When the production of “Toy Story 4” was initially announced to the general public in 2014, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes — “Toy Story 3” possessed the perfect, bittersweet ending to the nostalgic saga I was looking for.
My heart grew upset to hear that the toys that had grown so near and dear to my heart weren’t left in peace. Many others, including myself, saw the announcement of the fourth installment in the series to be a cash grab for Disney (think of the merchandise money that Disney makes from “Toy Story,” every character is already a sellable toy).
As I took my seat in the movie theater, my hopes were not set high: Disney and Pixar sequels do not have the best track record.
“Monsters University” was lackluster at best, “Finding Dory,” though funny, lacked the heart and soul that its predecessor shined with, and “The Incredibles 2” was amusing but didn’t capture the same beautiful, dynamic tone of the initial 2004 film.
The lights began to dim, and the expansive theater filled with viewers of all ages came to a silence. A match cut from the iconic Pixar lamp logo to a streetlamp on Andy’s familiar street made my film nerd’s heart content. The familiar “Toy Story” theme began to play, and I smile spread across my face — I couldn’t help it.
An hour and 40 minutes later, tears were streaming down my face as I watched my favorite toys smile on screen. Not only was the film a wonderful story filled with heart and gusto, it’s direction (whether lighting, animation or voice performances) took my breath away.
Some of the most touching moments in the film transpired in the scenes between Bo Peep and Woody. In the first scene of the movie, we learn in a flashback to nine years ago that Bo Peep was given away because Molly, Andy’s younger sister, no longer wanted her. We see a tender moment between Bo and Woody where Woody considers leaving Andy to follow her.
The lighting design during this scene was nothing short of extraordinary. Bo and Woody were standing underneath a car as rain poured down around them, lights from Andy’s house making the frame sparkle. I found myself unable to believe that what I was seeing on the screen was animation and not real life. It may have been one of the most beautiful pieces of animation I have ever seen.
As the movie flashes forward, we see the whole gang back with Bonnie as she prepares for her first day of Kindergarten. At Kindergarten Orientation, Bonnie struggles to make friends with her peers, so she literally makes one: Forky, an endearing spork-turned-toy. Because of this, Woody sees that Forky holds a special place in Bonnie’s heart, so he stops at nothing to protect the utensil.
When Woody runs into Bo Peep on a mad goose chase searching for Forky when he goes missing, the sheriff cowboy is hit with a wave of nostalgia. Seeing the old friend as well as going on this new adventure causes him to truly question what he wants and what his purpose is.
I never thought I would say that I adored the character development of a toy, but here I am. Woody’s emotional arc throughout the story is only corroborated by Tom Hanks’s outstanding vocal performance. His inner turmoil can be related to what all of us feel when we leave people behind or take a risk.
Woody has always been a selfless toy who would do anything for his kid (whether it be Bonnie or Andy), but this new adventure puts his selflessness in a new light.
In the final scene of the film, the entire audience was filled with wet eyes and sniffles. Though I won’t spoil anything, the ending will leave you speechlessly feeling like you are on the same journey that Buzz, Woody, and all the toys have experienced.
Many have said that the only reason sequels like this are successful is due to the nostalgia factor, but this is false. I genuinely found myself laughing at many of the jokes sprinkled generously throughout the film — Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton created a fabulous screenplay that was filled with humor even adults will enjoy.
I still would have enjoyed this film if it had nothing to do with “Toy Story,” and I still would have enjoyed this film if it was a completely original idea. The heart of the movie was about discovering yourself and what your purpose is, a theme that is hardly ever well done in a children’s movie.
Say what you want about Disney and Pixar’s endless sequels. They may seem like they’re only being made as a last resort financial gain due to lack of creativity, but this film says otherwise.
“Toy Story 4” was released on June 21 and is now playing in theaters.