Toy Story 4 (2019) Review
If the word ‘toy’ got you thinking of GIJOEs and Barbies and joyous moments of childlike glee – you gotta stop. I’m not there yet, and to get to Toy Story 4 there’s a whole lot you need to know – starting with the definition of a toy. (A Google search for “definition of toy” and 0.71 seconds – about 6,08,00,00,000 later -, the results.)
plural noun: toys
- an object for a child to play with, typically a model or miniature replica of something.
Ahhh – Wait – what? Why is there a “child” in that definition? Can’t an adult play with toys? Does a Toy cease to be a Toy when adults play with them? Why am I pretending to be philosophical about a damn search result?
Because – Toy Story is a movie that’s great on the surface, even greater underneath – and gets increasingly brilliant as you dig deeper. Which is why – we gotta start at the beginning – a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, its –
1995 – Toy Story One is out.
(The first entirely computer-animated feature-length film of all time.)
There are children lining up, adults in tow – everyone’s curious about it. Steve Jobs has acquired Lucas Films’ computer animation department, renamed it Pixar, and BOOM! – fast forward to 2017, there’s an Apple Watch – it’s got the Toy Story watch face, the only other character group ever put on an Apple Watch face, after Mickey and Minnie Mouse… – And I bet you’re wondering WHAT THE HECK I’M RAMBLING ON ABOUT?!
So – let me take a take a deep breath, calm down, and tell you why Toy Story is so damn important to us.
TOYS AS A MANIFESTATION OF OUR IMAGINATION
A child that creates a random spaceship out of Lego learns to imagine what it must be like in space. A toy not having life – is a concept most kids grasp easily, and yet the idea of giving them life – virtually breathing it into them – is something almost all non-millennials who’ve played with toys as kids can relate with.
When the first Toy Story, introduced us to the idea of Woody (Tom Hanks), they did something no one had ever tried to do before – bridge the cinematic chasm between kids and adults. They did so by evoking nostalgia, but more importantly, by using philosophy and immensely powerful metaphors to layer its child-friendly plotline. Kind of like when my mom convinced me cancer could be cured if I cleaned my room.
Woody (Tom Hanks) starts off as a toy whose purpose is to be Andy’s favourite toy – and his purpose made him feel secure and happy. As he turns older (yes, toys don’t age but metaphors do), he begins to realise that there’s a mid-life crisis waiting to happen in the form of a certain Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) – the newest toy on the block. Simple plot, but the movie asks audience something else entirely: does a toy’s value and purpose diminish in the face of newer competition? Do we ponder on how the replacement of our most prized possessions are often just an upgrade away?
And thus, the first Toy Story movie enthralled audiences across age groups – paraphrasing with poignant simplicity life’s first real challenge, i.e. the idea of changing value. All the while portraying the maturing sensibilities of a growing human kid. And that promptly brings us to –
1999 – Toy Story 2 releases, with much aplomb.
(And it has an impossible first movie to keep up to. And they pull it off. Again.)
Fast forward 4 years. The Buzz behind Toy Story is developing into a cult status (see what I did there?). “To Infinity and Beyond” is added to the Oxford Dictionary. School kids actually start to give a damn about what a “Lightyear” is. And the phrase “fully computer animated movie” isn’t a novelty anymore. Toy Story is everywhere!
Woody and Buzz are best friends now. Andy is going to Summer Camp. And while the first movie was about an old toy being replaced, the second one introduced the idea of an old toy getting “shelved” for the first time. This analogy plays brilliantly into this movie’s underlying theme – of purpose, which brings me to my word of the day (yes, my fellow monks have notified me that I sound like a first-grade teacher) –
- the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
Why do we exist? How do we get to know why we do? What if we’ve been lied to our whole lives? What if we have a family we didn’t know existed, competing with those you’ve chosen to call family? And above all – when we all fall asleep, where do we go? (What? That’s a line from a Billie Eilish song? Sh*t…)
But people eventually grow out of the toys-phase, and when they do, they attempt to give their toys what humans have attempted for themselves forever….
… Yup! They carefully pack them away (like a mummy in a Sarcophagus) on a shelf – out of reach of pesky cousins at family get-togethers and cleanliness-obsessed moms on the weekend. And BAM! There’s an explosion of new questions: does the value of our life depend on our primitive existence – where we’re only concerned with basic survival, or does old age stand testament to the knowledge and experiences we’ve gained, somehow making our existence less mundane? Do we stand to redefine our purpose when we know we’re past our prime, as dusty relics forgotten behind piles of books on shelves or in the unholy cracks between the sofa and the backrest? (I’ve found more toys hidden those crevices than in a Hamley’s store on Christmas eve.)
And this one that talks about the fear of aging, and the purpose behind it. It talks about the anomalous way kids choose their favourite toys, and the childlike ignorance that accompanies these innocent choices. Most importantly, it presented us with the dichotomy that while we are what we are, were equally as much as we choose to be.. I guess the children glazed over most of it, but I bet the adults wiped a tear, as their kids annoyingly tugged on their hands hoping they’d get the latest toy introduced in this movie. The irony of a capitalistic result of a movie that’s almost anti-capitalist was far from lost on me.
But we’re not done yet – cause we had to wait 11 years for the next one. That’s about errr… 334 birthing cycles of a Virginia Opossum, about 16-20 babies each time. So yeah, a lot of opossum kids later.
2010 – Toy Story 3 releases after 11 years.
(It’s 2010 now. There’s a lot more baby opossums now. And the world’s been reintroduced to fascism and corruption while Pixar and Disney have finally figured out how to animate fur.)
A bit dramatic, I know – but that’s when the 3rdmovie came out. Woody and Buzz now had new toys to keep them company and a fresh new story. But what in the world is left to talk about when you’re done discussing life and old age?
- (in some religions) life after death.
When you’re done you suddenly realise that there’s more to it. There always has been. You’ve been thinking it’s a blank nothingness after you’re done living – a toy in an attic locked away forever – but you never really considered the alternative explanation because it just sounded too impossible.
Then WHAM! without warning – you realise that you’re not the only world out there. There’s a universe, and other toy systems, and a method to the madness of little children roughing up the toys. And it’s affectionately called a “Day Care” – and as if to mock us, there’s a “cute” evil boss bear, who’s got a remarkably similar origin story to the biblical devil (i.e. jealous of being replaced by a better species, and resigned to make others see the world as negatively as he does).
But what’s beautifully ingenious about it all is the way they hide the meaningful parts in plain sight of anyone who’s really looking out for it. Toy Story 3 really hit the ball out of the park with this one – making a children’s movie almost seem like a philosophical dialogue on life after death. Does karma get a chance to reward our good deeds? Do the evil one’s realise their folly when they’re faced with literal annihilation in Hell? Are we really the righteous or chosen ones – picked out from a pile of trash by a “Claw”, perfectly mimicking the way kids pick toys at a gaming parlour? It also interestingly shows us why our greatest fears are not in the graveyards or the haunted mansions of our imagination, but rather in the most harmless things – like an innocent baby or a clown gone rogue.
Long story short (yeah, I’m actually pretending to count the words), this movie was again so much more than what it started out as. It’s exhilarating on the surface, exhausting underneath and most importantly – incredibly relatable to people of all ages.
Which means we finally arrive at the pièce de résistance… the actual spoiler-free review of Toy Story 4 – 24 years after the 1stmovie release and about 1500 words after this review started, and the year is –
2019 – Toy Story 4.
(At last – the saga comes to an end. And what a glorious end it is.)
Toy Story 4 is an artillery barrage of nostalgia that summarizes the last 3 movies, while consciously differentiating from the rest, by finally opposing the one primary purpose the toys have always had – making the kid they belong to happy.
Before understanding what makes this film great, I first need to tell you why I’ve spent so much time talking about the other 3. You see Toy Story is, for me, not just a movie about toys coming to life. It’s a movie about life itself personified most simplistically in the toys we make. Each movie has a dizzying number of brilliantly original metaphors and manages to feel fresh enough to always justify the perpetuation of the series. Unlike some other series I’ve ‘SAW’. Get it? Bad grammar is a necessary by product of a terrible pun. Blame LOLkein for teaching me that.
But like the rest of the movies – Toy Story 4 centres its focus on Buzz and Woody, while smoothly introducing new toys and giving enough screen time to the old toys. All the while, managing to squeeze in enough nostalgia from the old movies to make it rewarding for fans, without disillusioning new watchers. And that’s a tough line to walk, let alone succeed at it as well as this franchise has. Bringing me to the final word of the day –
- the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal.
- emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance.
The reason this is the only definition who’s alternative meaning is included in this review is cause Toy Story 4 tackles both concepts in this movie. It introduces us to the idea of what makes a Toy a “Toy”, by suggesting that it is our creativity that essentially breathes life and purpose into the objects we personify. Literally. This is the first Toy Story movie that uses a non-conventional “Toy” that’s literally made out of trash. This is also the first movie where “Andy”, the owner of the original toys in the previous movies, has been replaced with “Bonnie”, the new owner – a strong indication of a second life and the unique direction this movie intends to take us in. And as the movie matures in a way that it never has yet, youre simultaneously treated to the first steps of social structures in the life of a first-grade child.
Toy Story 4 embraces the wisdom of diversity in choice by diving headfirst into the idea of ignoring what you’re “meant to do”, and instead going with what you think suits your own moral compass. It does all this while simultaneously being mature enough to explain why others might not see the world your way, and why that’s not really a bad thing. They’ve re-interpreted a traditional female character (Little Bo-Peep) with a 21stcentury independent woman twist – and still managed to capture the emotional nuance of craving autonomy while yearning for the long-lost social interaction with those she once cared about. And that’s a beautifully complex thing to show in children’s movie, and another reason why it’s so great.
Another awesome thing I’ve noticed in each and every Toy Story is the presence of at least a few “freakishly scary looking toys”, who they manage to reinterpret in really intriguing ways. It’s as though they want us to realise how our perception makes things more fearful than they really are. In 1 it was the ‘mutant toys’ of Sid. In 3 it was that giant baby, and this one has a couple – with “Gabby” bearing a remarkable resemblance to a certain Madame Annabelle or Mister Chucky – and adding to that fear, are her ventriloquist doll henchman “Bensons” – being straight up the creepiest Toys in a Toy Story yet.
WHAT MAKES A THING ‘ALIVE’.
The movie invests in heavily is the definition of ‘trash’. What does it mean to truly be ‘not of use anymore’? What makes a ‘Toy’ made out of garbage not trash? Or should a toy hell bent on self-destruction be allowed to carry on in world where freedom of choice is an birth-right? Again – a nuance so subtle, it’s easy to miss when enjoying the fun aspects of the movie. And that narrative alone is enough to put Toy Story 4 on anyone’s watchlist immediately.
And I haven’t even begun to talk about the perfect cinematography, or obsessively accurate animation and visual design, with a special mention for the humorous script adding to the spit-your-drink-out moments, courtesy the “funny black guy” character in the movie. Two fluffy, not-really-black-at-all guys to be more precise. Or maybe you’ve heard of them if you’re familiar with this thing called the internet. The name “Key and Peele” ring a bell?
So, while the “no-spoiler” rules did drastically limit this review, I can say with relative certainty that the Toy Story movie franchise is easily among the best you can binge watch in 2019. Usually, it’s kinda hard enough getting one movie right, and when you’ve done two and three – it’s almost certain you’re going to screw up the next one if you don’t stop at that number. (Case in point – The Bourne Series.)
But they went ahead and did a Toy Story 4. And I don’t know about you – but when I was a kid, I never stopped at one Toy. You always want more. Not cause you’re greedy – but cause as a kid, you’ve figured life out more simplistically than you ever will as an adult. You need the toys not for what they are – but for what they give you. Memories. Happy ones. And now that I’ve grown, and left the toys behind in some attic or garbage dump in some obscure corner of the world, I can say I still have the one thing that matters to me. Those memories. And all I know is this – four of them aren’t nearly enough to help us get through the depressingly ugly truths of life.
So, for those who still ask – who is Toy Story FO(u)R?
The answer is simple.