Toy Story 4

Watch Date: 24 July 2019

Watched In/ On: Golden Village Tampines

IMDb link.


  • My theory about Toy Story 3 was that it was an allegory for religion, and one that was skeptical of religion overall. It was as though Woody was Protestant, looking upon Andy as a loving god; with salvation surely at hand. Lotso was Hindu, enforcing a caste system, and justifying the suffering of the lowest caste toys as necessary for good order. Barbie was secular humanist (secular toyist?), saying that toys could survive on their own without having to belong to a kid / god. Spinoza Barbie.
  • I feel that the religious overtones are present in Toy Story 4 too, but that in this instalment, the story seems more positively disposed to religion; a parallel with the EconTalk episodes where Russ Roberts gives his own (and other!) religious practice props for the benefits it offers while ignoring the nasty side effects that other religious practices have. And also to Deirdre McCloskey’s overall positivity towards Methodism as a force for good (or was it Episcopalianism?). I’ll get back to the why and how of this in a bit.
  • I cried a lot.
  • The first few minutes seemed to dip a lot into mental illness / existential angst / the intersection of the two; but also dials up the religious allegory even further. From just being gods to worship, this movie now makes kids creator gods as well, with Bonnie creating Forky and giving him life. But what a terrible life – he’s born from trash, convinced he is trash, and Woody and the others have to constantly be on suicide watch for Forky and try and fill the accident of his creation with some kind of meaning. And Woody being Woody, the meaning he tries to provide Forky is the sort of religious one of living for Bonnie’s / God’s sake.
  • Side note: Forky wanting to throw himself in the trash reminds me of all the self-loathing memes floating on imgur and reddit about “lol i’m trash”; and the movie so gently provides a counterpoint to that. And it also reminded me of the post Tidying Up snark about ‘your husband does not spark joy, put him in the trash as well’. Which is important because there’s another Marie Kondo parallel that’s coming up.
  • It doesn’t come across explicitly, but the toys take so many risks in this movie. They run around while humans are around, they jump out of moving vehicles, confident that they’ll make it back; they try to sabotage a vehicle and impersonate a GPS – and I get the feeling that this is because of a Woody who’s grown old and experienced and knows exactly what he can pull off – but never lets it show itself as cockiness.
  • And now for the Deirdre McCloskey connection. The Woody and Bo Peep dynamic seems like a struggle between faith and hope, past and future. Woody is faith driven, doing whatever he does because he knows what has been important in the past, and wants to go on doing it. He tells Forky about the joy of being Andy’s toy; and how that shows that Forky should be Bonnie’s. He appeals to Bo Peep’s life with Molly; while all Bo Peep wants to do is look to the future and move on with the carnival and get played with kid after kid; with no serious attachment. And meanwhile, Bo Peep has made so much of herself. She’s a leader, she repairs herself and other toys, she escaped from the antiques shop; and she refuses to think of the past.
  • There seemed to be a subtext of disability and vampirism with Gabby Gabby. She has a broken voice box out of the box, and wants to get Woody’s instead; convinced that she is worthless without it. But even after getting Woody’s voice box, she ends up being worthless to Harmony.
  • So this is where Marie Kondo comes in again. In spite of all the jokes about putting useless husbands in the trash, in Tidying Up she nevertheless tried to get the husband to be less useless rather than throwing him out. There’s that atmosphere of redemption in TS4 as well. Gabby is a vampire, taking Woody’s voice box in the belief that it’s what she needs for fulfilment, and not getting it anyway. But instead of getting her comeuppance, she gets redemption, being picked up by the lost little girl. Toy Story (and is it Pixar in general?) provides a happy ending for even the antagonist, wicked as they may be.
  • The duck and bunny were annoying and I felt the movie could have done without their hamming; but Giggles and Duke Caboom were delightful. Also thank you Pixar for the fanservice of making Keanu Reeves say Woah again.
  • Another slight off track related to the religious overtones of Toy Story 4 – these days, popular consciousness does venerate one particular religious person whose religiosity was benevolent and free of harshness – Mr Rogers, the Presbyterian clergyman who never let Presbyterian doctrine actually slip into his television show, but for years broadcast lovingkindness. Woody is very similar, and his voice actor is now playing Mr Rogers too. And Tom Hanks is himself acquiring a reputation for Mr Rogers-like decency. Hmm.
  • The third act flips the Bo Peep and Woody around altogether. Bo Peep suddenly appreciates Woody’s faith; and Woody, at the climax, takes that leap of hope and leaves his kid to be with Bo Peep and the others in the carnival. Two broken toys, carrying on to do the best they can for the toys around them.
  • The old Google Chrome ‘it gets better’ ad had this short clip of Woody saying ‘You’ll be fine, partner.’ The end of Toy Story 4 seems like Woody telling it to himself.

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