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The journey of the first three Toy Story movies has certainly been emotional for the audience that has been along for the ride, but it's also been quite the journey for the characters as well. It's also one that's not quite over yet for Woody the cowboy. In the end, the Toy Story movies have really been all about Woody's journey. He's gone through major changes in the previous films, and now it looks like the biggest change of all may be coming in Toy Story 4.
While many have felt that Toy Story ended perfectly with its trilogy, the fact is that, for Woody, the third film ended with the biggest change yet to the character's life. He now has a completely different owner. It's all part of the larger story of change in Woody's life. As Toy Story 4 producer Jonas Rivera puts it...
All of these movies are about how Woody changes: From going selfish to selfless in the first one, the second one is him understanding that things don’t last forever. The third one is about letting go. These are big changes.
With such massive changes having taken place already, what could Toy Story 4 possibly add to the story? While Rivera isn't going into too many specifics, he tells THR that the return of Bo Peep into Woody's life will be the catalyst for another major change...
We thought, if we’re going to do this, we need to think about, ‘What is the biggest change?’ What if [his relationship with Bo] was the thing that really changed him?
Bo Peep disappeared after Toy Story 2, and was only briefly referenced in the third film. It's not made clear where she went or why, though those details have been revealed through footage in the new movie that was shown at CinemaCon. We know that Bo Peep had a very close relationship with Woody, so it's not surprising that her return would be important to him, but she's clearly been leading a very different life than he has these past several years, and that will seemingly influence Woody in some way.
Bo Peep was never a major part of the Toy Story films, even the ones that she was in. While the relationship between her and Woody was made clear, we'll certainly get a much stronger look at her as a character in Toy Story 4 than we ever have before. We've already seen in trailers that her life away has caused her to go through major changes, it's likely these changes which will then have an impact on Woody.
We also know that Woody won't start the story in quite the same place that we might expect. While the toys now have a new child as their owner, it doesn't mean that everything has simply returned to the status quo. As Jonas Rivera told me when I visited Pixar last month.
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.
I described my impression of Toy Story 4 to the director Josh Cooley as Woody's mid-life crisis story. It looks he will be dealing with some really conflicting emotions and begin to really consider what his life is all about. What is his true purpose as a toy and what does that mean, not only for the children, but for him personally.
Josh Cooley told me that Woody is suffering from something of an "empty nest" feeling. While Woody may be nothing more than a toy that Andy played with, in the context of the story his relationship to the boy is actually more like that of a parent. Having successfully protected and cared for Andy to the point where he moved away, Woody is now wondering what to do with the rest of his life, a life which, as far as we know, is essentially forever.
One thing that does seem quite clear is that Toy Story 3 certainly wasn't the ending that many of us thought it was. While it wrapped up Andy's story nicely, the movies were never about him. They were always about Woody. The next chapter actually makes Woody's story more interesting because so much in his life has already changed.
As somebody who likes, but doesn't love, the Toy Story franchise, I may be more excited for a fourth film than some, as I don't feel any sort of need to close the story down after a trilogy. As the Toy Story films have grown, they've matured with their audience. And now that the fans that fell in love with the first story as children may have children of their own, the new film looks to be telling a story very much geared toward the adults in the audience.
Not that there won't be plenty for younger viewers as well. Toy Story 4 is still looking like it's going to be a very funny movie, with new characters like Ducky, Bunny, and Forky that kids will almost certainly love. It's also got a plot outside of the serious grown-up themes, involving a villainous dolly named Gabby Gabby. Even if the kids don't "get" the broader themes for years, they'll likely still love this one.
Of course, when people change, those changes effect others, and one question nobody has asked is what Toy Story 4 means for other characters. Woody's best friend Buzz Lightyear will almost certainly have a part to play in what happens to Woody in this new film, but we've seen very little, beyond, some gags, of him in the trailers. One can only assume a major change to Woody will have repercussions.
All these questions will be answered soon. Toy Story 4 will be here before we know it, it's only a month away, debuting June 21.