Review of Toy Story 4 for Parents of the Toy Story Generation [spoiler free!]

Note: We were provided with a complimentary screening for this movie. All opinions are my own.

Welcome to the latest Diaper Dad Confessions movie review!  If you’re here to find out whether Toy Story 4 is worth taking your kids to see in theaters, or later on digital release and Blu-ray Disc, I’ll save you the effort now:  They’re gonna LOVE it. Go see it. It’s great.

In fact, for your kiddos, here’s an official Disney guide on how to make YOUR VERY OWN FORKY! (Trust me, after you go see this movie with your kids, and I’m sure you will, they’re going to want their own Forky – or rather, make their own Forky):

Click here to download – Make your own Forky! [PDF]
Review over?  Chances are you already want to go watch this movie regardless of this opinion, but if you are interested in whether this movie lives up to the Toy Story name, especially for adults who grew up with Toy Story in our lives, read on.  It’s no secret that the Toy Story franchise is a significant piece of modern animated cinematic history – and of course Disney·Pixar wouldn’t release a major motion release of this brand without ensuring it would continue and grow the love and appreciation audiences have grown to have over 20 years.  

And that, is what brings us to the focus of my review of Toy Story 4 – A parent’s retrospective on over 20 years of talking toys and the impact it has had on my story of parenthood.

The original Toy Story movie premiered on November 22, 1995. I was in seventh grade, and when I heard the first fully computer animated feature film was coming out, as an early computer aficionado (before doing so was ‘cool’) you better bet I was all about its release. While most others my age at the time simply a new world of talking toys, I was enthusiastic about this new era of digital animation and the promise of what computers would bring to entertainment. Months later, during an opportunity to come up with an individual special project of my own choosing. I chose to write a research paper on, you guessed it, the original Toy Story movie.  Sure, as a typical 7th grader I also thought the characters of Woody and Buzz were just plain cool – but I was entering teenagehood and my nerdy self was overcome with the idea of computers being the start-to-finish in the creation of this standalone masterpiece.

Fast forward to 1999. Toy Story 2 came out. With an ever-growing interest in technology as a career, my focus for the film’s first sequel was in just how much digital animation had clearly progressed in just a few short years. Sure, Buzz and Woody, along with newcomer Jessie and the entire gang played into a solid second storyline, but I was more compelled to TS2’s significant increase in detail, lighting, and general cinematic quality.

(Spoilers ahead for Toy Story 3 – but let’s face it, it was a 2010 film and you’re here to consider watching its sequel nearly a decade later)

Hyperspace jump again (yup, cross-Disney franchise reference) eleven more years to 2010 – time for Toy Story 3.  At this point I’m a father of 2, including a 4 year old who was HUGE into Toy Story. My interest in the franchise hit a crossroads – half me with continued interest in the *significant* jumps in digital animation quality after years of great Pixar hits. The other half excited about the ability to hand down to my children my love of these characters and the imaginative world of talking toys when we aren’t looking.  The joy in my oldest son’s eyes when he later got a robotic talking Buzz Lightyear for his birthday was just plain unmatched! And the initial fear he felt (oh let’s face it.. we ALL felt) when we saw the gang’s near demise at the dump displayed a sense of empathy I still have yet to see in my now-teenage son’s eyes for anything else. 😀 This sparked a dramatic epitome in the way I saw this beloved franchise: As a parent, I started to see Toy Story as a way to truly share a sense of joy and caring for a piece of entertainment with my own offspring. And the way TS3’s story brought a proper send-off for Andy’s connection with these toys. I now saw myself as a Toy Story fan in the sense that its filmmakers had primarily intended all these years – to empathize with the evolution we all take in our own lives, human and perhaps even those non-human objects we’ve come to hold so dear through our own growth.

So that takes us a full 9 years later – welcome to 2019. Never did I actually think Pixar would consider another continuation of this franchise. Andy’s moved to college! The toys have found their next generation to support with Bonnie. To me, it was a proper enough ending — or was it?  When TS4 was formally announced towards the end of 2014, the “adult” in me first said “okay, well that make sense.. From an Investor’s perspective. Of course they’d keep the money train of Toy Story running!” — but the storylover in me just couldn’t see it. Even when the trailers started pouring out over the past few months leading up to the release, I joined in on the quick laughs but still just didn’t understand where they’d take this story – and why they’d want to risk a well-appreciated franchise that already had a commonly-agreed proper ending.

Turns out folks, after taking 3 (of my now 6) kids to see this movie, I can truly understand why they’ve made this film. Sure, they’ve completed the story arc of our human pal Andy – and alluded that ‘the toys will be fine’ as they start a new life with Bonnie.  BUT… Have we really wrapped up the story of our main pal Woody? Despite all his adventures to support his ever-faithful bond with his humans, is it really enough just to say that ‘at least we know he’s moving on to continue his mission’? After TS3 my answer was a resounding ‘YES!’ — and now after watching Toy Story 4, I have to admit I feel kind of bad for making that assumption. Because Pixar has proven to us that we should have continued to care, all these years later, for what has happened to the fate of our western roundup toy star. And I must say, through yet another adventure of grand scale, we come to a proper story bookend for our main man Woody, galactic star Buzz, and all our Andy’s Room and Bonnie’s Room pals. We even find reprise in Woody’s original character love, Bo Peep, and meet some new friends along the way like Forky, Ducky, and Bunny.  (by the way, if by the time you come home from seeing TS4 and your kids aren’t already trying to make their own Forky, I’ll be shocked). These new characters add the proper amount of freshness to supplement the Toy Story franchise without doing too much as to upstage the appreciation value we already have for our existing toybox crew. This movie ultimately shows us that, while the first 3 movies tear at the heartstrings of what our children’s playthings do to affect our human lives, this 4th movie allows us to take that resulting love for these otherwise-inanimate characters and allow us to care for what ultimately becomes of their fate. I’d say *now* we have a proper ending for Buzz, Woody, and the gang – that is, should Pixar choose to call it good at this point. Sure, I would no longer be surprised if they decide to keep the train going for some or all of these great characters. But if they really are done this time around, my inner 12 year old feels peace for the fully-rounded story arc for these great toys.

And speaking of that inner 12 year old, who originally was enticed to this story for the behind-the-scenes reasons that brought these stories to life – 9,707 days from first movie release to this movie’s release – was simply so immersed into the story and the reality of how great today’s modern computer animation just simply *is* that I had finally been able to just appreciate the movie as it was intended: To share in this magical not-so-distant world with my children and the inner child of my own appreciation of the world of Toy Story from all these years. Great job Disney and Pixar – you knocked this one out of the park. All 4 movies in this franchise.

Go see it! If you’ve made it this far in my story / review – how can you not?  Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” ventures to U.S. theaters on June 21, 2019.

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