Did you watch ‘Toy Story 4’ recently? Let time pass before revisiting or else you might be tempted to jump to the conclusion that it doesn’t hold a candle to the most recent instalment.
What the ‘Toy Story’ films have done well is setting the stage. The first one opens up with how it’s like for Andy’s toys (and the reveal that they have lives of their own), the second in space, the third like a spaghetti western, and the fourth like a horror-thriller (love the flash of lighting when the lights go out during the studio logo sequence). While I am sad to say that the first one had slipped to a 4/10, I can bring you the good news that the next one still manages to get a 6/10 within the first ten minutes. I did worry that all three might have aged similarly and after getting that surprise (Buzz gets blasted), I knew that I would be able to make it to the end of this one (if I so choose). I wonder if that speaks to my being more readily accepting of change and knowing that it means that I can instead focus on more awesome films to come out in the future.
This also means that even if the groundbreaking animated film once (maybe) reached the 7/10 notch after viewing it for the first time, the people behind them have successfully crafted future films (three so far) by taking the story to another level. Sadly, that seems to have happened to shows. Shows that have its creators find a version that would work with the current viewing climate. Even a much loved one like ‘Gilmore Girls’ (apparently I am not alone with my sadness) when Netflix picked it up almost 10 years after the final episode aired to receive a reboot (apparently ‘resurrection’ or ‘revival’ is the appropriate term) and gets a new name (‘Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life’) rather than just another season added. Though I would concede that it’s likely that I had changed so much during those years that I could no longer be the right fit. The second one holds up well and it was the reminder that Buzz Lightyear’s defeat happened in a video game with Rex (Wallace Shawn) as player one. This is another proof that the brilliant storytellers in Pixar do subversion well. Before the reveal that it was a video game, the viewer could think that ‘real world’ Buzz would have been detached from his lower half (or worse: actually set on fire).
The Setup: Everything is fine. Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) have an acceptable hierarchy established (the spaceman acts as his right hand) while the rest of toys enjoy paradise (Andy’s room). Woody is in the process of handing over ‘sheriff duties’ as he plans to go off with Andy. Then there’s the all-important ‘hat’ (it’s an ensemble). Even if we don’t get a payoff until ‘Toy Story 3’, a clue (the number of languages Tour Guide Barbie speaks) is left on why Buzz has a ‘Spanish Mode’. I know it was likely a gag and came up during a Brain Trust session when one person present (why do I feel like it was Andrew Stanton?) asked: ‘What would it be like if Buzz had a Spanish Mode?’.
The Inciting Incident: Andy declares that he doesn’t want to play with Woody anymore. I would have thought it was when Woody wasn’t taken along to Cowboy Camp, but when he was still ‘broken’ (I know the story would have ended if mum decided to hem Woody’s right arm back to his shoulder) when an excited Andy returns, that takes him to a new low: feeling that he is no longer worthy of the love of his kid. But then that should have been a clue that it was that slight melodramatic hint that it was all a dream. It also didn’t help that he finds Weezy forgotten after his squeaker broke. Because Pixar knows their film pacing, he is snapped back out from the doldrums after finding out that there is going to be a yard sale and returns to his old self: checking if all toys are accounted for.
The film was released during 1999 (four years after the first) and we’re reminded that kids still live with the notion of ‘damsels in distress’. Thankfully by the fourth, that is gone when the filmmakers decided to make Bo (Annie Potts) the PG version of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. I probably can’t say that for sure until I check in with someone who’s watched ‘Toy Story 4’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ —- it’s just that it was the first thing that popped into mind when I pondered on the terms: ‘high-risk environment’ and ‘rebel’. Those were the two terms I would use to describe the environment her group of toys have when she and Woody meet up again.
Whenever there are behind the scenes, I look forward to the information about the casting of the film, because like any other masterpieces of Pixar, this one has been done well. It’s disappointing that no studio has come close to churning out animated films that I am looking forward to watching at least once. Yes, I am willing to give any film the time of day, but due to time constraints (plus me being human and needed to sleep and…also work), it gets kind of difficult to be open to those who haven’t been really up to the similar aesthetic I am used to. Thank goodness that ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ managed to wiggle into my radar. Aside from that it would be only Disney (I consider it and Pixar being different brands even if the former owns the latter) that has been able to replicate the process and make it into what works for them (as seen in the Docuseries ‘Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2’). The secret still has yet to jump over to live action (because apparently even though how much the script reads well…it still can be stuffed up when casting, shooting, and editing are are added to the mix). But, maybe that’s just because there hasn’t been a sweeping documentary about how Christopher Nolan has been able to perfect his personal knack for visualising what he wants and delivering it. I haven’t seen the film, but have read the screenplay — so I have significant faith that the end product would be as good (or better) than the words on a script.
- Rex’s camouflage
- Crossing the street under witches hats
- Buzz meets Buzz
- Rex makes an observation about video games and strategy books
- An alternate name for a ‘piggy bank’
- Automatic doors and cows make a similar sound (‘moo’)
I do hope that by sharing my thoughts about the films I enjoyed watching, they don’t turn into a list of ‘films both Roger Ebert and I enjoyed‘. Not that I want to debate with the late critic about those that I wasn’t much of a fan of and ones I wouldn’t even watch. It’s just a nice reminder that unlike other viewers, he doesn’t refer to Pixar films as ‘kids movies’. Every feature to him gets the term it deserves: a film. You’re right that I have my biases and there are titles that I wouldn’t necessarily consider watching unless was notified that a trust has been established with $15 million in funds which I could spend at my discretion, a list of things in the film that would concern me (more importantly: ones that I would want to skip), and the option of saying at any time: nope…not for me.
One phrase I learned (and have not seen in recent reviews) is from Janet Maslin (though she is still with The New York Times, her latest contributions have been more in the realm of books than in film). It does complicate what it means (other than something that is tempting to consume and leaves the suffering until later). Junk-food storytelling could just mean the minimum effort that writers expend to get their paycheck signed (whether it is by studio execs or relenting what majority of viewers have been clamouring for). After reading her review, I was struck by the notion that years from now (maybe between 2030 and 2040?), kids who have watched the film would find themselves in a similar quandary as Woody when given a different route to take than what they initially envisioned for their life at ten. Maybe it’s to follow that same one or maybe a different one that they remembered the plush cowboy taking. The epiphany could even happen just as they watch it as they hold their daughters on their laps.
Probably the cringiest bit was when Hamm, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, and Slinky ogle the Barbies. I would have said it was uncomfortable, but it does border on ‘cringe’ level (that’s technically worse than ‘uncomfortable’…right?) during subsequent rewatching. Thankfully, Tour Guide Barbie is the one who accompanies them (as she isn’t wearing a swimsuit and instead wearing clothes of a flight attendant — though I’m not exactly sure what era this design is from) to find Al and only Hamm makes any overtures (the potato stresses that he’s married). I’m not sure if it had to do with John Lasseter being one of the directors that it even made it to the final cut.
Somehow I think back to Andrew Stanton’s TED talk. The first time I watched it, I thought it was safe and was shocked that he would start it with such an MA joke. Clearly it was ‘okayed’ by the TED people (as they do check-ins with their speakers before delivery), which makes me wonder if it was Andrew’s brand (he wants us to be reminded that he isn’t totally ‘family friendly’). He came across okay while on The Q&A with fellow writer Stephany Folsom for ‘Toy Story 4’. It’s really complicated. So, maybe it is possible to watch it with the kids and use it as a way to teach them about respectful behaviour towards others. Since young minds are inherently curious, you can start a discussion with them about your reservations with them watching it (and why you’re okay with later ‘Toy Story’ versions) as well as what it has to do with #MeToo and #TimesUp.