As promised, this begins The Pixar Project, where I’m going to review all of the Pixar films in the run-up to the Dec. 25 release of Soul. If you know a friend or relative or Pixar aficionado who’d enjoy this project, please pass it along.
We’re back on track after a brief detour yesterday to celebrate the release of Soul, and that means we’re two away from the end of this Pixar rewatch.
Toy Story 4 is an enjoyable, if albeit unnecessary, continuation of the Toy Story Extended Universe. It represents the continued evolution of Woody’s driving motivation and purpose. The first film showed Woody reckoning with the possibility of a lack of primacy in Andy’s life, learning the value of friendship with a new toy. The second film showed Woody learning of an unknown past in which he was famous and dealing with the allure of fame and recognition compared to the cruelty of a child’s random whims. The third film show’s Woody’s paternalism in full effect, weighing his loyalty to Andy and the greater good for him and the other toys when presented with the opportunity to go to a very Andy-like little girl named Bonnie.
The fourth film picks up life as one of Bonnie’s toys, and he now looks after her with the same type of paternalistic loyalty and love that he did with Andy. But it starts with a flashback to nine years before, and Woody’s trying to save RC, the remote control car, from being left outside in a rainstorm. In the process of saving RC, his world is upended when a visitor comes to take away Bo Peep and her sheep; Molly no longer wants the toy and is donating it. Woody, in a panic, tries to rescue Bo, but she doesn’t actually want to go. She said she’s not Andy’s toy, and it was clear she didn’t share Woody’s loyalty to him.
What struck me in that moment was that Bo seemingly prioritizes their interpersonal relationship as her driving force when she asks Woody to get in the box and go with her. She tells him that kids lose toys all the time, and Woody is conflicted. He seriously thinks about it. The request struck me as supremely unfair to Woody, for at that time, he was still Andy’s favorite toy. She knew of his loyalty to Andy, but more than that, she knew that he was still Andy’s favorite. She cited the possibility of making another kid happy as the reason she was fine with being given away, but Woody was being asked to give up his kid, and his place of importance in the kid’s life, for a lopsided request from Bo.
Woody: No, no, no. You can’t go. What’s best for Andy is that —
Bo: Woody. I’m not Andy’s toy.
Bo: It’s time for the next kid.
The films, up to this point, haven’t done much to establish the depth of the relationship between Woody and Bo. We know it’s a thing, but we don’t know the seriousness of the feelings there. And it’s still not clear how the toys are truly motivated. I wrote about that in the Toy Story 3 review, but it’s painfully clear here. Bo’s lopsided request must put a great emphasis on their relationship, that their time out of the view of kids is the most important to their experience, or else she’d never ask Woody to leave Andy knowing how much they mean to each other. But all of that’s left unspoken; she doesn’t cite their love for why he should be going with her, but she supports her desire to leave, a rather sudden one from our perspective, by saying she needs to move on to be played with by the next kid, which is frankly confusing considering how the film shakes out.
Bonnie creates a toy out of a spork, googly eyes, pipe cleaner, and a tongue depressor. Forky soon becomes her most favorite toy, but he ends up lost from the family on a road trip. Woody goes after him, and on their way back, he thinks he sees Bo’s light in the window of an antique shop. He goes in and meets Gabby Gabby, the film’s Lotso-like big bad, who seems nice at first but is really interested in getting Woody’s voice box out of him. Woody ends up getting taken out of the store by a little girl, and when Woody escapes, he runs into Bo on a random playground. She’s been a lost toy for seven years, she said. And she loves it.
Woody finishes his mission of getting Forky back to Bonnie, but all along the way, he and Bo encounter toys who just want to be played with but, deep down, all desperately want a kid of their own. Except for Bo. It’s not really clear why she doesn’t share the other toys’ wishes, why she seems so immune to the allure of being owned by a kid. Sure, she makes references to the inevitable: kids grow up and get rid of you, and she says it in a way that seems hardened to the experience all together.
When the end of the film comes, Woody is about to leave, to return to Bonnie with the rest of the gang, and perplexingly enough, he doesn’t invite Bo to join them. Something in her has made it clear that she’d pass on that opportunity. Buzz finally reassures Woody that Bonnie will be all right without him, giving him permission to finally stop being single-mindedly loyal to any one kid. It’s clear that he’s now considered free or home, as it were, but it’s not clear on what their driving force truly is. Is it love between Woody and Bo? Or is it an altruistic desire to help toys find their way into the lives of their very own kids? Earlier in the film, Bo took him to the top of a carnival ride. “Meh, who needs a kid’s room when you can have all of this?” she said. The camera recedes a bit and shows a stunning vista, forest and mountains in the background, the carnival in foreground. It’s a bit unclear to what she’s actually referring — the whole wide world? the carnivals? the children that visit the carnivals? That mystery somewhat persists after the film ends, but the end of the movie belongs to the farewells between Woody and all of Andy’s former toys. It’s sad not in the ways many of the Toy Story films have been sad, but rather it’s sad because it felt like finality for Woody and the gang. To see him hug Buzz with a long and tender embrace that had been 20 years in the making, it was sad to think the franchise was over, even if its logic somewhat limped across the finish line. It was barely noticeable when, as the gang all leaves Woody behind, one of the wonders aloud, “Does this mean Woody is a lost toy?” To which Buzz replies, “He’s not lost. Not anymore.” And then:
Buzz: To infinity…
Woody: …and beyond.
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