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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Ranking Pixar Movies

PixarlogoIt’s the moment you all have been waiting for.  I have finished reviewing the Pixar movies so that means it is time for me to rank them in order of less great to greatest.  I was hesitant to review the Pixar movies at the beginning because I love them all that I didn’t know if they would be good reading but I hope you guys have enjoyed my efforts.

Ranking is tough because honestly I have my #1 and then about a 8 car pile-up for 2nd place.  They are all so different and appeal to me in different ways.

That said, here goes!

15. Brave– I enjoy it but doesn’t deliver the movie it promises in the strong introduction.

brave2014. Cars 2– Both Cars movies are pretty close for me.  I like the energy in 2 and think the spy elements are creative.

cars2-313. Cars– A little slower than I remembered this time around.  Still a nice message about Main Street USA and lovely animation.

cars12. A Bug’s Life– A sweet little movie with a predictable story but I like the characters and it is well written.

bugs life211.  Monsters University– I love the message of Mike finding out his true calling is not his dream.  It makes Mike into one of Pixar’s most complex character.

mu210.  Monsters Inc- A delightful film with great chemistry between Sulley and Mike.  Creative world building with Monstropolis.

monsters inc29. Toy Story 2– A fun action adventure comedy for Woody, Buzz and the gang.  We get real heart with Jesse and her song.  Plus Woody must decide what he wants out of his life.

toy story2-48. Toy Story 3- Pixar’s take on a prison escape movie is full of drama and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Humor from Barbie and Ken and a pitch perfect ending.

7. Ratatouille- A movie that makes me smile from beginning to end.  I love Remy and his desire to cook French food.  It is funny, sweet and lovely.  Paris never looked better.

ratatouille-paris-pixar-dvdbash6. Finding Nemo- Great adventure as we follow 2 storylines with Marlin looking for Nemo and Nemo in the aquarium.  Nearly every joke works and a real heart to boot.

finding nemo55. Wall-e– Starts out as a silent film following the life of a little robot left on earth.  Then we move to space and Wall-e and Eve help the humans realize their potential and get back to where they belong.  A movie that grows stronger each time I watch it.  Emotional, sweet, beautiful and bold.

walle and eva4. Incredibles– The best superhero movie.  A great film about marriage and work.  Funny, exciting with a terrific villain.  Looks great and a total delight.

incredibles103. Inside Out– I’ve seen it 3 times in theaters and every time I am more blown away.  Emotional, funny, layered adventure for both the emotions and Riley.  Bing Bong was an unexpected character and the ending is perfect

inside out52. Toy Story– When I watched for this series I was amazed at how it held up.  It’s really a story about how Woody learns to overcome his weaknesses- his jealousy, his fear.  We all fear of being forgotten and that is Woody’s fear.  It still looks good for the story and the emotion and humor hold up.  In the end it is the Pixar I have loved longest so that counts for something.

toy story11. Up– No surprise there.  You guys know it is my favorite movie.  The opening is emotional.  The journey of Carl to overcome his grief and make his devotion to his wife is touching, funny and lovely.  I love the animation and music.  It is just perfect.

up12Here’s my video I made of the ranking

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+

Pixar Review 8: Geri’s Game

geris gameAfter the release of Knick Knack in 1989 Pixar took a break from their animated shorts to make feature films, Toy Story and A Bug’s Life. This worked because the same crew which had grown up on the early shorts was ready to do longer films.  However, by the end of the 90s they had recruited a lot of new talent who they wanted to test out so they reinstated the animated shorts.

Their first short back is called Geri’s Game and it was designed to push their limits for creating a human being.  Nobody can deny that Geri looks a million times better than the humans in Toy Story who were used minimally so it worked but this is a whole another level.

gerris gaeIt’s a simple silent movie style story like most of the shorts but it is so charming.  It’s about an old man named Geri who is playing chess but with who?  With himself!  The thing that makes it so charming is as he moves from one side of the table to the other the film creates an illusion of 2 players and Geri gives both characters personality.  The player with the black pieces is feisty with a wicked sense of humor, and the other guy is more soft spoken and cowers in fear.

Geris_Game-billboard-02It’s a delightful little short and it is directed very well with neat perspectives where you capture the chess pieces from one angle and Geri from another.  It’s great stuff!

geris-gameGeri’s Game was released in 1997 so it won Best Animated Short in the 97 Oscars but it was shown to most of the public with the release of Bug’s Life.  This would become the 3rd Oscar with their special award for Toy Story and Tin Toy for best short in 1987.

It’s neat that Pixar has found a way to not only entertain us with their shorts but to nurture new talent and it is perhaps that reason that at least to me they haven’t made a terrible film.  You can feel the unique new voices coming out in shorts like Geri’s Game and it is a complete delight.  Also keep your eye open because Geri appears in many a future Pixar feature film including our next review Toy Story 2.

Overall Grade- A+

AMC Animation Madness Round 1

Figured since I posted about the series and shared my brackets I would post the round 1 results of the AMC Animation Movie Madness. I am a little surprised all the anime films got beaten, but I don’t think any of the winners are bad.

Anything surprise you about what won out?  A little surprised on Monsters Inc and Toy Story 3 winning.  Happy Wreck it Ralph didn’t make it on but sad about Spirited Away and Wall-e but Pinocchio is great.

What do you think about the next match ups?

round 2I see it being a Pixar lovefest which as a Pixar fangirl (I even like Cars 2) is fine with me.  I think the winners of the round will be Lion King, Toy Story, Up, Aladdin, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc (Frozen should win over Monsters Inc but youtube seems particularly virulent in the backlash dept), Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story 2.  As a Disney fan cool to see an all Disney/Pixar Sweet 16 except for Iron Giant.  I am glad to see that one Golden Age Disney made it to Sweet 16 even if Pinocchio wouldn’t have been my choice, it is certainly a great film.

It’s the very definition of a popularity contest but I think it is kind of fun. I wouldn’t take it too seriously.  It’s not saying what is the ‘best’ animated movie.  That would have to be determined by animation experts but it is just what people like the most, which on a certain level is interesting.

Would love for you guys to do your own brackets both what you think will win and what you would pick.  And create your own bracket of 32 at http://www.printabletournamentbrackets.net/preview/32_Team_Single_Elimination_Bracket

I did a bunch of brackets a while back including the best of the worst of Disney which Bolt won.  So it is the movie I would most like to watch again of all the bad Disney movies. Would be really fun if you guys did that bracket too and we could compare our sweet 16, final 4’s, winners.  Give it a try!

worst disney