Today, Toy Story 4, Pixar’s latest film, premiered. I dreaded the idea of a fourth installment to the Toy Story franchise since the announcement. I had a major sob fest when I saw TS3 with the trash incinerator scene. I did not want a theater full of people to hear my sniffles of nostalgia. But when I heard Key and Peele were voice acting a pair of toys in the film, my dread nor fear of heartbreak could not stop me from getting a ticket to a 9:45 AM showing.
Not sure if you noticed, but one important character was missing in Toy Story 3. Have your roster list ready? Here is a hint: it’s a girl. If you guessed Bo Peep, you are correct. Toy Story 4 answered the question pretty much everybody has been asking: where in the world is Bo Peep?
The film starts out with a flashback to Andy’s youth. One of Andy’s toys in need of rescuing and the gang is the only group of toys to do it. Bo Peep is caught off her lamp and Andy’s mom is quick to send Bo Peep and her sheep packing in a donation box. Woody tries to rescue her but she had accepted her fate and is prepared for the unknown. This leaves Woody, to some extent, traumatized (more on that later). Cue John Newman’s “You Got a Friend in Me” and a montage of Andy growing up, making us adults who grew up with Andy playing cowboy and space ranger sob all over again in our own nostalgia. The montage ends with a scene from Toy Story 3 where college-bound Andy gives his toys to Bonnie, a little girl with a big imagination.
Bonnie also grows up a little and slowly but surely leaves Woody behind, only adding to the trauma that is the reality of his mortality. Seeing how Bonnie is going to have a tough time in kindergarten, he sneaks into her backpack and helps her out, allowing her to create a new toy, Forky. Forky is what you would expect a five year old to make: a stick figure with popsicle sticks for feet, a fork for a head and torso, googly eyes and pipe cleaners for eyes. Forky is naive but at the same time wise. He knows he’s trash and admits it with pride. He also turns into Woody’s therapist during his mid-life crisis after he jumps out of the rental RV during the family road trip, making Woody to do his usual of jumping off high speeding modes of transportation.
As Woody and Forky make their way back to the RV, Woody finds a familiar figure on the window display of an antique shop. They sneak in and trouble ensues as not only they could not find the familiar figure but bump into 50s doll Gabby with her henchmen, the nutcracker butlers. Gabby is reminiscent of a mob boss, from her stroller to her cabinet to her deal negotiations. You think she’s an evil creepy doll but you soon feel sorry for her when her plans don’t go her way.
Now back to the important things. Bo Peep. She got a 2019 makeover…and possibly a material upgrade? I clearly remember Bo Peep not being a porcelain doll in the first two movies. Was I blind? Or was technology not savvy enough in the mid-90s to early-2000s to distinguish porcelain from plastic? Bo Peep shed her pink dress and went full Frozen 2 Elsa style with a jumpsuit and a cape. So where was she? An escapee from the antique shop Gabby rules, Bo Peep is a rogue toy that lives in the wilderness of the city park’s playground. What I love the most about Bo Peep was that she did not go into the full “I’m an independent woman with power” spiel that tends to come in movies and TV shows nowadays. She says it through action. She has her own gang, an Avengers group of sorts, and her own skunk-mobile. She’s the planner and mastermind in the rescue missions.
I mentioned earlier Key and Peele voice acting a pair of toys. These guys are the reason I did not sob the entire film. Key and Peele play a stuffed duck and stuffed bunny, respectively. Their dark humor gained by living on a traveling carnival brings a new dimension to the toy psyche. Also, per Key in his interview with Jimmy Fallon, some of their lines were improvised. You heard it folks! The audience laughs came from pure comedy geniuses, including their song. If these folks did not come onto the TS4 cast, this film could have been a boring conveyor belt of recycled ideas and themes.
The issues. I want to love this film. I enjoyed it don’t get me wrong, but it seemed rushed, Buzz was an idiot, Woody abandoned nearly 25 years of virtues and values he’s stuck to, and the original characters were sidelined. I mean, the ending. Buzz and Woody are a duo!
The film was less than two hours long, which honestly feels like a sprint compared to the Marvel movies. The crew at Pixar could have added more scenes or explained things more clearly. No one questioned Woody’s stitching on his back. How come Gabby didn’t get reprimanded for stealing Woody’s voice box? Like that’s a bitch move, especially for the outcome she got. And the outcome she ended up getting rather than the predictable answer was rushed. She appeared and left in a blink of an eye compared to other antagonists (i.e. Prospector). Another example: Key and Peele’s characters were so happy and intent on finding a kid. But they stayed behind with Woody and Bo. Um, backtrack much? Explanations are needed!!! Pretty sure the only toy who got a complete arc within this film was Duke Caboom.
Buzz Lightyear. He’s a smart dude and has been a smart dude. Why did they drop his IQ? I’m pretty sure he knew about his inner voice four movies ago. Why suddenly become so dependent on his limited number of voice recordings? This isn’t OG Toy Story where he thinks he’s on a strange planet and needs to contact Star Command.
Yes, this was Woody going through an existential crisis and needed to figure out how to deal with Bonnie’s rejection. He goes on about Andy, but one has to wonder: didn’t he accept Andy’s leaving in TS3? Why undo this? And worse: for love. Word has it the original Pixar guys made a pact to make sure their movies weren’t about love. Okay, Up is the golden rule for the exception, but that’s it. Woody leaving with Bo Peep is confusing. Woody has always kept the gang together no matter what. He saved Buzz from exploding on Sid’s rocket in time to get to the moving truck. He snuck into the family yard sale to save Squeezy the penguin. He managed to keep the gang together so Andy can go into the tear-jerker speech about each character’s personality when handing the baton of toy owner to Bonnie. WHY. ABANDON. YOUR. LIFE. PURPOSE. Agh. I get it I do. I just was not a full fan. Why not have Bo Peep and the fluff pair and the new band of characters join Woody and Buzz in the RV?
Finally, the original characters were sidelined. The ending where Woody gave Jesse his sheriff’s star is perfection. It’s a nice ending for them and Jesse deserves it for her last minute idea to get everyone back together. But Ham and Rex and Sling and the Potato Heads? Sidelined. Yes, it goes back to OG Toy Story where all they did was sit by the window searching for Woody and Buzz, but they proved themselves in the other films! They are capable! Even Buzz was sidelined to an extent. This could have been Woody and Buzz’s grand finale adventure a la Avengers Endgame. I guess the guys at Pixar believed the OG gang had completed their arcs by being Bonnie’s toys that they didn’t have a need to send them on a rescue mission.
The movie was great, despite my complaints and questions. It was adorable and the visuals were amazing. It felt life like and the details from Woody’s highlight on his head to the disproportionate sizes of his arms (TS2 makeover) to the split of Bo’s arm to the yarn on Jesse’s hair shone brightly on the screen. Tom Hanks was wonderful as the defeated and lost Woody. And let’s not forget the Easter eggs. There were plenty to find. If you are a parent with a child, it’s great. If you literally grew up with the films from the time you were a child, Toy Story 4 reminds not everything lasts forever while still giving you the punch of nostalgia with a hint of questioning Pixar’s motives.