Like adulthood or the garbage truck, Toy Story 4 is coming whether you want it or not. When we last saw Woody, Buzz and the gang in Toy Story 3, everybody assumed it was the end. They'd survived death with the help of each other (and a literal hand of God), let Andy go off to live his adult life, and found new happiness with pre-schooler Bonnie. Yet just four years later, by which point Andy would be barely out of college, a fourth entry was announced.
There's a lot of immediate reasons to be concerned about Toy Story 4. It's easy to describe as unnecessary in the wake of Toy Story 3 for sure, although that word has been overused on films like Solo: A Star Wars Story to the point it's lost all meaning; no movie is truly necessary. Likewise, while it's easy to point out that Pixar's recent turn into sequels (something at the behest of owners Disney that is set to cease after 2019) has led to an increase in mediocre movies, Toy Story 2 shows that needn't be the rule.
No, when it comes to Toy Story 4 the reasons to be worried are a lot more project-specific. From its development troubles to its synopsis to its recent trailers right back to those development troubles, little seems to be landing right. Of course, this is Pixar we're talking about, a company that's redefined family movies on an artistic and narrative level twice over, creating stories that entertain across generations. But even they have their missteps, and Toy Story 4 is looking more and more like one.
- This Page: Toy Story 4's Creative Problems
- Page 2: The Issues Raised By Toy Story 4's Trailers
Toy Story Has Used Up All The Big Toy (And Childhood) Ideas
Toy Story has always been a property powered by its imagination. The first movie gets (rightly) remembered for the technological achievement of being the first fully computer-animated movie, but it was the intricacy of the hidden world, how the toy characters reflected the maturing of their owner, and further how this was threaded through realistic handling of playthings - new favorites, mistreatment, and the question of self-awareness - that helped it endure. Toy Story 2 continued this by advancing Andy's age to tackle the notions of breakages, collectors, rejection and, ultimately, being forgotten, before Toy Story 3 capped it off with a full realization of the long-threatened adulthood, touring through toy purgatory of daycare and hell of the dump before landing on the heaven of a new owner.
It's not just that Toy Story 3 is an ending to a trilogy, giving a sense of closure to the story; it's that there's nowhere else to explore. The complete arc of Andy from boy to man has exhausted childhood, while pretty much every possible spin on how toys are interacted with has already been imagined (with daycare feeling like a needless stretch). Literally the only other aspect to take on is death, and most would argue the incinerator acceptance scene from Toy Story 3's climax has tortured audiences enough.
For Toy Story 4, the creative struggle is real. The film - so far - has been shown to involve a homemade plaything consisting of a fork and pipe cleaners, and two carnival prizes. Sure, kids do make their own distractions and you can win stuffed animals in shooting ranges, but these are some seriously uninspired extensions to a conflict that originated in the cross-generational debate between the western and space. The Toy Story 4 plot synopsis teases Forky having "an existential crisis wanting to be spork and not a toy", which reads almost as self-parody.
It's possible that there's considerably more in store (a caveat we'll look at later), but it's worth stating that this problem has already proven a stumbling block for Toy Story. The various short films released between 2011 to 2014 dealt insipidly with such basic concepts as Happy Meal free gifts and bath toys, while the 30-minute TV movies Toy Story of Terror and Toy Story That Time Forgot tackled a seedy motel owned by a deceitful toy collector and a prehistoric playset where the toys thought they were real respectively: essentially, a repeat of the first two movies.
Toy Story 4's Troubled Production
Even if there was a clear avenue for Toy Story 4 to explore, the story of its production certainly complicates matters. When the film was announced, it was - like Toy Storys 1 & 2 - to be directed by John Lasseter and said to focus on the romance between Woody and Bo Peep (who had been given away by Andy's family by the time of Toy Story 3). However, Lasseter was replaced by up-to-that-point co-director Josh Cooley in mid-2017 (Lasseter later stepped down as head of Disney Animation after allegations of professional misconduct).
That change also brought with it a major shift in story. Original writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack left over "philosophical differences", replaced by Stephany Folsom who went on to rewrite three-quarters of the script. This can be evidenced in the synopsis pivot, with nary a mention of Bo Peep. Backing up the sense of a complete reworking of the story, actors have talked about long sets of recording that likely won't be used.
All of this led to a major delay: Toy Story 4 was originally set for a June 2017 release date, but has now been pushed back two years, replaced as Pixar's June movie of 2017 and 2018 by Cars 3 and Incredibles 2 respectively. Brad Bird has talked about the restrictions that switch had on his Super sequel, making it rather clear this was about mitigating a toy disaster.
Pixar's bounced back from troubled productions before. Toy Story was totally retooled after Disney notes made Woody too nasty, while Toy Story 2 grew from direct-to-VHS movie to one of Pixar's theatrical best in an impossible timeframe. And Cooley was a co-writer on Inside Out, Pixar's best film this decade. Still, this is a lot of adjustment; the script changes in particular point towards the typically story-first studio struggling to make a continued adventure under an enforced mandate.
Page 2 of 2: The Issues Raised By Toy Story 4's Trailers
- Toy Story 4 (2019) release date: Jun 21, 2019