Both this and Toy Story 3 surprised me I guess, I don’t really remember when I watched the first two — definitely I was young and they were broadcast with ad breaks — but they felt epic, big adventure movies in their own right, despite being so small looking back. They left their mark, but never sunk in the way they might if I saw them properly.
Both stick with me as road movies in their own way, about redemption and returning home, journeying physically and spiritually in order to come better to terms with one’s place in the world. But like, as a toy, which gives them a real weird conceptual feel. And then like 3 and 4 radically depart from that, dedicating most of their time to drilling down into real specific environments.
I mean, the third instalment used the shift in locale to actually drill down into the characters’ psychology, and I guess also throw some lowkey shade at Pixar’s management. What’s the purpose of the carnival and adjacent antiques store of this film, other than to just provide a locale for the shenanigans that happen?
I guess abandonment is a big theme, loss of purpose? The uncared for antique toys being driven wild by the fact that they’re no longer able to bring joy to children whose tastes have moved beyond them, while outside we see a community that finds freedom in the disposability of their existence.
I guess it’s about finding your own definition, if the carnival represents limitless freedom — replete with the danger inherent — is the antique store a comfortable place to live an unexamined life? When the proprietor comments that nobody ever comes in for the toys anyway, it seems clear: here’s a place for dreams to be postponed indefinitely.
Everyone’s allowed a dream though, even Christina Hendricks’ nominal villain is just motivated by wanting to be whole again. (Being said, I just watched all of Mad Men’s final season over like three days and wow.) Even Forky, who is introduced early and the plot focus for all of ten minutes before he takes a backseat to the rest of the action, pretty much exists raise questions of purpose and meaning.
Okay, so Forky is good and charming and funny and stays essential to the plot only as long as it takes to express all the ideas that he represents. Other featured new characters, Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom, and Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele as plush handholding cuties Ducky & Bunny are great additions, especially given the lack of focus to most of the rest of the previous core cast.
Which mostly happens to make room for the return of Annie Potts’ Bo-Peep, here reinvented as a hard bitten action-girl dedicated to living life her way. Sure, why not? I don’t really remember her character before, not even sure she really had one. It’s fine I guess, just typical in a way that is faintly disappointing but which I can’t bring myself to hate.
She was always an accessory to Woody, and this film is very much his story, we all love Buzz but he’s barely here at all. Her reinvention is just another way to signal to Woody that he’s not the centre of the world like he thought he was, and that folks do just fine outside of him. In his previous, more insecure days, this would present some sorta problem but here we see the mature relationship of folks who have almost just about figured themselves out.
Age comes up a lot. A lot of the cast are now regarded as ‘vintage’ (even if the wear doesn’t show because merchandising). They all sound older, and Pixar, having announced yet again that they’re holding back with the sequels, seems to have its mind on retirement. What does it look like to be done.
I didn’t cry at the end of this film, it’s not setting itself up as consciously to be a tearjerker like the end of the trilogy proper. But that’s because it’s not about ending in the way that that film was. It’s about decline, what happens when things did end, and you’ve gotta decide what the rest of your life is going to look like.
Woody gets to make that choice here, and it happens happily and peacefully. In this universe toys don’t die. So we’re free to imagine to imagine all the joy that is to come. In real life everyone who produced this movie is only going to get older, the folks who were around for the original already are.
There’s more to come I’d expect. But standing atop the carousel, staring out at the lights, I’m glad there exists a future with the possibility of peace.
But also fuck that, I’ll be worked ’til I die for sure.
Toy Story 4 is currently screening in UK cinemas.
Image courtesy of Pixar