Toy Story 4 (2019): A Powerful Exploration of Purpose and Relationship

Image result for toy story 4 poster

    “Toy Story 4” was a great film that I didn’t think was probable. This was a series that had ended pretty definitively at the end of “Toy Story 3” so I wasn’t sure what else they were going to do. I’m happy to say I was surprised. This is a film that is powerful and explores identity, mortality, purpose. The main cast are the heart of the show and at this point it is easily one of my favorite films of the year. If you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this one out.

The film was directed by Josh Cooley and written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton.

The story follows Woody and his friends on a road trip after Bonnie has created a new toy name Forky who believes himself to be trash. Woody mentors him but soon finds himself questioning what he’s known when he runs into Bo Peep who is a now a living the life of a “lost toy.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Pixar does such a great job building off each of their latest films. This is simply a stunningly animated movie that has more realistic looking people, the detail of fur on animals and tons of different surfaces that make-up the many toys. I hope Pixar continues to thrive and brings us more of this amazing art. Every few films introduce something new worth exploring. After this my wife and I went to the Pixar exhibit and got to see the science behind it first hand. If it is ever in your area, check it out.

The Characters – The strongest part of most Pixar films are the characters. This film is no exception. The support characters have the least to do so it is hard to call their story good but it is still fun. This film is truly about the new characters, Bo Peep and Woody.

Gabby Gabby – Gabby Gabby is the antagonist of the film. She is a doll who wants to be loved but thinks because her voice box is broken she will never be loved. Because of this she kidnaps Forky to get Woody’s voicebox. They clash through the film with her eventually winning in her aims to get the voice box, only to be tossed aside. She is is a complex antagonist in that you can see where her drive is coming from and that she doesn’t destroy others the way Stinky Pete, Sid or Lotso does in the original Trilogy. She comes around to love and respect Woody because of what he does for her and becomes friends with Forky. Christina Hendricks gives so much depth to this role and she is easily the best antagonist in any “Toy Story” film, and that is because she shows that there is more a broken toy can become. Her final act is leaving Woody and Bo to care for a lost girl at the carnival.

Bo Peep – Bo is a toy who has found independence in the lost toy life and is loving it. She spends her time helping other toys found enjoyement from being played and though she misses her toy family from before she lives what she has become. She has a role beyond being there for a kid and it is in this role that Woody is given the choice for his own future.

Forky – Forky is the toy Bonnie creates when she is alone at Kindergarten. It is a powerful moment and Forky is born with an existential crisis. For much of the film he is trying to return to the trash, since that was what he was made from. Woody is the one who convinces him that he has a purpose to live (as well as Gabby Gabby) and from here he accepts his place as Bonnie’s favorite toy. The process is devastating and his arc is like a newborn learning to think and reason. We’ve never witnessed the birth of sentience in a toy until this film within the “Toy Story Franchise.”

Woody – Woody’s arc this film is learning to find purpose beyond devotion to a kid. The beginning of this is when Bonnie no longer cares to play with him, which kicks things off and ends with the finding of Bo Peep and joining her with the carnival, knowing that there they can help other toys find kids. His arc is a gut punch though as it is after Buzz comes back to rescue him that he says good-bye and passes on his sheriff star to Jessie who had become the Sheriff for Bonnie when she played. It was neat and a great releasing of his ego on Woody’s part. Tom Hanks once again adds so many layers to this wonderful character.

Identity and Purpose – The main theme running through the story is that of identity and purpose. What this is for most toy’s is the devotion of a kid. This is what helps make Forky no longer seek death and is what drives Woody through the story up to this point. It isn’t until he meets Po that he sees that she is bringing joy to those who are lost or don’t have toys. Woody finds purpose in this and in his love for her. It is powerful and over the course of the film is set up really well. We get the flashback of when she leaves, Woody being left in the closet and the birth of Forky who Woody than mentors. This exploration of identity and purpose is really the core of the story and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Support Characters – The support characters are alright. Woody’s friends get some good comedy, but we never see them grow. Buzz, who has the most screen time among them is the same character at the beginning as he is at the end. The same goes for Jessie. She is still the same Jessie the film began with as she was always a leader. Key and Peele play a comedic duo Ducky and Bunny. There are others as well who work on a comedic level, but it is hard to call what they have arcs. For this reason the supporting cast is only okay.

This is a film I highly recommend. I can’t wait to go back and watch the original “Toy Story Trilogy” again and see just how far Pixar has come in their animation and really storytelling too. If you are a fan of the other films, chances are you won’t be disappointed by this one. So far it is easily one of my favorite films of the year and I can’t wait to see what else Pixar creates and the future stories they tell.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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Inside Out (2015): The Importance of All Emotions and Another Pixar Masterpiece

Inside-Out-Official-Poster

  “Inside Out” is the best Pixar Film I have seen that wasn’t “Toy Story 3” since “Up” and “Wall-E” Which are my favorite films of the Pixar creations. Like “Wall-E” and “Up” this is a film that explores what it means to be human and brings balance as it is an experience of all the emotions. Pixar has been a company that has mostly made Gold and for me this film was in the Top 3, where in the Top 3 would take a re-watching of those films but this is just as good of quality of film as “Up” and “Wall-E.” I’ll get into the reasons why that is.

   The film was directed by Pete Docter who also co-wrote the story and screenplay, screenplay was also by Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley. It was produced by Jonas Rivera and the co-writer of the story was Ronnie Del Carmen.

   The story is about Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her emotions, which are beings inside of her who are thrown into chaos when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. Joy (Amy Poehler, who is the lead emotion controls all the Core Emotions that run Riley as a person but when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) creates a Core Emotion Joy attempts to stop it leading them to be lost in Long Term Memory and seeing to get back to Headquarters before Riley loses herself.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Concept – The idea of emotions being personified is really cool as well as leaving it ambiguous if Riley is the one controlling the emotions and leading them to do things, or if they are they are the ones controlling her. There is support for both ideas that is explored over the course of the film and it lends it power. Also the idea of giving us characters so that an individual character can find balance is a powerful idea.

The Writing – The dialogue is hilarious! There is a moment in the end when Riley gives a bottle to a boy who dropped it and puberty is hit and all the emotions in his head are panicking and screaming, “GIRL! GIRL! GIRL!” And many other moments that are similar through Riley’s development through childhood.

The Soundtrack – Michael Giacchino did an amazing job! The soundtrack is whimsical, dramatic, serious…whatever circumstances demand and it adds so much to the change the characters go through.

The Characters – From Riley’s emotions, to her parents…we see a huge complex array of characters who are true to reality and end up being so much more than the archetypes they represent.

Bing Bong – Bing Bong is Riley’s imaginary friend who is lost in Long Term Memory. Everything he does is his quest to get back to Riley and live the life they used to live. Richard King gives so much heart to this character who in the end sacrifice himself so that Joy can be free from the Pit and that Riley will be able to be happy again…in his realization that Riley has grown beyond needing him and there is one last thing he can do to make her happy.

The Family – Riley and her parents are fleshed out characters who feel real. They have flaws but at their core love one another and it is reflected.

Riley’s Mother – The mother is controlled by Sadness and is someone who cares deeply, especially about Riley. She is the first to reach out to Riley but also dreams of what might have been with her Brazilian ex. She finds contentment with her husband in the end when he shows the spontaneity he lost and she is the one who is always there for Riley.

Riley’s Father – Riley’s Father is someone trapped in his work but who still finds time to try and be there for his daughter. In the end the move to San Francisco and work not going as planned make it more difficult, but in the end he shows that so much of what he does is for her. He is also the reason she has a Hockey Island in her sub-conscience and a Jokester Island as part of her Core Personality.

Riley – Riley is a fascinating character! She is the only one we see who has both Male Emotions (Emotions represented by Male Voice Actors being Lewis Black for Anger and Bill Hader for Fear) but whose primarily controllers are still the Female Voice Actors being Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Joy (Amy Poehler) along with Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Her arc is learning to feel sadness and knowing it okay to feel sadness and that she doesn’t have to be the happy little girl for her parents as the move to San Francisco is hard for her and she loses her best friend in the process and is cut off from all her stuff that holds memories. This eventually leads to her running away and later returning as she is finally able to feel Sad which Joy had been repressing throughout her life.

The Emotions – The Emotions change over the course of the film and they have a great dynamic! Each of them is in control in different situations as the other 4 do not know what to do. They are Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy who is their leader.

Fear – Hader does a great job as Fear as we see him in charge of sleep and being a big reason why Nightmares happen as Fear is in control of the dark (which makes sense). He does a great job protecting Riley though he sometimes crosses into Paranoia and can be easily controlled by Anger or Disgust.

Disgust – Disgust is the one who helps Riley adapt. Whether it is adapting her pallat or her surrounding as Disgust is in charge of social life and the food she eats. It is a really cool concept and we see that Disgust is a Team player who ties into the other emotions. Mindy Kaling does a wonderful job as her.

Anger – Lewis Black is wonderful as Anger! He has so many rants that fit what is going on in Riley’s mind. From a memory of an annoying commercial setting him off to him eventually controlling things when Joy and Sadness leave. Anger is one of the strongest emotions but is related ot fear as at the core Anger wants to be happy and this leads to Anger’s plan to get Riley back to Minnesota where she was happy. He later changes his mind but by then they have lost all control and Riley is losing the ability to feel. He is a protector type and also Riley’s ability to stand up for herself. It is Disgust’s and Fear’s use of him that open up Headquarters to Sadness and Joy.

Sadness – Sadness is repressed but wants to be a part of Riley and is a part of Riley that is hidden away. For her it is her knowledge of things that make Joy messing things up lead to a possible solution as she always sees the worst. Her arc is realizing her value and with that being as much a part of Riley as Joy as both Joy and Sadness are so interconnected since when a Joyful memory passes there will be Sad Nostalgia. She is the one who would have gotten Joy out of a lot of bad situations if Joy had not been so spontaneous. Phyllis is fantastic in this role.

Joy – Amy Poehler gives so much life to this very Woody-like Control Freak who wants all of Riley’s life to be just happy memories. Her arc over this is realizing that Sadness is an important part of an individual as she feels sadness both for Bing Bong helping her save Riley and sacrificing himself in the process and being trapped and alone and afraid for Riley. Her arc is realizing that Sadness is connected to Joy and that Sadness is just as important and that a whole life isn’t one that is just happy but one where a person feels everything and is allowed to grow as growth is stopped when emotions are repressed as she was doing to Sadness.

It’s Okay to be Sad – The core message is that sadness is important that it is not a bad emotion (really none of them are). The key is what we do. Sometimes running away isn’t the best option but sometimes it is…and within that not suppressing or letting the emotions control is where balance is found and from that recognizing that sorrow and sadness are an essential part of what makes one human.

Emotions Control the Individual or Vise Versa – An amazing idea that the film has that I realized when watching it is that the emotions are a part of Riley so have limited agency. When Riley was wanting to feel sad Sadness acted, Joy may have tried to suppress it but Riley was seeking out that emotion to be a whole again and in the end all of Joy’s actions couldn’t stop that as Riley falling apart made her realize the actions and agency of Riley mattered. Another way to see that is that the Emotions are Ghosts in the Machine and that it was them seeing the Machine break down that lead to them reestablishing control. Both interpretations work but I like the one where Riley is the one controlling them even if sometimes in extreme situations they control too…as when we see her balanced they are all working together showing harmony between the “Ghosts” and the “Machine.”

Balance – Riley’s quest for balance is her seeking to accept and recognize the sadness she feels but to not let that destroy her Core Personality…that even as things were hard she could still Imagine, feel love for her family and still allow room for her interest in Hockey and to be funny. It is in her becoming imbalanced and not feeling that she finally forces the Emotions or Joy finally chooses to accept Sadness as essential that she feels and opens up to her parents and from it is able to feel once more and be whole even in all the pain she is going through.

   This is a timeless classic and well worth your time. I expect that everytime I see it I will notice and learn something knew as they sought out those who study Psychology for a living to create the mind of Riley and the other characters as well as the expression of the emotions. The fact that they leave the power of Emotions open is powerful too as we never know if Riley was the one shaping the story the entire time, or if it was the emotions doing so. How much agency did Riley or her Emotions have? That is something that could be debated endlessly. If you are looking for another Pixar Classic that is one of the best they’ve made, you will not be disappointed. It is a favorite I can’t wait to see again.

Final Score: 10 / 10. Will most likely be in the Top 5 at the end of this year.