Before I begin, let me get a disclaimer out of the way: I have not seen Toy Story 1, Toy Story 2, or Toy Story 3. Actually, you could probably name a Disney movie and I have not seen it. I do not typically go in for that sort of thing. But I have a “fan base” to appease, so there I was in the theater to see Toy Story 4.
The thing about Disney movies, and most cartoons in general (and I covered this in my review of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part), is that while they are supposed to be kids movies, they try to tailor some of the humor to the parents who bring their kids to the cinema. I seldom find these kinds of jokes funny, and I rarely laughed while watching Toy Story 4. However, what this film had in spades that the majority of the others that I have seen so far this year do not is heart. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and its ilk resort to hyper-activity and pretty, flashing colors to keep its audience engaged. Yawn. And while there was a little of that with Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) and his obsession with trash at the beginning, this movie relies more on emotional weight than cheap tricks. So weighty were some of the themes covered in it that I am surprised some children enjoyed it at all.
If you have not seen Toy Story 4, then I guess I should say spoilers from here on out. The film’s central premise is that life will often present you with difficult choices where there is no easy decision to make. The main relationship upon which many of these interplays occur are between Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts). Woody is faced with a choice early on to leave his family and go with Bo Peep when she is given to another family. However, his loyalty goes seemingly unrewarded when Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw), the family’s young daughter, loses interest in Woody in favor of her own creation, Forky.
The devotion that Woody shows Bonnie in Toy Story 4 speaks to the kind of need for unconditional love that is ingrained in us by God from the moment we are conceived. It is something that we seek out in all of our relationships, and that in large part explains why Woody initially chooses Bonnie over the toy he is in love with in Bo Peep. The innocence of a child’s love, as the Bible teaches us, is about as close as we will ever know of God’s perfect love. Bo Peep, on the other hand, learns a kind of hard independence when her new family eventually gives her to an antique store from which she escapes. When she reunites with Woody, he is threatened by her independence and cannot understand her sense of freedom.
The lesson that everyone comes to in Toy Story 4 is that eventually we all grow up and find the person that will approximate that love for the rest of our lives. A child’s love like Bonnie is good, innocent, and close to perfect, but it is also fleeting. Often times, these moments come with loss and dealings with crushed dreams. Woody wanted nothing more than to keep Bonnie happy, but he had to realize the hard way that it was not going to last and that, in the end, she was going to be okay without him.
Look, Toy Story 4 was infinitely more enjoyable than Shaft, Brightburn, and (most especially) Us. The tears that I shed at the end when Woody finally chose to go with Bo Peep, for me personally, were a testament to that fact. I will likely not see it again, but I am fairly sure it was a better option than the other choices this past weekend: Child’s Play or Anna.