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What ‘Toy Story 4’ Revealed To Me About My Own Disability

toy story 4

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.

toy story 4

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.


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My ‘Toy Story 4’ Review

Published on Cinemaholics:

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.


Pixar’s ‘Toy Story 4’ Trailer Strategy is Out of the Box

toy story 4

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.

Go on…Pixar’s ‘Toy Story 4’ Trailer Strategy is Out of the Box

‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Is Weirdly Identical to ‘Toy Story’

secret life of pets toy story

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.

Sound familiar?

Look, I didn’t dare make this comparison last summer when the first teaser releasedThat 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 Max for example. His colors are nearly identical to Woody, from the brown and white to the black, red, and gold.

toy story secret life of pets

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.

toy story secret life of pets

In fact, all of the side characters have a reasonable counterpart when it comes to tone and basic visuals.

toy story secret life of pets

toy story secret life of pets

toy story secret life of pets

toy story secret life of pets

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:

toy story secret life of pets

secret life of pets 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

Bo Peep Is Set to Return in ‘Toy Story 4’ For a Romance with Woody

bo peep toy story woody

Today at the D23 expo in Anaheim, John Lasseter (Disney CCO) broke the news to CNBC what will be going down for Pixar’s next film in the Toy Story franchise.

Lasseter: It’s a love story with Woody and – and this is news – Bo Peep… At Pixar and at Disney, we only make sequels if we come up with a story that’s as good or better than the original. That’s our rule. We don’t do things just to print money.

Guys, I’m stoked. As many of you are aware, I’ve speculated about Bo Peep’s destiny a lot in the past, so it’s great to hear that Pixar is opening the pages to that story. And it will be even better if Annie Potts reprises her role as the porcelain lamp.

John Lasseter and Josh Cooley (story artist for Inside Out) will be helming Toy Story 4, which is being written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack.

Something bears repeating, by the way. The story idea for Toy Story 4 came directly from John Lasseter, Andrew  Stanton, Pete Docter, and Lee Unkrich. This isn’t B team. I know you might be a little wary about Pixar messing with what is pretty much a perfect trilogy, but it’s not like they’re handing the reigns to someone over in Disney Toon studios or whatever it’s called these days.

Toy Story 4 is set to release sometime in June, 2017.

 

The True Identity of Andy’s Mom In ‘Toy Story’ May Blow Your Mind

Andy's Mom

It all started with a hat.

Several months ago, one of my anonymous Pixar Theory Interns (that’s a thing on a resume) came to me with a crazy proposition: Andy’s mom is Emily, Jessie’s previous owner.

I laughed. I then agreed.

For some time, I compiled all of the evidence and found some incredible support for this theory. For one thing, take a close look at Andy’s cowboy hat he frequently wears in the movies:

Andy's Hat

Here’s another close look:

Andy's Hat

As you can see, Andy’s hat is noticeably different from Woody’s. Why is this? Why wouldn’t Andy want to wear a hat that closely resembles the one worn by his favorite toy?

It’s no secret that Andy has a close connection with Woody. In Toy Story 2, his mom (who we only know as Ms. Davis) mentions that Woody is an old family toy.

Remember that Woody doesn’t even recall that he is a collector’s item – a toy made in the 1950s. This is a deviation from other toys who know full well where they come from. It’s possible that Woody doesn’t know because he’s been in Andy’s family for a long time, possibly belonging to his father.

But we need more evidence. Take a close look at Jessie’s hat:

Andy's Hat

Ah, this hat looks familiar. It’s the same red hat with white lace that Andy wears. The only difference is that Jessie’s hat has a white lace around the center. But look at Andy’s hat again.

Andy's Hat

There’s a faded mark where the white lace should be. Why do you think that is? And what does Jessie have to do with this?

(Bob Saget’s voice) Kids, you remember the story of Jessie. Her owner Emily grew up with her, much the same way as Andy. She was incredibly loved, but Emily eventually gave her away when she grew older. Jessie ended up in storage for a long time, as confirmed by her in the movie when she has a literal panic attack over having to go back.

Now, take a close look at what’s on this bed in Emily’s room:

Andy's Hat

That is a hat that looks extremely similar to, you guessed it, Andy’s. The room is also pretty old-fashioned, leaving room for this to take place years before Andy was born.

In fact, you can clearly tell that this isn’t modern day with shots like these:

Andy's Hat

The only difference between the hat that Emily wears throughout this sequence and Andy’s hat is an extra white lace around the center, which is visibly missing from Andy’s hat. Otherwise, the hats are identical.

Also, in the donation box that Emily puts Jessie in, we don’t see the hat. We do see other remnants of her connection with Jessie, but the hat is noticeably absent. The box isn’t even big enough to hold it. So Emily held onto that hat…and maybe passed it on to her child, who would grow to also love a cowboy doll.

We never get a closeup of Emily’s face, but we do see that she has light, auburn hair as a teenager. Also, it is very short.

Compared to:

500full

The middle picture is closest to the strawberry blonde color we see when Emily is young. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that her hair lightened as she aged, which is clearly the case in these photos (or she could have dyed it).

Here’s what we know for sure:

We don’t know the first name of Andy’s mom. We don’t know Emily’s last name. We know that Andy’s hat and Emily’s hat are the same. We know that Emily is old enough to be Andy’s mom. We definitely know that Pixar is perfectly capable of sneaking this in without being overt about it.

You may be wondering how the two characters could be the same if Emily was willing to give Jessie up so easily, while Andy was far more hesitant.

Actually, the scenarios are quite similar. Andy forgot about Woody as he grew up too, despite their strong connection. Andy even gave Woody away, albeit in a different manner than Emily.

In the end, it makes perfect sense that these two concurrent stories are so similar because they’re related by blood. It’s also a freak of destiny that Jessie would one day belong to her owner’s son, though we never get to see the mom’s reaction to seeing Jessie again.

She was probably indifferent and believed it to be a different version of the same toy. How would you respond if you saw your child with a toy that looked like one that you had as a kid? Your first assumption probably wouldn’t be that they’re the exact same toy.

What do you think? Do you believe that the two characters are the same and that Andy’s mom/Emily found redemption through the love her son had for the toy she left behind? Or, do you hate fun, love, and destiny? Let me know.


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All images courtesy of Disney/Pixar

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