I counted myself among the many skeptics when Pixar announced the fourth sequel to Toy Story. But, man, this movie punched me in the gut and then snuggled me in a warm, fuzzy blanket.
At this point in the series, Woody is an old man. He’s getting tired, and he’s having trouble maintaining his belief that the best and most noble purpose for a toy is to make a child happy. Then Forky, a homemade toy that’s reluctant to be a child’s plaything, joins the crew and gives Woody a renewed, if not a manic, sense of purpose. It’s a film that ticks all the nostalgia boxes for longtime fans of the series. Yet it also challenges those same fans to stop living so much in the past.
My initial reaction is that I continue to find these sequels compelling because my beloved childhood characters are growing up alongside me. But when I think about it, Toy Story has always been grown up. Upon rewatching the first Toy Story a couple of years ago, I found myself moved when Buzz finally realizes that he is a toy, not an intergalactic space ranger. I totally related to Buzz’s identity crisis and subsequent depression as a recently divorced man disillusioned with his childhood faith.
Speaking of Buzz, some have complained that he’s sidelined a bit in Toy Story 4, which is fair. A lot of the familiar characters we love don’t play as large a part. But it’s all in service to really make this Woody’s movie. And it all comes together for a satisfying emotional payoff at the end.
There is a lot to appreciate about this sequel, which works more as an epilogue to the franchise (although the prospect of a Toy Story 5 isn’t out of the question given how financially successful 4 is so far). The themes of change and transition resonate intellectually and emotionally. And because it’s Pixar, it’s formally impressive as well, featuring rich, detailed animation that maintains respect for the long-running franchise’s aesthetic while improving the quality of the animation. One particularly sublime moment features Woody and Bo Peep staring at a collection of chandeliers in an antique shop, reflecting light from the falling sun and creating a gorgeous, sparkly spectacle.
So, yeah, I was skeptical. But I also have a sentimental streak. And when a movie this good can balance substance and nostalgia, I can’t help myself.