Toy Story 4

Virtue, Duty, and Other Unexpected Life Lessons Served up by a Spork​

July 15, 2019

Toy Story has followed millennials through various stages of life. From the initial debut in 1995, the characters grasped children’s hearts (and their parents’ wallets) making history as Pixar’s first full-length film and the first film to be made entirely with computer generated imagery. Audiences had a short 4 year wait until 1999 for the sequel Toy Story 2 release which was again met with raving praise. The third installment of the franchise which made its arrival in 2010 is by far a tough act to follow- with the title of Disney’s fourth highest ranking film in history at the time of its release.

Trailing by 9 years, the fourth film faces the challenge of being compared to the Oscar winning Toy Story 3. The third film in many ways felt conclusive and is adored by audiences nearly unanimously so the decision to revamp the storyline was met with uncertainty by many. With an underwhelming opening weekend, some believed a loss of interest in the franchise was to blame for lacking numbers, but it has been argued that despite missing the mark of anticipated box office figures- the film is nonetheless a success.

The fourth and speculated final installment of the Toy Story series manages to serve up some pretty serious takeaways, capturing the essence of what it means to be alive- the wonder, the freedom, and the angst of consciousness delivered in the form of the franchise’s newest member of Woody’s beloved toy crew – a newly sentient spork named Forky. Now crises of self are not completely unknown to the Toy Story crew with Buzz Lightyear facing the jarring reality that he is in fact a toy not an actual space ranger in the first feature film, but that hurdle pales in comparison to the feat of mental strength and soul-searching set upon the newest character.

The series has grown the cohort of toys through jealousy, abandonment, acceptance, and countless narrowly escaped toy deaths. The gang’s greatest feat by far was the act of coming to terms with their owner Andy aging out of the relationship, heading off to college and carefully passing the torch of ownership to the young Bonnie introduced in Toy Story 3. In a heart wrenching scene, the audience witnesses the acceptance in both the toys and Andy that their time has come to an end and a shift in purpose takes place at the closing of the third film. Toy Story 4 opens with all too familiar antics of the toys’ life in their newly adapted home of Bonnie’s room. There are plenty of call backs in the film with many taking place within the first few moments. It’s enough to shoot a Pixar buff to cloud 9 and back.

What sets the new film apart is the depth to the challenges placed on the toys. When Bonnie crudely crafts Forky on her first day of Kindergarten, she breathes life into that misguided utensil and he must come to terms that he is no longer trash- he is a toy alive, a toy born alongside a band of loyal and experienced toys that will not accept his innumerable attempts to return to the trash void of security. Woody takes on a new role in the fourth film, now wrangling the new favorite Forky with fervor that practically erases his jealous past that sparked the gang’s adventures early on. In a daring rescue mission along dark and risky road trip routes, Woody must help the confused Forky learn of his new purpose in life- all the while broadening his own life’s purpose. The beloved Bo Peep returns to the screen in a re-imagined role to reinforce the need for agency over one’s own life.

The philosophical undertones of the film can spark some pretty serious soul-searching for audiences of age to do so and for the younger viewers, the themes leave plenty of room to grow over time. With Keanu Reeves, Kegan-Michael Key, and Jordan Peele joining the already stellar cast with leads of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, the film stands to be appreciated by viewers old and young alike.

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