My ‘Toy Story 4’ Thoughts

I’ve been getting requests to share my thoughts on Toy Story 4, especially now that I’ve seen it twice, so I figured I’d take the time to sit down and write them all out as best as I could while it’s still fresh in my mind.  It’s kind of hard to to figure out how to collect everything into a cohesive post – not because my impressions were negative, but because I have so many feelings! – so this is going to be a long one.  Here goes…

First, the marathon we went to on the 20th was a lot of fun.  It was really special to watch all the films on the big screen again – it brought back memories of the first time seeing them, especially Toy Story 3.  I enjoyed reliving favorite scenes in the theater, like I had back in 2010.  And I think the best part was sharing that with my son.  He’s 12 now, and was a tiny toddler when Toy Story 3 came out, so it was priceless seeing his face light up as he watched the first two on screen for the first time (after countless viewings on TV, he knows them well), and as he appreciated the third without his little-kid fears of the monkey.  We left with lanyards, Woody pins, and character cards – as well as a popcorn tin my husband couldn’t pass up.

Now on to Toy Story 4.  I’m not even attempting to do any sort of spoiler-free review; I don’t want to place that limitation on myself, so I’m not going to.  I’d rather discuss it as I’ve seen it.  As I’ve said before, I am sick and tired of the word “spoiler” thanks to this movie, and all its related social media nonsense.  So I’ll just issue this warning:

***** If you haven’t seen Toy Story 4 yet, DO NOT read any further. *****  

The first time I watched Toy Story 4, I was in a constant state of anxiety.  Yeah, I knew the general outline of the plot from the books, but kids’ books give you a bare-bones retelling of the story.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect, or how the scenes would play out.  And I found it to be rather fast-paced as well – maybe my nerves were to blame, but I felt like I missed things.  So we ended up going back to see it a second time two days later, just so I could take everything in a little better, without the sense of panic.  And what a difference that made!  I was better able to process everything – even though I still haven’t found many Easter eggs yet.  That’ll come when it’s out on DVD.

Before I delve into my thoughts, I’d just like to point out that everything I write is going to be from MY perspective.  It comes from what I thought about the movie, and is influenced by what matters most to me.  I’m not a film critic, and have no ambitions to be.  I’m just a fan who values the things that I value, for my own personal reasons.  My choice in favorite characters and scenarios might not be what everyone else is most enamored with right now, but it’s mine, and I own it.

I’ll start by saying that I loved that Jessie had the first spoken lines in the movie!  It was wonderful to jump right in to the gang working together, back in the old days, to rescue RC.  The animation in the flashback scenes – with the rain, and the nighttime lighting – was just gorgeous, too.  Maybe it’s because I knew it was coming, maybe it’s because I don’t relate to Woody and Bo’s relationship the same way that I do Buzz and Jessie’s, but I didn’t cry during the goodbye scene under the car.  I thought it was very well done, and I definitely felt bad for Woody, but it didn’t affect me in the same way as as it has some others.  I did tear up, however, when the clouds appeared in the sky, and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” started to play.  That’s when it really hit me that here we were again, with the toys I love so much, back in their world.

In Bonnie’s room, in the present day, I still felt bad for Woody.  And I am not a fan of Dolly – she was a rude bossypants.  I realize why it was necessary for her to be like that – if she was gracious, and accommodating, Woody would at least still have his leadership role to make him feel like he was needed, even if he wasn’t the favorite toy.  Dolly took away the last thing he felt he could do to be useful.  But it was fantastic how much Buzz cared about Woody’s plight – and how he proved himself to be such a thoughtful friend throughout the entire film, like when he offered to babysit Forky.  Jessie, too, being so quick to give back his badge – you could see how concerned both she and Buzz were for their friend.

I also felt awful seeing Bonnie have a hard time adjusting to kindergarten.  Haven’t we all been there, feeling like we don’t belong?  Poor kid, you just want to reach into the screen and give her a hug.  But then along came Forky.  Oh, Forky, how we love you and your innocence!  The montage where Woody was trying to keep him from the trash was so funny!  And I’ve had “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” in my head for days.  The scene where Woody and Forky were walking along and talking was sweet, too, with their heartfelt conversation – after we laughed at Woody’s frustration over Forky behaving totally like an uncooperative kid, of course.  “Dad Woody” at his finest.  But as Forky came into his own, and started to grasp and embrace what it means to be a toy, he became an even more lovable character, and one I think is a welcome addition to Bonnie’s gang.

I wasn’t sure what I thought about the antique store characters the first time I saw the movie, but I did warm up to Gabby Gabby the second time I watched it.  Same goes for Ducky and Bunny, although I did like Duke Caboom from the start.  It’s always an adjustment for me to get used to the new toys, especially when I have such a strong connection with the classic characters – it’s been like that even with the specials and shorts, to a degree.  At first I was taken aback by how large a role they had in the story (I get it now, more on that below).  And I do appreciate the message provided by Gabby Gabby, that you never know what a person’s past might be that makes them act a certain way, and that there’s always another chance.  (Second Chance Antiques, anyone?)   I think it was refreshing to not have a true villain for a change, and to have her be redeemed by love in the end.  

Woody and Bo’s relationship is a little more challenging for me to put my finger on, just because they’ve never been as much of a focus for me, with her being gone for so long.  Their reunion on the playground was really cute, and it was fun watching their romance play out on screen.  I was never one to protest Bo’s new look and outlook – I realized from the start why it was necessary, and thought it was fitting.  I was a little concerned, in some of the scenes, that she could be pretty harsh with Woody – however, I chalk that up to her protecting herself from getting hurt again, with a knowledge that, due to his loyalty, he was going to go home to his kid.  (Possibly a little resentment for him choosing Andy over her in the past, too – an excellent observation made by my friend.)  And while Giggle was rather critical in some of the things she said about Woody as well, I get that she served as an outward expression of the feelings Bo was grappling with internally.  I also got a sense that maybe Bo wasn’t really so certain that she didn’t ever want to belong to a kid again – she was very excited to learn that Woody now had a little girl; she was clearly affected when he was talking about Molly; and she was a little too quick to reply that she would absolutely never be with a kid again, when he asked.  Maybe this was put in to throw people off, to make the audience think that there was a chance she might come home to Bonnie’s with him.  Maybe it was just my interpretation.  Or maybe it lays a foundation for something in the future?  Probably not, but who knows.  As a side note, I really liked Billy, Goat, and Gruff.

Of course, I was happiest whenever the classic toys were together at the RV, because the way they play off of each other is what I enjoy most.  To me, it seemed like Buzz and Jessie were taking on a bit of Woody’s parental role when they were debating whether they’d chosen the right utensil to slip into Bonnie’s hand.  And I have to talk about Jessie and the tire.  I LOVED her leadership in the RV, both in taking the initiative to prevent the family from driving away, and then later on, when she was the one who came up with the idea for mimicking the GPS.  I thought it was fantastic how that set things up to make her worthy of following in Woody’s footsteps later.  I don’t know what was with Buttercup wanting Bonnie’s dad to go to jail, but that running gag was hilarious.  And Bonnie’s dad’s frustration over the tire, and her mom wanting to get Bonnie away from the RV because he’s going to “use some words” – there was so much real-life truth in that moment, that made it really funny.  Also the GPS bit at the end, and all the “malfunctions” – including Forky jumping on the lock to keep the door closed – everything was so great.  From now on, whenever I pass an RV on the highway, I’ll undoubtedly crack a smile.

Even though the ending was every bit as emotional as Tom Hanks and Tim Allen teased, I loved that scene so very much.  I’ve known Woody was leaving with Bo for a while now, so I was at peace with it going into the movie.  To me, the most important thing was that the couples were intact when everything was said and done, so even though it was bittersweet to see Woody leave the gang, I’m glad that he and Bo finally got to be together.  But while Woody and Bo’s moment was sweet, it wasn’t Woody and Bo’s interactions that touched me the most.  It was those he shared with the others.  Buzz’s “Bonnie will be okay” line showed so much true friendship and understanding – an understanding I’d like to think stems from him being able to empathize with how Woody felt, based on his own relationship with Jessie.   I loved, too how he brought the rest of the toys to say goodbye to Woody – I wonder if he saw how things were likely to turn out, and that’s why he had them come onto the RV’s roof in the first place.  I’m so glad he did, because getting to see the original gang all back in one place – with Bo – was one of my favorite things in the entire film.  The worst I cried, out of both showings, was when Jessie and Bo hugged.  Sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln, that got to me.  I have always wanted to believe that Jessie and Bo had been good friends when they lived at Andy’s, and this confirmed it.  I made an involuntary gaspy-squeaky sound, then started sobbing, and I think scared my son.  When I watched it a second time, and the hug between the girls wasn’t a surprise, the nuances of Jessie’s exchange with Woody affected me more.  Not just him passing the torch, so to speak, by giving her his sheriff’s badge, but the tiny gasp she made and the look on her face when she realized what that gift meant – so much was expressed there, wordlessly.  It was notable to me that while Andy’s former toys all gathered around him, Bonnie’s toys hung back.  And when Woody and Buzz hugged goodbye, it was so powerful.  If you notice, that shot is framed with Bo looking on in the background behind Woody, and Jessie doing the same behind Buzz, which made it even more impactful to me.   It was a beautiful way to wrap things up for Woody, and the epilogue showed things were going well for everyone – Jessie still being the favorite, going to school with Bonnie and mirroring Woody’s scene introducing Forky, was just the icing on the cake.

Now that the movie is out, I’m going to step back for a while – I’m not going away, just going to be easier on myself, and take a break from feeling the need to stay on top of everything, every day.  I’m also going to ignore other people’s comments and opinions on the movie – besides those of my friends – because really, all that matters to me is how I feel about it, and I don’t want my own happiness to be poisoned by someone else’s negativity.  Despite the excellent ratings for the film overall, I’ve seen enough petty griping online already.  Like claims that Buzz’s “inner voice” dumbs him down – can’t people accept that was a gag for humor?  The whole “1+1=1” bit from Toy Story of Terror didn’t exactly make him look like a genius, either – but it’s just a joke.  He still had moments of clarity, like when he was concerned for Woody’s plight in Bonnie’s room, or during the scenes toward the end involving their goodbye.  The most pivotal scene had nothing to do with him pressing his buttons, it was all him – and I adore him for being such a genuinely compassionate and caring guy.

Then there’s the apparent lack of scenes involving the original toys.  I’ll readily admit this was my greatest concern, too, before seeing it.  But now that I have, I understand why things are the way they are.  And I’m okay with it.  This is Woody’s story.  Toy Story 3 – which was more of an ensemble cast – dealt with issues that were affecting all of Andy’s toys in one way or another.  But in Toy Story 4, Woody is the only one struggling to adjust to life in Bonnie’s room.  And his old friends couldn’t help him work through that – it’s clear that Buzz and Jessie have already tried, and failed – so he had to learn from the life experiences of other toys, like Bo and Gabby Gabby.  If you really pay attention to the scenes, you’ll realize that even Buzz barely has more screentime than Jessie; and out of the toys left behind at the RV, Jessie has the largest role,  so really, I can’t complain.  What she was given – considering her significance to the story overall – was definitely quality.  A quote from Director Josh Cooley, in the special Toy Story collector’s edition of Entertainment Weekly, had this to say about Jessie:

“In Toy Story 2, Jessie’s role was to support Woody and show him a different perspective on the world, so we did the exact same thing here.  There are way more characters, but we made sure that Jessie had an evolution that supported Woody as well.  She’s very much present.”

Back when we had only seen the first full trailer, and knew hardly anything of the plot, certain folks ridiculed my concerns by claiming that Jessie was insignificant to Woody’s character development in Toy Story 4, and predicted she was purposely going to be excluded from the film because of it.  How wrong they were!  It makes me so happy that the filmmakers did make a conscious effort for her to be relevant to Woody’s arc, and to have it in writing that that was their intention.  I’m so very proud of my favorite cowgirl turned sheriff!

My only disappointment in the movie – and this is strictly from the perspective of a hopelessly sappy fangirl – was that we didn’t get to see more of Buzz and Jessie interacting.  But, again, I understand that they already had their romantic arc in Toy Story 3, and Toy Story 4 was Woody and Bo’s turn.  Any moments like that might have detracted from Woody and Bo’s story (Pixar has to be aware how popular Buzz and Jessie are together, and how much the fandom latches onto every sweet moment they get); and besides, all the scenes they did share were rather stressful ones, not exactly lighthearted scenarios appropriate for flirting or snuggling.  That being said, even though there wasn’t the level of “fluff” I might have hoped for, I did notice they weren’t forgotten completely as a couple.  He was comforting her in the closet during her panic attack.  They were always next to each other, practically every time they were both on screen.  When they went into toy mode in the RV, twice she flopped down with her head on his shoulder, and one of those times his arm was around her in the same pose.  He took her hand to help her down from the RV onto the awning, when it was time for Woody to leave.  And in the last shot, as they’re driving away, her hand is resting on his shoulder for comfort.  I’m always appreciative of anything I can get with these two!  My hope now is that the Forky Asks A Question shorts – which, from the initial synopsis, seem to be set in Bonnie’s room – will bring some attention back to Buzz and Jessie, and that we’ll get to see them be adorable again, like in Toy Story 3, and the fangirl dream-come-true that was Toy Story of Terror.

But it’s because of all the conflicting opinions that always arise from a new movie that I’m going to keep a safe distance:  I’m steering clear of fandom drama, for the most part, this time around.  I don’t have any desire to get sucked into “shipper” wars, as other people skew what happened in the movie to make it into what they wanted it to be, or deal with people who hate Jessie for getting Woody’s badge, or who want to pit Woody and Bo against Jessie and Buzz over who’s the “better” pair.  It’s so not worth the stress!  Instead, I’m going to continue with my fanfiction, which is my happy escape with these characters, and also pursue some other creative projects.  And I’m going to go to Disneyland in a few months, to finally see Jessie’s Critter Carousel at Pixar Pier.  That’s my focus, for the time being, while we wait for news on the Disney+ shorts that are coming in November.

I’ll most likely end up in the theater several more times during the summer months, too, because nothing beats seeing your favorite characters on the big screen, especially when there are so many more details I know I’ve missed.  And I also want Toy Story 4 to do well, to prove the haters wrong, and to see it shine for the sakes of all the people who poured their time and talents and hearts into it for the past five years.  So, if you can, go see it again!  Show how “unwanted” this movie actually was.  Enjoy the toys’ time left in the spotlight this time around.  Who knows if we’ll ever get movie-level attention again – I hope we do, but it’s hard to say, so we’ve got to appreciate this in the moment.  It helps to know that we have shorts to look forward to soon, but I just wish we could stay in the toys’ world forever.  For me, there can never be enough Toy Story.

Images © Disney/Pixar.