What Toy Story 4 Teaches Us About Movies, Stories and Life

Yesterday I saw Toy Story 4, and realized how wrong I’d been about three important concepts.

Sequels

People have long known about “The Sequel Curse”. Even if you are not a Hollywood Box Office Expert, you’ve seen it happen often enough. The 2nd movie generally doesn’t live up to the 1st one. It’s been happening for a long time. Jurassic Park was amazing. Jurassic Park: The Lost World was a disappointment. Same with The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded. Or Speed and Speed 2 (which I’m betting most of you, like me, haven’t even bothered watching!)

So, when Toy Story 2 came out 4 years after the ground-breaking original, critics and audiences rejoiced at a successful sequel. And then everyone waited for the inevitable third part, the necessary completion a trilogy that every movie franchise aims for. Eleven long years later, at a time when critics were rightfully cynical about animated movies that were increasingly cash grabs aimed at little children and their helpless hostage parents, the impossible occurred. A rarity in film history, one achieved by just a handful of movies.

Toy Story 3 allowed the animated series to enter an exclusive club populated by such films like “The Lord of the Rings”, “Dollars”, “Before” and “The Dark Knight” trilogies. A Best Animated Feature Oscar and a rare Best Picture Oscar nomination, plus a billion-dollar box office gross, meant the cinephiles and film historians enjoyed the same perfect conclusion that fans of the series experienced. A happy ending.

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And then they announced Toy Story 4.

Damaging Idealisation

Understanding why I and countless others online were bothered by a fourth Toy Story movie, will help you realize a mindset that can become extremely toxic and damaging if unchecked. People didn’t want a fourth Toy Story movie for the same reason they didn’t want a fourth Bourne movie. Because it upset their enjoyment of cinema.

You see, failure of a sequel, in the eyes of devout fans, affects the standing of the movie franchise itself. That’s why Luke Skywalker tossing his Lightsaber aside in The Last Jedi enraged them. Because it contradicts, and perhaps even taints the earlier films and characterisation.

That alone could be understandable. But fan fury goes a step further. Online comments about Toy Story 4 weren’t cold and cynical because they thought Woody would turn into a fascist law enforcer. But because if the movie wasn’t well received, it would affect the image of the franchise. No longer would Toy Story be a pristine cinematic series. No longer would fans be able to cite perfect Rotten Tomato scores.

Like the collectors of mint condition comic books that make up a portion of their demographic, movie fans, including me, were treating a possible Toy Story 4 as a meta-threat, one that affects the conversation and commentary around cinema than cinema itself. We didn’t want to embarrass our neat Woody and Buzz Lightyear collection with a fourth chapter that’s critically panned and culturally mocked.

Genuine Story

Toy Story 4 provides a perfect rebuke to this toxic fan-fuelled insistence of control over creative endeavours, by reminding us of the power of character and story arcs. The reason fans haven’t stopped clamouring and petitioning against sequels and remakes, is partially because said efforts have been creatively mediocre. Lots of guys were hysterical about an all-female Ghostbusters reboot “ruining” their childhood, but the reason why their voices will continue to nag the next such effort is because said reboot was a genuinely poor movie.

So, instead of cooking up a 90-minute plot that allows for jokes and cool animation that are funny and fancy enough to get sufficient people into the theatre, Toy Story 4 treats its plastic characters like genuine beings with souls that, just like in real life, are always yearning for something they don’t have. The folks at Pixar didn’t buck to the pressure. Of well-wishers, of cynical fans, of hard to please critics, of the intimidating box office that is sinking other animated features. Instead they simply looked into the gleaming wide eyes of a cowboy, and wondered what kind of a story he would want.

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And that’s the beauty of Toy Story 4. It’s a movie which refuted Hollywood wisdom that states a franchise sinks in quality over time, defied the cynical grumblings of fans eager to protect a legacy that isn’t theirs, and told a tale that allowed character motivations to lead the plot, confident that the jokes and tears would follow.

Toy Story 4 is worth watching in theatres now. At the least, it offers enough entertainment for your money and time. And at the most…it provides valuable lessons for cinephiles, story tellers and those who are interested in human nature, eloquently explained through plastic toys.

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