Ever since that dark, clouded day that I read Toy Story 4 was given the green light I took a stand: I will not be reviewing or even watching the money grab to end all money grabs. Yes, I might not be the first one to say this or even write this, but I have been gifted with my fathers’ side of the family’s arrogance (believe me, holiday gatherings with my cousins was an exercise in when unrealistic Id’s collide). The original Toy Story trilogy was one of not only great cartoon franchises or even a family film trilogy, but one of the all-time achievements if film history; it was that rare series that had become better with each passing chapter, every installment more satisfying than the next, and no trilogy since has wrapped a pretty bow on top of it as Andrew Stanton did. So, here’s why I won’t be watching Toy Story 4.
When Pixar began its infancy, the original or first-born Pixar baby was Toy Story, a film that used computer-animated cartoon visuals that took eight teams, financing from such big wigs like Steve Jobs, with the new studio teaming with Disney, and Lucas Light & Sound finished the sound effects for the film (without the computer-animated film Tin Toy, which was the first of its kind to win an Oscar in 1988, Pixar might have not been in existence). The success of the first film was so great, a sequel was scheduled for a direct to home video release, but test scores sent it through the roof and to a local theatre near you. Not since The Empire Strikes Back has a sequel been that universally acclaimed by fans and critics.
They broke their own rule, only once, as the story goes, Disney told Pixar to make 10 original films before making one sequel. Can you blame them, though? For the first time (maybe not, but it sounds good) art met commerce, and both come out the other side knowing they made the right choice. They tapped into a generation’s memories of looking back at their childhood’s beloved toys and wondering what happened to them (for me, I still wonder where my yellow blanket named “Blankie” is now, I am hoping he found a good home or as my adult cynicism has kicked in, most likely on the bottom of a landfill, with the poly-blend not bio-degrading). I used to wonder what my twin brother must have thought when we were fighting over our tiny plastic toy soldiers and what basic or highly advanced maneuvers they must have had to take to hide from us (yes, I am a twin, but only fraternal, he is shorter and smaller than me. Basically, my brother looks like my action figure).
Without the success of the first two films, there would be no Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, Ratatouille or my personal favorite, Wall-E. While even A Bug’s Life and Cars have had detractors (the latter was written by Dan Fogleman believe it or not, so have at him film twitter) being in Pixar’s first 10 films. While depending on the level of what type of a pretentious film snob you talk to, they might bash it, but is an entertaining family film that is hard not to enjoy. The original set of computer-animated classics represented something pure, an ideal to make creative, stand-alone films, that while asking you to put down your hard earned money (while hopefully sneaking in concessions in a big old purse carried by a loved one) for something original, entertaining, heartwarming, that is honest to god actually something the whole family may enjoy; instead of a lazy critic telling you the whole family will enjoy it to increase his click-bait total so they can renew their next contract.
Then the big one, Toy Story 3, ended a trilogy that was perfect, a masterstroke of simplicity that tapped into everyone’s complex personal emotions with pure unadulterated melancholy. The 11th film in the perfect batting average in the studio’s history that gave Millennials, Generation Xer’s, and even the Baby-Boomers closure of their beloved toys growing up that were their first best friends. It’s a series that the members of Gen Z and Post-Millennials didn’t have a deep appreciation for then, but now are rediscovering the set of films as they remember their own childhoods fondly, since they were not even born yet or most likely even too young to appreciate what John Lasseter and friends accomplished. In fact, the last film for Woody and friends was only the second time I ever had a lump in my throat, and I told my future wife I needed to use the bathroom, as I scurried out of the theatre.
That is why I won’t be watching Toy Story 4. After the 11th film, Pixar-Disney gave way to pay attention more to sequels and less to its original fare that forgot how great things can be when top-flight escapism is created when the studio system and artists come together to meet in the middle for one great, common goal. Their batting average is still great, but no longer perfect; the focus on a decade of not as good or disappointing sequels (Cars 2, Cars 3), poor original fare (Brave), with Inside/Out (and maybe Coco) being the only true classic since Toy Story 3 was released. In short, by releasing TS4, it now marks the end of that pure filmgoing innocence many of us have felt that gave us the feel goods of our childhood, a look back at a time that will never be repeated or forgotten, and with closure.
The studio that brought us the greater ideal of its first 11 films forgot where they came from, and now is looking to keep the gravy train rolling in. There is nothing wrong with that though, this is America after all, but that warm from the oven cookie feeling you would get from watching a Pixar original is now a distant memory, and is replaced by a cynical reality that maybe it was all about the money after all. For now, this remains the final nail in the coffin of the last great stand for film idealism we may have had left.
The only thing I can hold my hat on is that if they do greenlight a 5th and 6th Toy Story, it should end like this: Woody is now on eBay, stuffed in an air-locked chamber to keep his value high by some lonely, bitter, nerdy collector looking to make a few bucks. Andy is grown up, has a good paying job, a family, then finds his beloved Toy Woody on that online world-wide garage sale. Andy wins the bid, both of them will be reunited, and because of that, we will get those feel goods back.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.