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Against all odds, Woody and the gang are back for one last rodeo… again.
It’s not common for a story to definitively conclude on three separate occasions, but alas, that’s the reality Pixar is headed for with the recently-announced “Toy Story 5.” The next sequel in the animation studio’s flagship series was confirmed by Disney CEO Bob Iger during a Quarter 1 earnings call on Feb. 8, and the choice to return to the world of “Toy Story” is confusing to say the least.
When “Toy Story 3” was released in theaters in 2010, it was widely hailed as the perfect trilogy-capper; for a series that focuses on the lives toys lead and the emotions they exhibit when their owners aren’t around, there was some hefty bittersweetness to the idea of Andy — the toys’ owner in the films — growing up and heading off to college. Even though the third entry in the series delivers this tough blow, it still manages to match the comedic and narrative highs of the first two films, and ultimately serves as a satisfying send-off to the characters audiences had come to know and love since the original “Toy Story” was released 15 years prior. Just as Woody watches Andy drive away and utters the devastating line, “So long, partner,” it too seemed that Pixar was bidding a difficult goodbye to its most well-known series.
Then came “Toy Story 4.”
At the time of the film’s development, it seemed everyone had the same question: Why disturb something that already feels so complete? Well, thankfully, Pixar’s answer was as thoughtful as it could’ve been. The fourth film in the series confronts feelings of self-doubt and purposelessness in a post-Andy Woody, interestingly challenging the penchant for loyalty central to his character. So, while “Toy Story 4” is certainly no match for any of the first three, it provides what it feels is the true conclusion for the series’ main character, thus making a valid argument for why it deserves to exist.
Now, with the announcement of a fifth addition to the series, it simply feels like there’s nowhere left to go. Barring some sort of anthology story set during Andy’s childhood, it seems that “Toy Story 5” will be re-opening a can of worms on a narrative that has not only ended twice, but in a conclusive and satisfying fashion both times.
In terms of business, “Toy Story 5” unfortunately makes more sense than most other projects Disney could greenlight, and that seems to be why they’re opting to extend the series yet again. Long-time CEO Bob Iger, who recently returned to his post after Bob Chapek was ousted from the role, seems to be looking to restore faith in Disney’s storytelling, following a string of unfavorable business decisions that dominated Chapek’s time in office. During the aforementioned earnings call, Iger — who is known for Disney’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm — cited “Toy Story 5” and other announced sequels for “Frozen” and “Zootopia” as a “great example of how Disney is leaning into its unrivaled brands and franchises.” While Iger’s sentiment is undoubtedly spot-on, Disney doesn’t seem to have considered the full implications of revisiting “Toy Story” in particular.
One of the reasons the initial “Toy Story” trilogy works so well is that it offers a perfectly symmetrical narrative. In the original film, Woody grapples with the fact that he was replaced by Buzz Lightyear as the top toy in Andy’s room. He also helps the naive Buzz realize he is not a space ranger, but rather a toy meant to be played with and loved by Andy. “Toy Story 2” then cleverly turns this relationship on its head: When Woody is tantalized by the prospect of being shipped off to a museum with a set of dolls he was meant to be a part of, it is Buzz who reminds him of his commitment to Andy and what being a toy is really about. Finally, in “Toy Story 3,” Woody and Buzz realize their mission with Andy is complete, and that keeping the toys together is what’s most important. Overall, we have one film in which Woody is the catalyst for Buzz’s development, one in which it’s the other way around, and one in which they can both see how well this development served them throughout Andy’s childhood.
Then, “Toy Story 4” finds the only possible story thread worth coming back to: Woody’s emotional state in a world where Andy is gone and the toys’ new owner, Bonnie, doesn’t particularly care for him. The film chiefly crafts its analysis of Woody through interplay with a new character, Forky — a spork-turned-toy created by Bonnie. Forky does not understand what it means to be a toy, so Woody enters the ring as a veteran on the subject. This story is also paralleled by Woody’s re-acquaintance with Bo Peep, his old flame who now roams free and preaches the value of life without an owner.
The greatest strength of this film is Woody’s realization that his ultra-loyal tendencies can be a thing of the past now that Andy, his one true partner, has moved on. Woody’s ultimate decision to become a “lost toy” with Bo Peep, while slightly disappointing given his insistence on staying with Buzz and the other toys at the end of “Toy Story 3,” is an understandable product of his journey in this film alone, and gives him the happy ending he wouldn’t have otherwise had. Additionally, by using Woody and Forky’s relationship to harken back to the first two films’ key themes of purpose, loyalty, and friendship, “Toy Story 4” seems to intentionally function as a symbol of the series’ greatest lessons for a new generation, which lends credence to its supposed role as the permanent conclusion and only hurts the ceiling of a potential “Toy Story 5.”
Even with all thematic matters aside, there doesn’t seem to be any natural way to come back from how “Toy Story 4” ends. With Woody and Bo Peep on the road and Buzz and the other toys having remained with Bonnie, bringing the toys back together seems unfeasible, and doing so would effectively ruin what was certainly a tear-jerking goodbye between Woody and Buzz. Of course, this topic might not need to be broached if Pixar doesn’t plan on bringing these characters back for the next film, but any such decision would, frankly, be unthinkable for the series.
At the end of the day, despite the seeming indication that these movies had come to the end of the road, the fact is that Disney and Pixar have once again decided to reach for the sky, and they plucked “Toy Story 5” right out of it.
They probably should’ve left it there.
—Staff writer Kieran J. Farrell can be reached at email@example.com.
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