When Toy Story 4 was announced, and as more images and plot details began to emerge, there was really only one question from moviegoers: Why?
Pixar’s flagship trilogy ended on the most emotionally resonant note possible with Toy Story 3, so naturally a continuation of the story of Andy’s (now Bonnie’s) childhood playthings seemed unnecessary, even unwanted. We should really stop doubting Pixar at this point; Toy Story 4 is miraculously not just another great animated toy adventure, but a sort of extended conclusion to the story that so many people have grown up with.
If Toy Story 3 was an ending, then this sequel serves as an epilogue. We watched Andy grow up and move on with his life, but what about Woody? The sheriff seems content with his new life with his new kid, Bonnie, but now that some time has passed, Woody finds himself struggling with what his purpose is. He’s no longer the man in charge of the rest of the toys, and Bonnie doesn’t play with him to the extent that Andy did. In fact, it’s been three weeks since he was last played with.
During her kindergarten orientation, Bonnie builds herself a new friend: Forky (Tony Hale). This forces Woody into a parental kind of role, both to Bonnie and Forky, who ends up being a handful. When Forky flies out the window while on a road trip, Woody jumps out right behind him, determined to bring him back to Bonnie. But Forky doesn’t want to be with Bonnie. In fact, he doesn’t even want to be a toy.
Toy Story 4 justifies its existence by contemplating exactly what it means to exist in the first place. Forky considers himself trash, not a toy, and is constantly trying to throw himself back into the trash can. He’s literally made out of trash (a spork, a popsicle stick, glued-on googly eyes, and a pipe cleaner to be exact), and believes that he belongs there – perhaps he shouldn’t even exist at all. Likewise, Woody is also going through an existential crisis.
Woody’s never truly moved on from Andy (he accidentally calls Bonnie by his name at one point), and with his leadership role no longer relevant in the new home, he’s having a hard time figuring out what his reason for being there is. As Forky puts it, the cowboy feels useless, sitting around in a closet for weeks on end. When the group arrives at a traveling carnival, which just so happens to be where his long lost friend Bo Peep (Annie Potts) has been living, Woody is introduced to a grand world of possibility, and purpose beyond simply belonging to one kid.
This isn’t anything especially new for the series – Toy Story 2 pulls Woody towards being in a museum, and Toy Story 3 has him contemplating life at a daycare. But in both of those, he still had Andy and his dedication to him. In this film, Woody chases after Forky, ignoring the consequences of doing so, because it’s all he has. Bonnie needs Forky, but unlike Andy, she doesn’t need Woody as much he needs her. So the temptation to move on and live a different life is much stronger than before, and perhaps even for the best.
These kind of questions are what help make Toy Story 4 just as great as a film as any of its predecessors. What is a toy’s purpose? Can it only be belonging to a child? What’s left for a toy after their owner has grown up? What kind of life do lost toys have? And what exactly qualifies something as a toy? Why do they exist at all? It’s pretty contemplative stuff under the fluff of another exciting and funny toy adventure, and Pixar makes sure to put in plenty of their signature heartbreaking/heartwarming moments throughout.
The animation is incredible (does that even need to be said at this point?) the humor is as good as it’s ever been, and the story is an emotionally gripping one. It’s another Toy Story movie, one that brings the series to (another) teary-eyed end. Toy Story 3 was a finale for Andy and his toys, but Toy Story 4 is the conclusion to Woody’s individual story. In fact, almost all of the other toys are barely in the film – the focus stays on Woody, more so than it ever has before. Maybe we didn’t need this final addition to the franchise, but it certainly earns its place, and you’ll be glad we have it anyway. It’s as good of an ending as it gets.
Toy Story 4 justifies its existence by acting as an emotionally resonant epilogue to the series’ perfect ending, and brings plenty of laughter and heartfelt moments throughout.