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‘Toy Story 4’ plays it safe but shines, placing the spotlight on Woody

While the first three "Toy Story" movies seemed to focus on the development of characters like Buzz and Jessie, “Toy Story 4” zooms in on Woody’s development, and how the toy comes to terms with the fact that he is no longer of use to a child. (Photo: Pixar)

As the familiar brown cowboy hat and sheriff’s badge appear on screen, excited murmurs fill the movie theater. The majority of the audience grew up with Andy, from playing with their toys as he did with his in “Toy Story,” to preparing themselves for their first year of college while he did the same in 2010’s “Toy Story 3.” They have gone on countless adventures with Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang, and are now seeking a sense of closure in the last movie of the beloved series, a closure Pixar delivers admirably.

Staying true to its brand, Pixar has produced another tear-jerking film in “Toy Story 4.” At the start of the movie, we learn that Woody is no longer the favorite toy, Bonnie having left him to gather dust in her closet. Despite this, he wants to help Bonnie in any way he can, his dedication and loyalty to her infinite, though her interest in him is long gone. 

Knowing that Bonnie is scared of her first day of kindergarten, Woody accompanies her to school in hopes of helping her get through the day. To cheer her up, he discreetly helps her make her soon-to-be new favorite toy out of pieces of trash: Forky. What he doesn’t expect is for Forky’s new status as a toy to allow him to come alive and start a whole new set of problems for Woody. This sets the ball rolling for the toys’ final adventure on the big screen.

Filled with action, drama and suspense, the main storyline in “Toy Story 4” is not actually centered around Forky, but rather Woody, who is desperately trying to find his place in the world. Even though the other toys can speak and move like humans, Woody is the only one who seems to think and feel like a human does. This can be observed throughout the movie, like in one scene where Buzz struggles to find his “inner voice” when Woody tells him to do, highlighting the difference between the two characters. While Woody has a heightened understanding of the world, wanting to serve a greater purpose than simply be a play thing, Buzz, like many other toys in the Toy Story universe, still struggles to simply express emotion and other things we find human. 

While the first three Toy Story movies seemed to focus on the development of characters like Buzz and Jessie, “Toy Story 4” zooms in on Woody’s development, and how the toy comes to terms with the fact that he is no longer of use to a kid. This results in the action and characters old and new serving more as backdrops to Woody’s quest of finding himself, aiding him in his journey, rather than playing  crucial roles individually. Though this might not be the storyline viewers were hoping for — the plot only revolving around Woody and a handful of characters rather than the original gang of toys — it manages to complete its task of wrapping up the beloved series. The film finally shows some real character growth and closure for arguably the most important toy of the series. 

Without having seen at least one of the first three movies, though, “Toy Story 4” might come as a bit of a bore. While the plot is interesting, the action sequences captivating and the animation quality incredible, it takes some time to get to the more entertaining parts of the movie, which don’t just center around Woody’s growth as a character. The introduction of new characters is also very rushed, and their roles aren’t as important or impactful as they were in previous movies, like with Latso in “Toy Story 3.” However, the fourth movie continues the trend of  previous movies in the series by bringing fresh ideas to the table, such as playing off the trend of creepy dolls and introducing a new subsection of toys: lost toys. These two things, especially the lost toys, play a big part in helping Woody realize his purpose as a toy and contribute greatly to his character development throughout the movie.

“Toy Story 4” is heavily centered around Woody, allowing the viewer to see him in a different and deeper light. We get to witness his way of dealing with a crisis in his life and how, with the help of others, he slowly comes to realize his purpose as a toy. This kind of deep character analysis is not for everyone, but “Toy Story 4” embeds it in a more lighthearted and humorous plot, allowing it to tackle issues like one’s place in the world while still providing entertainment for viewers of all ages. 

Contact Jasmine Venet at jasminevenet28 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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