Four More Tears? The Return of Toy Story

toy story

In 2010, Toy Story 3, the apparent final chapter in the Woody and Buzz saga, was the highest grossing film in the world, raking in over two hundred and fifty million pounds. That February it went on to earn five nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, a rare feat for an animated film, and also garnered wins for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. It was a perfect film with an even more perfect ending. It was beloved by critics and audiences alike, failing to leave a dry eye wherever it went.

This made it all the more surprising when four days ago, Pixar Animation Studios, the Disney offshoot and cinematic powerhouse, announced it was currently developing Toy Story 4 for a 2017 release. Unsurprisingly, once wind of a fourth got online, the Internet exploded, somewhat overshadowing the official titling of J.J. Abrams’s, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While reactions were undoubtedly divided, judging from the screeches of “omg yesss” and the emphatic “wow’s,” the public seemed to adore the idea. But as a lifelong Toy Story fan I’m not so keen on the idea and the decision to make a fourth film may say something of greater substance about the Pixar brain trust.

I have always had the utmost faith in John Lasseter and the team that has come to define my childhood. Their endless string of number one films is astounding and unheard, but after the release of Cars 2 in 2011, people began to ask the unthinkable question, “Is Pixar running out of ideas?” Now this question is not necessarily fair, a fact little known to most people is that the Cars franchise, between theatrical release, home video, and most of all merchandise sales, is the second most profitable film franchise of all time, coming just short of the Star Wars saga. So the financial pressures from big brother Walt Disney, as well as Pixar Chief Creative John Lasseter’s sole love for the franchise, led to Pixar’s first real creative dud.

But bad reviews happen, not usually for Pixar, but they do. What really began to scare me personally was the upcoming Pixar slate. After 2012’s Brave somehow took home the Best Animated Feature award at the Oscar’s, Pixar announced their upcoming films for the next few years. Amongst those films were two high profile sequels, Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2, as well s two original films, one of which, The Good Dinosaur, had been pushed back an entire year due to creative differences, something unheard of at a company that prides itself on unselfishness in the director’s chair and a total communal atmosphere.

This is what makes the Toy Story 4 news all the more alarming. As competing studios like Disney’s in-house Disney Animation, headed by Lasseter nonetheless, seemingly close the gap on the animation superpower, they choose to return to their roots rather than pursue more original content like Up and Wall-E that have come to define the studio’s creative capabilities. Returning to the ultimate crowd pleaser in Woody and Buzz seems like a very safe, almost cowardly move from a studio that for most of my life has been so bold and so daring.

Personally, I have been very content with continuing series of Toy Story short films, such as Toy Story of Terror and the upcoming Toy Story That Time Forgot. This was a very tasteful way to return to the beloved toy world and simultaneously preserve the sanctity of Toy Story 3, which is perhaps the most well-executed and satisfying final chapter in film history. That being said, I have to trust that Lasseter and the creative minds at Pixar have an amazing story in mind for the toys, for I don’t think they would have the gall to return to the series and risk dropping a Cars 2-like dud on audiences.

I have to imagine that we might be seeing a whole other series developing right before our eyes. I would not be the least bit shocked to see Toy Story 4 serve as the torch-passing film that many have suspected The Force Awakens to be. Perhaps this will be the last we see of Woody and Buzz, and the Pixar people will break us in to an entirely new band of toys, willing to carry on the torch that these legendary characters must inevitably pass on.

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Originally published Nov 12, 2014 @ 06:10