Throughout the movie, we watched Bo take charge. She gave orders, figured out solutions, and looked out for herself and others. There was still the story of lost love, but she didn’t just follow her heart. Bo proved that you can be smart, adventurous, and caring all at the same time — and these are all positive traits in a young girl.
In the lead up to Toy Story 4, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the writing for Bo Peep, a character who had been relegated to the background in previous films, now elevated to a major role in what is essentially a romantic comedy starring her and Woody.
Ingham perfectly outlines the core traits that bring out the best in this previously underwritten character, without making her feel like a totally different entity. This is still Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. She’s just grown up a bit, as have we.
While Woody and the gang had been so fearful of being lost toys, Bo found a freedom within it. There was excitement, and she shared all about the fun of the adventure. She offered this message that it’s okay to step out of the nest. It’s scary, sure, but there are so many reasons to head out and explore. You’re missing more by restricting yourself.
This post contains spoilers for Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame…obviously.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, one of the series protagonists chooses to end a long career of service to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — after fulfilling one last mission in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves, whom he thought was lost to him forever, thus saying goodbye to his old life and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership upon someone who isn’t a white male.
At the end of Toy Story 4, one of the series protagonists chooses to end a long career of service to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — after fulfilling one last mission in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves, whom he thought was lost to him forever, thus saying goodbye to his old life and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership upon someone who isn’t a white male.
Let’s break that down in case you don’t believe me.
At the end of[Avengers: Endgame/Toy Story 4], one of the series protagonists [Steve Rogers/Woody Pride] chooses to end a long career of service [being an Avenger/being Andy’s favorite toy] to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — [Iron Man and the Avengers/Buzz and the other toys] after fulfilling one last mission [saving half of all existence/saving Forky]…
…in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves [becoming lost in time in order to be with Peggy Carter/becoming a lost toy in order to be with Bo Peep], whom he thought was lost to him forever [his main duty to save the world forced them apart/his main duty to be there for Andy forced them apart]…
…thus saying goodbye to his old life [serving the needs of the world/serving the needs of a kid] and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership [the Captain America Shield/the Sheriff Woody badge] upon someone who isn’t a white male [Sam Wilson the Falcon/Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl].
Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame released in theaters within two months of each other.
Woody is up to the task at every turn, hefting enough emotional weight to reduce a grown man to weeping and equally heavy physical ones. He carries a doll several times his size, one-handed, while he zip-lines over a carnival. He lifts an RC car while suspended from Slinky.
And Woody’s not the only one.
These toys exhibit feats of strength more impressive than any Strong Man at the carnival. Which causes us to wonder: How exactly do they do it?
It turns out toys have a couple of advantages over humans and other animals.
This entire piece is an absolute blast of a read. Ward dives into the scientific explanations behind muscle fatigue and why the toys could be vessels of virtually unlimited power, similar to the Androids of DragonBall Z. This is truly nerdy content, and I’m so happy it exists.
With bodies constructed of cotton and fabric or plastic, they have their own biological constraints to deal with (constraints we can’t begin to understand. Like, how do they convert energy into movement at all?) but muscle fatigue isn’t one of them. Once a toy initiates a movement, via whatever processes they use to accomplish that, they could feasibly keep it up indefinitely.
You can read the entire article here (I highly recommend it).
After my first viewing of Toy Story 4, I confronted a lot of the movie’s themes on a mostly surface level. I followed Woody’s journey to its completion, and I reckoned with some of the more basic, obvious lessons the film imparts when it comes to realizing our purpose later in life, reexamining long-held worldviews, and letting go of the past in favor of new possibilities.
But this is Pixar, so there are of course even deeper lessons to confront and maybe even challenge. I came across a noteworthy line of criticism from film critic William Bibbiani, which takes aim at the film’s handling of our main antagonist, Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks).
Warning: spoilers for Toy Story 4 follow. If you have not seen the movie, I recommend you come back after doing so. You will be spoiled on parts of the ending, otherwise.
From Bibbs on Twitter:
Bibbiani brings up an interesting point here about ableism and identity, specifically as it relates to Gabby Gabby. You could argue that his point also concerns Forky, but he’s not a character trying to change himself so others will love him. He simply decides to accept a new role as a toy because he’s already loved for simply being himself.
No, it’s Gabby who has the more complicated turn as a character. She calls herself “defective” right out of the box because her voice box doesn’t work, hence she tries to steal Woody’s, all for the sole aim of gaining the love and affection of Harmony, a child in the antique shop. Ultimately, she succeeds in repairing her voice box after rationally pleading with Woody, who voluntarily gives it to her. But…Harmony still rejects her.
As Bibbs points out:
I jumped into the conversation, as well:
This is an intriguing perspective from Bibbs because ableism is one of the least-recognized downsides for a lot of films, usually because filmmakers don’t understand or think about these implications when telling stories about people with disabilities. By his estimation, Toy Story 4 stumbles in how it unintentionally (at best) sends a message about kids needing to change their flaws in order to be accepted and loved.
At this point in the conversation, I was unconvinced either way. I could see Bibbs’ point, which is one I’ve personally recognized in a lot of other films that handle these ideas carelessly. So I rewatched Toy Story 4 with this criticism in mind, ready to come out with a fresh perspective.
The result? Now, I see Toy Story 4 in a new light. Because it’s saying something surprisingly relevant, at least when it comes to my own disability. Let me explain.
I was born with a genetic hearing disorder. Basically, the bones in my ears have been bad at vibrating sound since I was a baby, so as I’ve gotten older, my hearing in both ears has harshly deteriorated. If I can hear you, I probably have no idea what you’re saying, or I might only catch half the words. It all sounds like a garbled mess to me, and the ringing in my ears doesn’t help.
In a lot of ways, I’m about as “defective” as Gabby Gabby. I’ve had a lot of trouble over the years connecting with people, mainly because I can’t hear them. And few will give me the time of day because they either think I’m ignoring them, not listening, or am just aloof. It’s the kind of disability where people don’t realize you have it unless you explain it. My version of getting a new voice box was getting hearing aids for the first time. They changed everything for me.
So while watching Toy Story 4 the second time, I nearly broke down as Gabby explained this to Woody. She felt like deep down, her identity was a connection based on being herself, or how she feels she’s supposed to be. I was equally blindsided by the moment when Gabby is still rejected by the person she’s yearned to be loved by for years. Without getting too personal, this has happened to me multiple times on a similar level.
Toy Story 4 isn’t a movie about changing yourself for others. It’s a movie about lending validity to what you truly want out of life. If you want to be loved, you deserve to go through whatever it takes to bring your true self to others, using any advantage you can acquire, as long as it doesn’t harm others (Gabby learns this thanks to Forky explaining Woody’s backstory to her). If you want to help people and devote your life to service, that’s OK, too. Woody learns this lesson about it being OK to change your mind about your purpose later in life, rejecting long-held fears of becoming a lost toy.
My disability isn’t a monolith. Not everyone should interpret this movie as a validation of feeling like you need to be “repaired” if you don’t want to be or think you need to be. Woody doesn’t want to change himself in order to become Bonnie’s favorite toy and thus relive the Andy days. He simply moves on to a group of people who love him for him. And losing his own voice box doesn’t make him a lesser toy in anyone’s eyes.
If anyone told me that I shouldn’t have gone through what I did in order to get hearing aids simply because people should just love me for me…well, I’d politely tell that person to mind their own business. Granted, that doesn’t have to be the same response for someone else with a different disability. But that’s the point. The beauty I saw in Toy Story 4 was in its embrace of other worldviews as plausible and worthy, and the fact that not everyone will want the same things you do in life is a hard, but useful lesson to learn.
In the scene where Gabby is eventually accepted by a lost child, they are indeed at least partly connected by the voice box working. But I see this as a wonderful moment, because for the first time, Gabby is heard for who she truly is. Sadly, not everyone can easily fix something like this. Woody can’t force Bonnie to love him like Andy did. Eventually, he stops trying because he knows she’ll be OK without him, and he’ll be OK without her.
I’ve already come across people who find my hearing aids off-putting in some way, even if they try to keep it to themselves. I can’t do anything about that. But with these little devices, I can finally be who I really am around people when I’m not typing away, alone in a room. I can go into a movie theater and stop struggling to understand what the characters are saying. That’s a gift, not me giving something up in order to make other people happy.
All that said, I’m still keeping an eye out for how other people are engaging with this film, for better or worse. A movie can’t be all things to all people, and even the best ones can have messages that need to be analyzed in how they might diversely affect different groups of people. If you had any complicated feelings about Toy Story 4 one way or other, please share in the comments below. You deserve to be heard.
The Toy Story movies have always been filled with lots of toys, and rightfully so. But every film so far has mostly played around with the character of Woody the cowboy doll. His story has progressed both positively and negatively to some extent over the years, from his fear of being replaced in the first Toy Story, his fear of being thrown away in Toy Story 2, and his fear of being forgotten in Toy Story 3.
Almost a decade later, Toy Story 4 confronts a new fear for Woody that not very many family movies even attempt to tackle: a fear of no longer having a purpose.
You can read the full review here. I’ll be adding some complementary thoughts about the movie over the next few weeks and beyond. There’s a lot to think about, good and ill. But mostly good.
At last, Pixar has revealed its first big marketing materials for Toy Story 4, which includes a brief teaser trailer, several character posters, and more recently a “teaser trailer reaction” video that pokes self-aware fun at the franchise in almost parody form.
The response so far has had a wide range, much of it to be expected. Of course, a lot of Toy Story fans are extremely worried about an unnecessary Pixar sequel turning out to be an inferior cash grab that diminishes an already perfect trilogy with what many consider the most satisfying ending possible. I’m one of those fans.
You’ve probably seen a teaser or two for Illumination Entertainment’s upcoming franchise starter, The Secret Life of Pets. The movie is essentially about what dogs, cats, and other pets are up to when their owners aren’t around.
Look, I didn’t dare make this comparison last summer when the first teaser released. That version of the movie was intriguing, as it featured a variety of animals getting caught up in humorous situations in different environments somewhat connected by an apartment building.
Then the trailer dropped, revealing the actual plot of Pets. And to be honest, it doesn’t look nearly as interesting thanks to its incessant borrowing from Pixar’s first feature film, Toy Story.
What do pets do when their owners aren’t around? This is a generic premise that movies have been using for decades, not just Toy Story. That said, a handful of movies have already tackled the pets aspect of that story (the live-action Cats vs. Dogs immediately comes to mind), but I’m not opposed to a different studio trying something new with the concept. After all, Toy Story can easily be compared to The Brave Little Toaster, and who hasn’t compared The Walking Dead to Toy Story?
But then…well, here’s the trailer:
Like Toy Story, we have a pre-established society where pets call the shots. On top of that, we have a main character named Max who is used to getting all of the attention from his owner, exactly like Woody and Andy’s relationship in Toy Story.
The inciting incident appears to be the adoption of a new pet who steals the attention away from the favorite, who is Max in this case. Then the two of them get “lost” and have to find their way home, resolving their differences along the way. I won’t be surprised if getting neutered will be spun as the new “YOU ARE A TOY!” line.
The plot also borrows a key structure from Toy Story 2, in that the remaining pets go on a mission to the city in order to find their lost friend. Gidget’s speech sounds remarkably reminiscent of Buzz’s rallying of the toys to find Woody.
Sure, there are some inventive gags in this trailer, including the poodle’s System of a Down obsession. But then you have the tired jokes where dogs get easily distracted by animals, circa Dug in Up.
And I haven’t even mentioned the visual similarities. Take Maxfor example. His colors are nearly identical to Woody, from the brown and white to the black, red, and gold.
The design of the “new” dog and Buzz Lightyear are different, but the scope is still there. This new dog is a lot bigger than Max, which is a visual representation of how Max feels around him. The same emotion was captured by Buzz’s space-cool features.
And these aren’t the only characters who are weirdly similar. Gidget, a side character who seems to be the close friend/love interest, shares a similar voice and style as Bo Peep.
In fact, all of the side characters have a reasonable counterpart when it comes to tone and basic visuals.
And that’s still not the end of it. Not only does the plot share a lot of basic similarities, even some of the scenes are ripped straight out of Toy Story:
There’s the bunny, Snowball, who is voiced by Kevin Hart. And from what I can tell, he feels like a fresh(er) character inspired from the Penguins of Madagascar. But his character arc looks a lot like Sid’s in Toy Story. He frees Max and Duke from a cage, then tells them that they belong to him. He’s also maniacal and appears to be sadistic.
Actually, the bunny could more easily be compared to Lotso from Toy Story 3. Both characters are cute on the outside, yet are slowly revealed to be monstrous villains. They both bail out the main characters when they’re in trouble (Lotso provides a new way of life for the toys, and Snowball rescues Max and Duke from Animal Control), only to thrust the heroes into an even worse scenario.
Of course, thoughtful borrowing can lead to great movies. That said, when your work is this derivative in so many ways, it calls the quality of the entire film into question.
I have no doubt that Pets will have some clever jokes and memorable characters. Despite my public disdain for the Despicable Me franchise, I have high hopes for directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, who are returning to cement Illumination Entertainment as one of the top animation companies (Eh, who am I kidding? Minions is a billion dollar franchise. They’re already at that point).
But while the movie will cater to the same people who still think the Minions are adorable, I am losing hope in Illumination’s ability to deliver a remarkable story, or anything that will last the test of time for a reason beyond genius marketing ploys.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni