For a lot of people, Toy Story is an absolutely perfect trilogy. It tells a complete story over the course of three movies and comes to a perfect, and perfectly satisfying, end. However, many of those fans who felt the story had reached a perfect end are now largely concerned, because Toy Story 4 is on the way and it's ready to continue the story we thought was finished.
Last month I got to sit down with Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley and Producers Jonas Rivera and Mark Nielsen, and the three of them spoke to me about how, while they agreed that the ending of Toy Story 3 was something special, it wasn't quite the ending that many people thought it was. Eventually, Toy Story 4 found its story by realizing that the first three movies weren't about Andy, but actually all about Woody, which meant there was clearly story left to be told. As Jonas Rivera told me...
In a weird way, Toy Story 3’s ending helped us, because it felt like a little bit of a misdirection. It was this idea that, if Toy Story 3 is an end. I mean really, the saga of Toy Story is about Woody, right? We kinda kicked that around for a while. He’s the protagonist. Andy’s a driver of the story but Woody is the main character.
It's the simplest idea in the world to be sure, but one that could be easily overlooked, the Toy Story movies are about Woody. Andy is only actually important to the story of the first three because he is important to Woody, we only really see him through Woody's eyes.
Certainly, much like Andy, Woody's story has come full circle, but just because he's back to being the toy of a young child, doesn't mean that Woody's life hasn't drastically changed. Woody now finds himself the property of Bonnie, in a new home with a bunch of new toys in addition to the ones that he's known. In the end, it was the simple idea that "what if this time things were different this time" that led to the story that became Toy Story 4. Again, from Jonas Rivera...
What that was, was just that idea of like, what if you took Woody, and [had] gone through everything that he’s done, tracked it, and he’s always landed on his feet. He literally gets a second chance. What if we could dramatize something about that second chance and show that it wasn’t the same, he’s didn’t land in the same spot. It is different. It is upending his life in ways he hasn’t experienced before.
Pixar creates some pretty interesting worlds, to be sure, and if you look too closely at them, they tend to fall apart, but the simple fact is that in the world of Toy Story, these characters aren't simply toys. They are conscious living being, and that means that just because ownership of them might change, things don't simply reset. The lives of these characters move forward and that's what is happening to Woody in Toy Story 4.
I got a chance to see a significant part of Toy Story 4 while visiting Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA last month. As part of that, I can certainly say that Toy Story 4, while still feeling like another Toy Story movie, also very clearly feels like a necessary and important chapter in that larger story. This is a piece of Woody's life that has value and it feels like it will all be a story worth telling.
Early in the new movie we see that Woody isn't the favorite toy that he once was. He's also not the defacto leader of the group. His status in the bedroom isn't what it once was, and while Woody rolls with the punches pretty well, he's clearly found himself in unfamiliar territory.
Director Josh Cooley compared Woody's situation to a parent dealing with "empty nest syndrome" after the kids have moved out of the house. Woody's relationship with Andy, while being his toy, was also that of a caretaker, Woody watched out for Andy and tried to keep him safe. Now that's successfully done that, what's next?
The idea that there still was a "next chapter" for Woody was vital to the trio of Josh Cooley, Jonas Rivera and Mark Nielsen as they were among those who loved the ending of Toy Story 3, and as such, even they only wanted to make Toy Story 4 if there was a compelling reason to do so.
We were among the people saying 'Toy Story 3 was a great ending, so you better not just make another adventure.’ We can’t have this feel like ‘oh, we forgot a part, audience.’
Certainly, the audience doesn't want to feel that way either. Fans almost certainly want to love the new Toy Story, even if they're not so sure about it. We'll all find out whether this story was really necessary when the movie arrives June 21.