My family binge-watched the first three Toy Story movies over the course of a few days in preparation for seeing Toy Story 4. I forgot how much I really love the first movie, and just exactly how horrifying the third movie is. Also, if you don’t sob your way through the end of Toy Story 3, you have no soul. But for those of us who grew up with the first three movies, the third one wrapped everything up so wonderfully that I really had no idea what to expect with the fourth. So, I went. I watched. Now, I review.
Toy Story 4 picks up where the third installment left off, with the gang making themselves at home in Bonnie’s room. We follow Bonnie to kindergarten orientation where she makes—literally makes—a new friend, Forky. Unfortunately, this little craft-project-turned-toy is not at all happy with his new life as Bonnie’s favorite toy and spends all his time trying to escape to the nearest trash can. Woody spends all his time trying to keep Forky from succeeding. When Forky finally makes his great escape during the family’s summer road trip, Woody’s led on his biggest adventure yet.
How was it? I’m still trying to figure out what to say about this movie. I have yet to read a bad review, and, somehow, I don’t know what to make of it. My seven-year-old declared it awesome and my husband called it enjoyable. I just thought it was kind of weird. It was a perfectly fine movie, although I thought it was less funny and slapstick than the other ones, particularly the first two. I think I was able to define my issue when my family was discussing how old you should have to be to see the movie.
When I asked my daughter, she oddly said you should have to be 10-12 years old “because of all the scary parts.” (She almost always says you should have to be whatever age she is when I ask this question.) My husband agreed, but not because of the content. Common Sense Media has the film rated as appropriate for ages 5+, and while there are some creepy characters in it, there’s really only one scene where a character is in danger of visible harm. What he thought was that some of the themes were too deep for younger kids to understand: the themes that drove Woody to make the decisions he did throughout the film. Turns out he’s right. While were talking about the movie over dinner, it was obvious that a lot of the plot had gone right over our daughter’s head; she was really confused about why Woody did some of the things he did. And I think that’s what was weird about the movie: it’s an animated movie for adults. Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing inappropriate or anything! It’s just that it feels like this movie was made more for those of us who grew up with the Toy Story movies and have kids of our own now, or the parents who grew up watching these movies with their kids and are empty nesting now—not for actual kids.
Overall? Toy Story 4 is a gorgeous movie, of course, which is something you’ll appreciate even more if you’ve watched all four of them in a row. And despite the fact that your kids may or may not totally grasp the finer points of the plot, they’ll probably enjoy the action and adventure. If you want my official statement, I’m still up in the air, but ultimately will probably come down on the side of this being an unnecessary sequel. We won’t be going back to see this one in theaters a second time. (Although I will admit the ending required tissues. As always: damn you, Pixar.)