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It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a quarter of a century since Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the Toy Story gang first charged onto screens, forever changing the face of animated movies. It was the first entirely computer-generated feature-length film. It was also the first full-length release from Pixar, the studio that has gone on to build an unparalleled reputation for filmmaking excellence.
When Toy Story 3 hit theaters nine years ago, it was reportedly the end of the line for the franchise. And most viewers felt it couldn’t have done a better job saying goodbye. Andy was growing up, going off to college, and finally ready to pass his favorite toy pal off to a new youngster. So when Disney suddenly announced there would be a Toy Story 4, the reaction of many critics was: Do we really need another one?
My answer—if the films continue to offer the innocent hilarity the latest does—is yes, please, keep them coming!
It’s astounding how few G-rated major releases there are anymore. In the last decade, at least half of them have come from Pixar. Even most children’s films earn a PG rating, and with their potty humor, sly double-entendres, and cheap substitution of pop-culture references for real jokes (I’m looking at you, DreamWorks), they deserve it.
There’s never been any of that in the Toy Story films, and in Toy Story 4, there still isn’t. Instead, there’s the kind of creativity and humor we’ve come to expect from the franchise. We catch up with Woody in his new life in little Bonnie’s playroom where he’s no longer the head honcho. In the capricious way of children, Bonnie is fairly indifferent to Woody’s cowboy charms. Instead, her favorite plaything is a spork that, with a bit of pipe cleaner and paste magic, she turns into a toy she names “Forky” (voiced by Tony Hale).
Humble Woody is happy enough to play second fiddle to a spork. The problem is, the spork doesn’t realize he’s now a toy. Thanks to the miracle of writing her name on his popsicle stick foot, Bonnie brings Forky into the fullness of new life. Only, he keeps trying to jump back into the garbage can with the rest of the used plastic utensils.
Forky’s confusion over his real identity is sidesplittingly funny—so funny my husband and I agreed we laughed harder at it than at any recent adult-targeted comedies. But it also offers the opportunity to speak some serious theology into little people’s lives. We may, like Forky, believe we are trash. We may even want to live in the trash. But it’s the love of the One who made us that tells us what we really are. And our Creator isn’t content to throw us away. If His name’s written on the bottom of our foot, He’s going to come and fish us out of the garbage no matter how hard we try to stay there.
Am I reaching? Making too much of an ingenious plot device? Maybe. But consider: One of the film’s two screenwriters—Andrew Stanton—is a professing Christian. Stanton has been a co-writer on all of the Toy Story films. And it was he who wrote the first outlines of this story, including the character of Forky.
Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast are now insisting this is going to be the last Toy Story movie. If it is, it was a wonderful way to say happy trails to Woody, in particular. And if it’s not, as long as the sequels keep bringing the warmhearted, innocent fun this one does, my family will watch them to infinity and beyond.