Pixar 43: ‘Toy Story 4’ (Spoilers)

Like many people I was a bit anxious when I heard the announcement of Toy Story 4. How could Pixar bring another entry into their treasured franchise after Toy Story 3 ended in such a satisfying way? It seemed like an impossible task but the Pixar folks have always said they only do sequels if they have a story, so I trusted them to get it right! Today I am happy to tell you my trust was not in vain. Toy Story 4 is another wonderful addition to our team of toys and a fitting conclusion to our best friend Woody’s story.

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It’s impossible to talk about Toy Story 4 without discussing the trajectory of the previous 3 films. In Toy Story we have a confident Woody who learns to be a friend to the new and different Buzz. He begins the story as a good leader but as many leaders are, he’s also self-interested and prone to jealousy and deep insecurities. It is only through becoming friends with Buzz that Woody learns to let go of his pride and serve others.

Then we get to Toy Story 2 where Woody learns to think of Andy, and his commitment to letting Andy play with him as long as he wants. It’s his mission and calling and it is more important than being worshiped in a Tokyo museum. In Toy Story 3 the team has struggled and become a family and that deep and abiding bond gets them through the prison that is the daycare center.

So what about Toy Story 4? What is left to learn? Well, to answer that question we have to think about the nature of toys in this universe. As far as I can tell their sentience is eternal. They have no bodily fluids so arms can be removed, they can be reassembled into new toys without any reduction to their sentience. This leads us to the question of how can Pixar retire the toys if they can’t be killed?

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We could leave Woody to be played with by Bonnie but doesn’t that lead to the same cycle over and over again? Is that a happy ending for our friends? There has to be a way for them to progress or what once gave them joy (playing with a child) will become miserable. I think the people at Pixar realized this and that Toy Story 3 could not be the actual ending for these characters because as happy as it was for Bonnie it wasn’t really a happy ending for Woody.

So, that’s where we get to Toy Story 4. As an old cowboy doll Woody is not a favorite toy of Bonnie. She is kind to her toys but prefers other toys like playing with Jessie. One day she goes to kindergarten and makes a toy out of trash she calls Forky. Creating her own toy seems to give her comfort during the scary time of a new school and she loves Forky dearly. Woody sees this and decides to watch over Forky and make sure it learns how to be a toy for Bonnie (a thing it rejects as it isn’t used to being sentient). Basically Woody becomes Forky’s father, and like a baby rejects things that are good for it, so does Forky.

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Woody decides that taking care of Forky is his new role in the bedroom. He even says at one point that ‘it’s all I have left’. He knows his playing days are minimal and this is the most important thing he can do to help Bonnie. He even jumps out of a moving car window in order to help save Forky. (This is quite different than his response in Toy Story. He would have been happy to see Buzz in the trash back then).

Eventually Forky and Woody end up in an antique store in a small town where to their surprise they run into an old friend Bo Peep. She had been given away by Molly (Andy’s sister) years before and to Woody’s surprise she has figured out a whole new way to live. She’s strong, confident and happy with an almost pirate-like existence. She still gets to be played with at the park but as she says ‘I am not lost’. Every day she determines her destiny and how she is going to contribute to the world.

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At first Woody is shocked by this and has difficulty understanding her way of living. But as the mechanics of the plot go forward he starts to see how independent Bo is which is very attractive and eye-opening. Most of the shenanigans with Gabby Gabby and Duke Caboom are fun in their own right but more importantly they are opportunities for Woody’s room-based view of the world to expand.

That’s not to say these events aren’t amusing because they are absolutely hilarious. Duck and Bunny in particular create some of the funniest sequences in the history of the Toy Story franchise. There are also some decent scares from the ventriloquist dummies named Benson and a lot of beautifully animated action while saving Forky. I also appreciated that Gabbby Gabby wasn’t a surprise villain like we’ve gotten so often from Disney lately. Her story was more of a surprise hero, which was really sweet in the end.

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But all that fun isn’t going to be enough if Woody is back in the closet at Bonnie’s rarely being played with. That’s no way to end our hero’s story! Just as the toys became a family in Toy Story 3, they, led by Buzz, understand that part of being a family is letting our loved ones follow their dreams. We send our children off to college or on a mission knowing our world’s are never going to be the same but we know it is what is best for them. We send them on their way with a hope and a prayer that they will be ok but we also let them know that everything at home will ‘be ok’. Such is the case with Woody and Buzz.

‘Bonnie will be ok’ Buzz tells Woody. In other words ‘go and have your adventure. Everything at home will be ok. We love you’. So off Woody goes and Buzz and friends stay behind to make sure they keep their promise to Woody. It’s no surprise the toys learn to listen to their inner voice throughout the story because goodbyes are hard (I just had one with my Grandma’s funeral this weekend) and it is only through a lot of practice do we have the spiritual strength to help our loved ones go down their path no matter how badly we will miss them.

A perfect ending to a story that started with our friend only thinking of himself. Well done Pixar. Well done.

A+

smile worthy

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Rachel’s Top 50 Animation Countdown (50-41)

So I have a fun series I am going to be doing over the next 5 few weeks.  I have meticulously came up with my top 50 animated films.  This isn’t the most impactful or the best made.  It is just my favorite.  For example, I know Pinocchio is a masterpiece and I do appreciate it.  It’s just not a favorite of mine.  So you will disagree with many of these but you can make your own list ;)!

Nevertheless, love to hear your feedback.  It was very tough to do.  I also am still working through anime so there may be some of your favorites I haven’t seen.  Pretty much any movie on this 50 I would give an A too so I love them all even if it is 50th place.

I tried to keep this list in general order of my Disney Ranking but there may be a few things I’ve changed so don’t hold me to that.

50. Watership Down- dark, disturbing, violent and has a lot to say about political systems, social structures and how we rationalize away the dignity of others.

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49. Ponyo- Gorgeous take on Little Mermaid by Studio Ghibli is weird, different and incredibly creative.  A movie I could watch with the sound turned off and still love.  It is also cute and Ghibli’s most child-friendly film outside of Totoro (which is coming later). You know me- I love anything to do with the ocean.

artistic648. Lady and the Tramp– An underrated Disney gem.  A sweet and simple story of the dogs from different sides of the track falling in love.  I love the Norman Rockwell artistry and the jazz Peggy Lee soundtrack. And spaghetti is my favorite food so cant go wrong with that!

Lady-and-the-Tramp-247. Wallace and Gromit:  The Curse of the Were Rabbit- Based on the characters from Nick Park’s animated shorts, we get a witty, sweet claymation story of crazy inventor Wallace and his wise dog Gromit as they try to rid the town of a mutant rabbit eating all their vegetables.

wallace and gromit46. How to Train Your Dragon 2- A rare sequel that is better than the original.  The flying sequences are gorgeous, real heart with the family drama and an epic quality that is tough to pull off in animated films.  For kids that are too young for Lord of the Rings this is a great option.

How-to-Train-Your-Dragon-2-Hiccup-Toothless45. Charlotte’s Web- EB White’s story of the plucky pig and his spider friend comes alive with songs from the Sherman Brothers and great voice casting including Debbie Reynolds and Paul Lynde.

charlotte web44. Atlantis: The Lost Empire– I know I’m in the minority on this one but I love Atlantis.  I love the diversity of the team and how hilarious they all are.  I love the fight sequences and the steampunk look to everything.  I think the culture and language they created is great.

atlantis243. Paranoman- An underrated movie that is legitimately scary yet sweet and full of good laughs.  Made more for teenagers than little children (especially the humor) but not too grown up.  It’s hard to believe it is stop motion it is so seamless. The message at the end is a unique take on bullying with the bullied girl becoming the bully and how they can talk her down.

paranorman42. Land Before Time-   Beautifully animated tail of dinosaurs little one’s making it to the promised land of sorts.  Sweet, sad with nice music.

land before time41. Toy Story 2– I know woefully low for this movie but what can I say this is where it landed. Toy Story 2 is a great movie.  With great humor, camaraderie and an interesting dilemma for Woody about how he wants to live his life.

toy story2-4Get ready next week for the 40-31!

Here’s my youtube video on it.

Pixar Review 9: Toy Story 2

toy story 2After the drama with Bug’s Life Pixar’s next release couldn’t have been more eagerly anticipated.  A sequel to one of the most iconic animated movies ever released.  How could it possibly measure up?

Then everyone saw it and Toy Story 1 and 2 are the only original and sequel I’m aware of that both have 100% on rottentomatoes- a rating that is near impossible to get.  Toy Story 3 has an embarrassing 99% ;).

So I think folks liked Toy Story 2! And with good cause.  It is a great movie!

There are so many things that are smart about Toy Story 2.  First of all, they didn’t try and  redo the first movie.  It would have been so easy for them to introduce another new toy into the room and rehash the same story over again.  But instead they go in an entirely new direction and make an adventure!

Toy Story 1 introduced us to the characters and followed Woody as his leadership is threatened.  He feels jealous, frustrated, frightened, and deals with insecurities he didn’t even know he had.  That’s why people related so much to it.  Haven’t we all been there where a rival threatened to displace us?  Where we worried we would be forgotten or passed over? Where we felt jealous and envious of another who seemingly has it better? Toy Story 1 crafts a narrative around all those very human emotions.

toystory2-11Toy Story 2 has that emotional core but it is mainly an adventure story.  It starts out with Woody getting stolen by a greedy toy collector voiced by Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight.  (When you see that character don’t you expect him to sound like Newman?).

toy story2-5It turns out that Woody is a valuable collectible Al has been hunting for to complete his Woody’s Roundup collection to sell to a museum in Tokyo.  The rest of the set includes Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammar), Cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack) and Bullseye the horse.

toy story2-4They are thrilled to see Woody because it will mean they can get out of storage and be on display at the museum.  Woody at first is dazzled by all the collectibles and can’t believe he is the star of a show.  The Prospector is also very manipulative in the way he describes the museum leaving out the details that Woody will no longer be played with by children.

toy story2-12Meanwhile Buzz, Slinky, Ham, Potato Head, and Rex all head out to find Woody and bring him back to Andy’s Room.  This includes an amazing sequence with them trying to cross the road in cones and a series of adventures in a large toy store.

toy story2-13All the scenes in the toy store are so funny.  We get our first appearance of Barbie who moves in the stiff way a barbie moves and is bright and happy.  I loved it.

toy story2-9There is also an entire row of Buzz Lightyear action figures and a Delusional Buzz that still thinks he’s a Space Ranger gets mixed up with the real Buzz.  This gives so many great laughs and is very nostalgic to the original movie. Tim Allen is great as both versions of Buzz.

toy story2-14At first Woody is set on going back to Andy’s Room but Jesse and Prospector beg him not to go.  They don’t want to go into storage and Jesse warns Woody what will happen when Andy is done being a kid.  I defy you not to cry during this song (if you don’t then I don’t understand you!).  A fabulous job by Randy Newman and Sarah McLachlan.

This puts Woody in a difficult spot, which is our new, different emotional core than we had in Toy Story 1.  The original is all about overcoming personal demons where this film is about how much of our own dreams and life we are willing to sacrifice for others.  Woody has to decide whether he is willing to give up his life with Andy in order to keep his new friends from a dark life in storage.  It’s a very tough question.

toy story2-3But I don’t want to make it sound morose because it’s absolutely hilarious.  The writing is so funny with superb vocal performances from the entire cast especially Don Rickles and Estelle Harris (another Seinfeld alum)  as Mr and Mrs Potato Head.

Toy-Story-2-IIAnd like I said everything with Delusional Buzz and the Barbies is funny.  I also love Wallace Shawn as Rex who is preoccupied for most of the movie with defeating Evil Emperor Zurg who we get to meet in this movie (so funny).

toy story2-6The ending at an airport is stunning where the characters get mixed up in the various belts and  mechanisms that deliver luggage around the airport.  When you think of where they were in Toy Story 1 it is an especially amazing visual.

airportThere is even a tense horse ride down the tarmac.  It really has the feel of an old Western chase scene and I always get those butterflies wondering how they are going to get out of this mess (again like a good action adventure should do).

toy story211In the end, Woody realizes things may change but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the moment while it is here.  His purpose is to be played with not looked at under glass.   It’s a sweet lesson for all of us.  We all need to find our purpose and not let anyone manipulate us into giving that up.

Toy Story 2 is a total and complete delight.  As I always do with these reviews I watched it 3 times over the last 2 weeks and it never felt old or tired.  I smiled, laughed and was completely engrossed in the tense sections.  Mostly I just love spending time with these characters.

toy story2-10Everything new they tried worked while still holding on to the emotional core and likability of the original characters.  The addition of Jesse is the cherry on the sundae.  Her journey from being a nervous, depressed character to full of life is wonderful.  Her song is gorgeous and I love her spunk!

I would definitely recommend adding Toy Story 2 to your blu-ray library as it is enjoyable for the entire family. I love it!

(Also the audio commentary on Toy Story 2 is hilarious and very interesting.  I highly recommend giving it a listen).

Overall Grade-  A+