectory. It seemed a definitive resolution, until Toy Story 3 found that the drama of Woody and Andy — it was always about Woody and Andy — had at least a denouement left to tell.
That story ended when college-aged Andy passed on his beloved playthings and their stories to little Bonnie. There is a completed trilogy, with a single dramatic through line.
And now there is Toy Story 4, which does not continue the story of the first three films, but casts about for new things to do in this world with the sprawling cast of characters in Bonnie’s orbit, most of whom once revolved around the now-absent figure of Andy.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Toy Story 2 cemented perhaps the trilogy’s central metaphor by investing the toys with parental anxieties, particularly fear of the empty nest and being left on a shelf by absent children. One of the ideas of Toy Story 4 — or perhaps one of the points of view — is that life goes on, and that, as rewarding and noble as it is to love and be loved by a child, life after children can be just as amazing, or even more so.
Much of the territory is familiar by now. Woody (Tom Hanks) worries about his kid’s favorite toy being there when needed. Toys are outgrown and given away, like Jessie in Toy Story 2, or lost and far from home, like Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen) in the original. There’s an establishment where toys are displayed but not played with, like the unseen museum in Japan, but it’s also the perilous personal fiefdom of a sinister boss toy with a dangerous goon squad, like Sunnydale Day Care.
Where Toy Story 4 pushes into new thematic territory is in the character arcs of at least three of its four central characters, two old and two new.
Woody and Bo Peep (returning Annie Potts, absent from Toy Story 3) bring very different perspectives to the world of toys who aren’t needed by anyone any more. A makeshift toy that Bonnie dubs “Forky” (Tony Hale) struggles with an identity crisis. And a vintage pull-string doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), the most problematic character, harbors deep wounds over her unhappy past.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.