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WATCHING THE MOVIES: “Toy Story 4” Redemption Is Here

You'll meet old friends, learn to grow with them, and see how toys, as moral agents, can listen to the still small voice within. I'm not crying, you're crying.

“Heart wrenching.” That’s what my 9-year-old boy said as we were leaving the theater. He told me he saw three or four people crying at the end. I don’t doubt it one bit.

(No spoilers here, nothing you can’t see in the trailers.)

If Pixar’s toy universe has a God, He’s speaking to us very clearly in this film. In the Bible, in 1 Kings chapter 19, the prophet Elijah is running from God.

11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

I suspect the writers of Toy Story 4 would identify with this verse as they wrote the script. There were mountains (well, Ferris wheels, carousels and other carnival rides), strong winds, earthquakes and fires, at least from the perspective of Sheriff Woody and his new (and old) friends. But all through that, the still small voice provided healing, direction, and after four movies, closure.

Let’s roll through Toy Story 1,2,3…

In the original Toy Story, there was character development, growth, and a hilariously degenerate teenage villain. The villain was defeated, Buzz Lightyear learned what it meant to be a toy, and Woody grew into a servant leader. The second in the series (which to me was the funniest one) lost the original character Bo Peep to make room for Jessie and her horse, Bullseye, as Woody’s love interest. Again, there was growth, and a villain to defeat (Stinky Pete is my all-time favorite).

In Toy Story 2, Woody made a choice to stick with his friends, and his child, Andy, even if it meant leaving Jessie behind. The third film was supposed to wrap things up, but to me was like somebody dumped a bunch of Sour Skittles into the M&M bowl. There were some funny moments, but dang, that daycare was home to a bunch of seriously nasty and deranged toys.

The whole crew was sliding into Hell itself in the furnace scene. Are you kidding me? Kids were traumatized. One family even pranked grandma by ending the movie there–roll credits and goodbye Woody, goodbye Buzz.

Cut to deus ex machina. They’re all saved!

And what happened to Lohtsa should never happen to a plush toy. Nightmarish. And the ending with Andy heading to college ruined Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios forever. Now instead of dropping to the pavement when a kid shouts “Andy’s coming!” the Green Army Men lamely reply “Andy went off to college.”

Toy Story 3 should never have been made.

Toy Story 4 squares everything

Why should Pixar have even made Toy Story 4? Because everything needed to be squared–with the fans, and with the characters.

The movie does square everything–it delivers a punch to the heart, and a message for the head.

There’s a villain, but not really, because every villain can be won with love and sacrifice. There’s conflict, but it’s all inside. There’s friendship, but it’s the best-friend, familiar kind. There’s learning how to be a servant, and learning how to really serve.

And there’s Forky, a created thing that is a loved toy to his creator alone, who makes more moral progress in a single movie than watching Superman go from a baby in a spaceship to saving Lois Lane. (One Forky spoiler line filled with profound truth–read at your own peril: “I’m her trash.”).

This movie packs more growth and love into a kid’s flick than anything since Bambi, and it does it without resorting to slaughtering Thumper. Yeah, there are some pretty creepy characters, but nothing even remotely as punishing as the Toy Story 3 daycare. In fact, toddlers are positively redeemed. Everyone is redeemed.

You’ll meet old friends, learn to grow with them, and see how toys, as moral agents, can listen to the still small voice within. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Toy Story 4 is a journey through the toy universe, all the way to infinity and beyond. See it and have your heart wrenched, but in a very good way.

I rate it 9/10.

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