Watch this as soon as you can…
“Fourth” films in a franchise rarely impress. Many franchises crash and burn in the second and third instalments, and could only dream of maintaining the original’s high standard of quality across one, two, never mind three, movies. Yet, Pixar has achieved the rare feat of creating a fourth film in a franchise that holds up to the original three. (Controversial opinion: I would rank Toy Story 4 over the original.) Whilst maintaining the heart warming humour of the original trilogy, this film explores dark themes and asks big questions, just like its predecessors. It also provides a satisfying ending to the tetralogy that I did not even know I needed.
Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the franchise, right? Upon the announcement of a fourth movie, I was very sceptical. It felt like a cash grab. It felt like Pixar were pushing their luck. No franchise could have a golden run of four absolutely brilliant movies; it is impressive enough that they made it to three. It felt like they were playing with fire by even thinking of making a fourth movie. Yet, Cooley’s sequel extends the franchise beyond this “perfect” ending, and offers an equally satisfying one in its place. Whilst the third film brought an end to the Andy and Woody story, the fourth one brings an end to Woody’s story. With the help of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody (Tom Hanks, duh) learns the lesson that one cannot rely upon others for a purpose in life. In the first three films, he was utterly devoted to Andy. Life without him was inconceivable. Without him, he seeks a new purpose in Bonnie, which does not go to plan as he soon discovers he is her least favourite toy. He then looks for a purpose in helping Forky, but the film wraps up Forky’s similar crisis of purpose (he is the embodiment of self-destruction) in a satisfying way. Forky finds a purpose no longer needs Woody, so what now? Bo teaches Woody to stop looking to others for fulfilment in life. For anyone who has been in an unhealthy, one-sided relationship or friendship, or one who depends on social media approval, Woody’s growth is inspiring.
The only major flaw I find in this instalment is the resolution to Gabby Gabby’s arc. The twist that she is a misunderstood, good person rather than a sinister organ harvester is a wholesome and refreshing one. Yet, she does not get the resolution she deserves. Like Woody, she also rests her entire sense of worth and purpose on “having” and being able to please a kid. Unfortunately, unlike Woody, she does not grow out of this mindset. She ends the film hoping another child will embrace her. Perhaps the film was trying to suggest both routes to happiness- one self-centred, one altruistic- are equal and both worthwhile. It feels wrong that Woody is the one to encourage Gabby Gabby to do this, though. It feels a bit contradictory.
However, this is a minor complaint. Whilst exploring bleak, existential questions about where to find purpose, or whether life is even worth living, this film maintains the high quality of comedy and stunning animation Pixar are famous for. Like previous instalments, this film ends by putting its audience through the emotional wringer. The ending of Toy Story 4 was marketed as being able to make Tom Hanks cry during recording. You will need tissues too. There is so much to love about this film!
Fourth films are not allowed to be so thought-provoking and moving. It just does not happen in the world of Hollywood. Yet again, Pixar have re-written the rules.