The “Toy Story” franchise has an uncanny ability to peel back the layers of humanity to find out what really makes us tick. Sure, they’re toys, but what they go through, the problems they encounter and the emotions they deal with are all deeply human.
“Toy Story 4” begins with a flashback. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is doing what he does best, trying desperately to save a one of his dear toy friends — this time RC — from an untimely demise. Woody is genuinely concerned about the welfare of others. Not only does he care about his child, but he empathizes and sincerely loves everyone around him. Few characters are as selfless as Woody. But soon, an important question arises: Is Woody letting his own altruïsm get in the way of his own happiness?
We finally find out what happened to Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) as Woody and the gang encounter her early in the movie. Bo Peep has been living her best life out in the world, going on adventures and playing with random children at playgrounds. Woody cannot fathom how Bo Peep exists in a world so different from his. How can a toy find happiness without a child? What purpose does a toy have if it isn’t owned by someone?
The real crux of this is the battle of two humanistic notions: Predetermination and free will. If we are preordained to a specific role or way of life, then we don’t really have free will. Woody is faced with the idea that what he’s always thought, that happiness can only be found through belonging to a child, isn’t the only true and correct way for a toy to live.
Bo Peep seems quite happy in her life as an autonomous toy who travels around freely doing what she wants when she wants. She is the embodiment of free will, and Woody soon realizes that there are more ways for toys to be satisfied with their lives.
Everything here is handled so beautifully. Yes, “Toy Story 4” is funny. It’s downright hilarious when Duke Kaboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Canada’s greatest stuntman, enters the picture. There are plenty of laughs to go around. They aren’t cheap laughs either. The jokes are earned and grow organically from the situations the characters find themselves in. The writing is splendid.
There’s a sense that this film is really trying to explore raw humanistic fears; not nightmarish fears, but the concerns and worries that we all grow up with. Sometimes these worries metastasize and become situations we can’t possibly handle on our own.
Here we see Woody — along with many of the main characters — dealing with the worry of aging in completely different ways. Is it possible to let go of loved ones for our own mental health? What’s it like to realize that everything you’ve believed might not be entirely correct? What happens when you’re faced with a life-changing choice that could fundamentally change who you are?
The fear of letting go, moving on, and outgrowing our supposedly preordained lives is something I will continually think about since seeing “Toy Story 4.” This is an animated feature that exists in a completely different stratosphere compared to most animated films. It’s poignant, thoughtful, and questions the cosmic designs of humanity.