Toy Story 3 might've felt like a natural conclusion to the franchise, but it left the door open wide open for Toy Story 4. The original Toy Story trilogy was released from 1995 through to 2010, and is now generally considered the golden standard for mainstream animated filmmaking. Over the course of three movies, Woody the pull-string cowboy, Buzz Lightyear the action figure, and their fellow toys adjusted to life with new siblings, confronted their own mortality, and even bid farewell to their original owner, Andy, in one of Pixar's more famously poignant and tear-jerking endings.
Of course, it wasn't long before the franchise returned in the form of a theatrical short titled Hawaiian Vacation in 2011, followed by a pair of TV specials (Toy Story of Terror! and Toy Story That Time Forgot) in 2013 and 2014. Pixar further announced its plans for Toy Story 4 in 2014 and initially scheduled it for release in 2017, before later pushing it back to 2018 and finally this year. For the large part, these various Toy Story shorts and specials were standalone adventures that hadn't been directly set up by the third movie. However, in the case of the upcoming film, things are a little different.
In its early stages of development, Toy Story 4 was described as being a romantic comedy about Woody and Buzz setting out to rescue Bo Peep. The storyline made sense enough; Toy Story 3 revealed that Bo had been separated from the other toys sometime between the second and third movies, but never actually resolved the plot thread. At the same time, some were concerned the story was too thin for a full-length Toy Story movie and made more sense as a short. Pixar's creatives ultimately felt the same way and eventually threw out a good chunk of the original Toy Story 4 script, in favor of a narrative where Woody reuniting with Bo is an important subplot in a larger story about Woody coming to question his very reason for existing and what, exactly, he wants out of life anyway.
The Bo Peep thread wasn't the only part of Toy Story 3 that, in hindsight, paved the way for Toy Story 4 either. After all, the third Toy Story movie didn't actually end with Andy bidding farewell to Woody and the other toys. Rather, immediately after they parted ways, the film's credits featured an epilogue that revealed how things had improved for the toys at Sunnyside Daycare, and offered a glimpse at Woody and his pals' life with their new owner, Bonnie, and her other playthings. There wasn't a whole lot to the credits stinger (it mostly showed Buzz and Jessie dancing to a Spanish-language version of "You've Got a Friend in Me"), but it nevertheless made it clear that saying goodbye to Andy wasn't really the end for the franchise. If anything, it suggested the story could and would continue in some form, including a potential fourth movie.
To be fair, at the time of its release, Toy Story 3 was clearly intended to serve as a finale to the series. That's also why so many fans were concerned when Pixar first made its plans for Toy Story 4 official; it felt less like the studio has a really compelling reason for continuing the Toy Story movies, and more like they were simply cashing in on one of their most beloved IPs. Thankfully, that ended up not being the case. Toy Story 4 has been (essentially) universally praised as a funny, moving, and overall surprisingly necessary continuation in its initial wave of reviews, and currently sports a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for its efforts. Looking back at Toy Story 3 from the present, it's easier to see now how that film not only left things open for Toy Story 4, but in some ways begged for a fourth movie to give the franchise the ending it truly deserved.
- Toy Story 4 (2019) release date: Jun 21, 2019