I love Disney to infinity and beyond. But I’m not afraid to say it when I think Disney has had a misstep. And Toy Story 4 is most certainly a misstep in my book.
Let me give you a few caveats before I dive into why Toy Story 4 failed for me on so many accounts.
First of all, the Toy Story trilogy is what I call practically perfect. It started in 1995 with a little boy named Andy who made room in his heart and his playroom for a new toy, Buzz Lightyear, alongside his faithful companion, Woody. As most of us know, they had their differences but they came to realize they were all important because they were important to Andy. The second movie came along an introduced us to Jessie, the 1950s era cowgirl who only wanted a second chance with a child. And the third wrapped up the entire series as we saw Andy heading off to college and finally letting go of his childhood.
Back in 2013, I was listening to a keynote speaker from Disney Parks talk about the inspired imagination that is consistent throughout everything that the Disney name touches, most notably, in the story arc from Toy Story to Toy Story 3
In the very first Toy Story movie, Andy’s room is covered in wallpaper with a very distinct cloud pattern. At a young age, all of his dreams were held in that room.
As we reached the end of the series with Toy Story 3, the movie ends with Andy giving away the toys that were such a part of his world as he heads off to college. If you were like me and busy trying to fix the leak in your eyes at this point in the movie, you may have missed one of the most significant and intentional parts of the movie.
The camera pulls back and we see a sky that very closely resembles the wallpaper in Andy’s bedroom, representing the fact that his dreams now held no bounds.
Even though I didn’t catch the symbolism of those clouds when I watched it the first time, the message came through loud and clear. These toys opened up the world to one little boy and when that little boy was setting off into the world, it was time for those toys to do the same for another child.
My son was three years old when that movie came out. He loved it because he got to see all of his favorite characters up on the screen for his first big boy movie. My husband and I sat back and quietly sobbed.
That’s the magic I love about Pixar movies. The stories are for children and adults. They find unique messages for each and yet unite them with a wonderfully animated story. And even though Toy Story 3 had such a fulfilling conclusion, I had faith that a fourth movie would have only been made if they stayed true to the heart of the story.
But they didn’t.
Toy Story 4 did not feel like a fourth installment of a wonderful series. It felt like a fun little movie about toys that come alive and go off on adventures of their own. So if that’s what you’re looking for, you might be just fine with this movie.
But I guess I’m a Toy Story purist and this movie was missing everything that I loved about this story. Woody was the star of the show along with Bonnie’s newest creation, Forky. In his attempts to reunite Forky with Bonnie, Woody stumbles into an antique store where he finds an assortment of odd toys and is eventually reunited with his long lost friend, Bo (Little Bo Peep).
(By the way, in case you missed it, Bo didn’t appear in Toy Story 3 so a hasty scene was put together at the beginning of the movie to show us what happened to Bo.)
This movie rehashes a lot of the same storyline we’ve seen before. Toys who don’t have a child. Toys who are unloved. Toys that have become “lost toys” either by accident or by choice. The emotional scenes seemed forced with wide eyed characters and sweeping music meant to make us tear up. And yet, I didn’t.
In the end, there’s probably a message about the lifespan of a toy and what happens when they’ve served their purpose. But we never really connected with the toys, even when we thought we did. We connected with the relationships between the toys and the children who love them. We connected with the parents who have the not-so-easy task of watching their children grow up. These are the messages that made Toy Story such a beloved series of movies.
Unfortunately, this movie missed the mark on all of those accounts.
With that said, my son, who is now 12 years old, liked the movie. He thought it was cute and entertaining. But to be fair, we haven’t watched the original Toy Story movies in years and he doesn’t really remember them. He saw this as many children will now see it – an entertaining, standalone movie. And the perfect tie-in to the Toy Story upgrades happening everywhere throughout the Disney Parks.
As for me, I’m going to pretend this movie doesn’t even exist and go back to wistfully pondering the day when our toy closet will be empty.
Special note: This movie is rated G but there are plenty of scenes that I would consider frightening for young children. I’d approach this film as a PG movie when deciding whether or not to take your young children.