My teen has grown up with Buzz, Woody, and the Toy Story franchise. In fact, a stuffed Bullseye, the one toy she purchased at Disney World when she was 8, still resides in her bedroom. So it wasn’t exactly a shock when she reminded me this morning, “Toy Story 4 comes out today!”
I had been waiting to see if she would bring it up, unsure about whether she was still excited about her old friends. She said that she was excited, as were all her classmates in second period physics class after their teacher showed them a trailer for the film. So, off we went to see Toy Story 4.
With themes of transition, change, and charting your own course, Toy Story 4 has some elements that are really good for teens. But overall, while it wasn’t bad, I’m afraid that Toy Story 4 didn’t quite live up to our very high expectations.
The movie didn’t completely suck us in and have us caring as deeply like we were with the first three Toy Story films. It’s okay for teens, but not in the “must see right away” category. It wasn’t quite as fast-paced and didn’t spur nearly as much conversation as some other recent movies have for my family.
It feels a bit traitorous to say that, because we really love Toy Story. But some of our favorite parts of past films have been are the interactions of the toys as a group. This film didn’t have as much of that, although they do pull together in the end for a scene – one that had us laughing the most.
There’s a big focus on Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. Potts does a great job. I liked the character more than my teen did. She’s a bit hardened by life in a way that didn’t quite connect with my teen. I think adults may appreciate Bo a bit more, but my teen has felt more affinity for other Toy Story characters.
The story may hit closer to home for parents of kids who are getting ready to leave the nest. There are themes of identity that resonated with me. Woody contemplates what life might look like when a child’s focus shifts and when he’s not responsible for one. It stirs up a mixture of emotions, including fear, sadness, and possibility. That really resonated with me.
The new toy Bonnie has created at kindergarten orientation, named Forky, is pretty convinced he’s trash. Literally. Woody, however, insists that Forky see himself in a new way, with a new purpose. That also meant really protecting Bonnie even when it may not have been entirely necessary. It felt like a commentary on helicopter parenting and letting kids deal with their sadness. (I’m pretty sure Inside Out has influenced my thinking on this.)
The animation is really well done. The images of the carnival at night were especially lovely. There’s a realism that is amazing. You can almost feel the textures. While that realism is usually a plus, the ventriloquist dummies who emerged from dark corners of an antique shop and surround new character Gabby Gabby were almost a little too real. They were not my teen’s favorites, and they freaked me out a bit, too.
My teen wasn’t sorry that she saw the movie, but wasn’t wowed by it, either. It’s certainly not bad for teens. It’s not only possible but likely that other kids will connect with it in a way we did not, especially given that the movie has received many great reviews. We’d love to know what you and your family thought – please let us know in the comments!