We need to talk about Toy Story 4 – and endings

When Toy Story 3 came out nearly ten years ago, there was a general consensus that the toys being given away as Andy headed off to college meant it had to be the final film in a trilogy. So as rumblings of a fourth film came about, I definitely did a slight shake of my head and sported a displeased face. 

Marketing an animated movie like a Pixar or Disney film obviously needs to hit the family market a lot more than the likes of a 30-year old that thinks too much about movies. So that meant preview sequences and trailers focused on gags and visuals over context and I couldn’t see what would be new or refreshing about the movie. 

Woody with Forky – one of the movie’s new characters

That thought stuck with me as I watched it, keeping my eyes open for something I felt was new. Toy Story 4 is both the fourth and fourth best film in this; Pixar’s flagship property. But that’s kind of like saying ‘Here Comes The Sun’ is the fourth best Beatles song. It’s only the case because the first three are so good. This is a movie well worth everyone’s time – especially if you have even the slightest shred of affinity for these characters. 

What strikes you first is how incredible it looks. The difference between the first and the fourth Toy Story films are like going from analogue to digital; it’s night to day. The world that Pixar has created in Toy Story 4 frankly doesn’t look dissimilar to the world we all live in. The environments and the toys themselves feel more real than ever. 

If you want to see how this has developed, you should check out this video from Movies Insider on how Pixar has developed its technology since the first Toy Story movie in 1995.

This is what 25 years of software development look like

While Toy Story 4 did bring a few new ideas to the table, there are many more things that felt a bit stale and rehashed. It has a sharper script than some of the others; it’s certainly a funnier movie than the first three, and it introduces yet more lovable characters. But it throws them into a storyline that at times feels over-complicated and doesn’t leave enough room for some of the fan favourites like Jesse, Rex and Ham – even Buzz to a certain extent. It is obviously by design because, like the opening ten minutes of the Toy Story, this is a movie that’s all about Woody. 

What’s most poignant about Toy Story 4 is its sincerity and how it looks at the human element of having toys that we love because we’ve all had a favourite toy whether it’s a pull-string cowboy, an intergalactic Space Ranger or a cute as heck teddy bear dressed in a blue sailors uniform. It might sound over-analytical for a family movie but Pixar films are always layered for kids and adults alike and this one is no different. 

While it has all this going for it, Toy Story 4 doesn’t pack the emotionally stressful punch of Toy Story 3. But what it does do is serve up an incredibly satisfying final act. A big part of this is a reintroduction of Bo Peep who’s been missing since her miniscule role in Toy Story 2. Far beyond the quiet, demure porcelain doll she was in the first movie, she’s now a charismatic rough and tumble character whose something of a celebrity amongst the movie’s lost toys. 

Her inclusion is instrumental to the movie’s resolution which, fingers crossed marks an end to this franchise. Because when we talk about Toy Story 4, we need to talk about endings. 

I seem to remember there being notes from Disney and/or Pixar that this would definitely be the last outing of everyone’s favourite sentient playthings. I now can’t seem to find these anywhere online but if this movie ends the way it does but doesn’t represent a final note for this franchise, Pixar’s going to have me to deal with. 

I tire at movie studios that are too afraid to end their franchises. Concerned they’ll never find another property or script that’s as good as their last one so they keep cranking out sequels. Hollywood is a money business – there’s no question about that. But when a movie, franchise or character is really good, they deserve a meaty, satisfying ending – not a slow death. (Here’s looking at you, Terminator and Jurassic Park.)

Woody and Buzz are two such characters. They’ve been a part of movie-goers’ zeitgeist for coming on a quarter of a century now and honestly, I think it’s time to hang up the gunless holster and space helmet. 

One of the best things about the Toy Story franchise is how timeless the movies are. My nephews love these films and the first one came out when their dad was just eight years old. To have four installments of such high-calibre is rare. So please leave it at that. 

On reflection, the third movie wasn’t actually franchise-ending at all because Woody and Buzz were closer than ever and found a new home with Bonnie which opened up the door for this fourth film. But by the end of Toy Story 4 that isn’t the case. And without wanting to give too much away, the final act completes Woody’s arc; something that’s been in the works since 1995.  

There are hints to this ending throughout the movie and it’s without a doubt the satisfying ending that he deserves. It felt similar to Steve Rogers’ ending in Avengers: Endgame – complete and entirely justified. While both characters were written into a place where there could be more, it’d be real nice if it was just left at that.

We know that movies make money. Familiar movies make a lot of money, and new adventures for well-loved characters make the most. But I’d love to see movie studios have the gusto to write really satisfying movies and give characters that we love great endings instead of keeping them around just in case they can come back to service ticket sales. 

Because trust me, we’ll love these movies more if they don’t end with films we just have to just pretend don’t exist. 

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