The ‘Toy Story’ series of films has been part of my life for the past 24 years and the characters in these films have become like family to me. Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Slinky Dog, Porky, Rex, Mr and Mrs Potatohead and Bo-Peep are all old friends, and just like with any family, new members were added to the family as the sequels appeared: Jessie, the aliens, Ken and Barbie, for example.. All were welcomed with wonder as the films opened our eyes to questions of friendship, loyalty, imagination and devotion.
Yesterday, I watched the latest instalment in the saga. I’m long past watching for my son’s sake – he is now an adult with children of his own and I very much hope they too will come to love the characters for themselves! I watch for my own sake, for these films touch our innermost being. This film takes up where ‘Toy Story 3’ left off, with the box of faithful toys now belonging to Bonnie, not Andy (how I cried my eyes out nine years ago at that scene as the poignancy of growing up and leaving childish things behind resonated with me as my son left home for university.) Bonnie is faced with the challenge of kindergarten (more tears for me as I anticipate my granddaughter’s first day at nursery), even as Andy wrestles with no longer being a favourite toy. He tries to make Bonnie’s first day at kindergarten more palatable by caring for her new creation ‘Forky’ (a decorated plastic spork with mismatched googly eyes and pipe cleaners for arms!) The film could be sub-titled ‘Woody’s Attempts to Save Forky From Danger’, and as usual, there is peril on the road trip as the toys are trapped in an antiques centre where a doll wants to wrest Woody’s voice box from him in order to cure her defects and earn the right to be loved by a child for herself (even the adversaries’ motives are unfolded for us!) There is also deep joy as Woody is reunited with his old friend, Bo Peep.
The film has many laugh-out-loud moments (the scenes where Forky keeps diving for the bin, believing he’s trash not a toy, or the toys takeover of driving the camper van to prevent Bonnie’s parents from driving on and leaving Woody and Forky behind are hilarious), but it also operates on a much deeper level than most children’s films, tugging at the heartstrings as it deals with fear, loss, identity and purpose, loyalty, choices and fresh starts. To be able to touch on mixed motives in such a film (Woody’s desire to help Bonnie is mingled with his own need for her approval and desire to be loved and useful; Gabby’s determination to get what she wants is seen as being the outworking of her desperate need to be loved) is a skill indeed; to tackle these deep questions of love, loyalty, hurt, fear and the pains and joys of relationships through the medium of animation shows a skill few films ever demonstrate.
So hurrah (once again) to the Toy Story geniuses. Thanks for letting me share this journey again.