After months – if not years – of rumors, the official word is out: Toy Story 4 is coming. We know virtually nothing about the movie aside from its planned June 2017 release date, a few of the people who are working on it, and some rumblings that the fourth film will be a love story. But does that stop the Internet from speculating? Of course not.
The second the film was announced, it seemed like everyone had an opinion. Years before its release, Toy Story 4 had already been called everything from a potential new Pixar masterpiece to a sign that the studio’s days as the symbol of quality in computer animation are over, plus everything in between.
Obviously it’s a bit early to know how we should feel about a new Toy Story movie, but it’s also nearly impossible to avoid having an opinion. So here’s my take on the announcement, from my concerns to my thoughts on other people’s concerns to the one big reason I’m not worried yet.
An ongoing concern that has gained some momentum after the Toy Story 4 announcement is that Pixar is in danger of becoming a sequel factory. It’s not a new worry and not an unfounded one. Of the fourteen Pixar films released so far, four have been sequels and one of those has the dubious honor of being the only Pixar movie I have never seen. There are an additional four sequels in production, under consideration, or rumored to be in the works, including Toy Story 4.
While more sequels may call Pixar’s commitment to fresh ideas into question, their track record on sequels thus far has been strong. The last two Toy Story films were among the studio’s strongest. The prequel Monsters University, while not mindblowing, was still a solid movie. And Cars 2…well, you’ll have to ask someone who actually saw it. Pixar is still making original movies, with two of them scheduled for release next year alone. And much as we might hate to admit it, sequels sell. Audiences have shown time and time again that they like seeing more of what they’re familiar with, resulting in sequels that rake in more money than their predecessors or their more unique box office competitors.
Another common concern, and one that I’m more worried about, is whether a fourth Toy Story film will have anything new and worthwhile to say. I’ve talked before about the fallacy that sequels should be “necessary.” Very few sequels need to exist. Toy Story stood on its own just fine before Toy Story 2 came along and both films work perfectly well without Toy Story 3. But there are films that are better fodder for sequels than others.
Pixar has made a couple of shorts and TV specials with the Toy Story characters since the third film, but those don’t need to top what’s come before or present major changes to the character’s world. They’re side stories, fun little glimpses into the life these characters are leading since the end of the last movie. They can keep the status quo where it is. A new movie can’t, particularly not after Toy Story 3. That film took a huge risk and paid off the premise set up in Toy Story 2, kicking the characters out of the world of eternal childhood and into one where the kid they loved had outgrown them and the future looked uncertain.
The Toy Story movies have covered new toys, toy rivalries, broken toys, toys being lost, toys being discarded, and toys being outgrown. We’ve seen toys’ lives with one child from beginning to end. Is there more to say about the lives of toys that is big enough to support a while movie? Is there anything in the world that can top Andy and Woody saying goodbye for the last time? I don’t have good answers for these questions, but Pixar will have to if they want Toy Story 4 to be the amazing film it needs to be to live up to what’s come before.
So with plenty of reasons to worry about Toy Story 4 and no guarantee that it will be the instant classic I want it to be, why am I not freaking out?
Because I already did, back when Toy Story 2 was announced. Mostly because the teaser trailer looked like this:
I was already concerned that this new animation studio with so much potential was doing a sequel so early on. Pixar’s track record at the point was two movies, nowhere near enough to be sure that they wouldn’t make a bad movie. And on top of that, here was this teaser trailer that made it look like the sequel would be making the queen mother of all sequel mistakes: ditching the changes that happened in the first movie to retain the situations and character relationships that audiences liked the first time around. I was bracing myself for a retread of Woody and Buzz as adversaries, a movie I really didn’t want to see.
Then the movie came out, and it wasn’t a retread. Not only that, it was better than I had even dared to hope it could be. The characters still remembered everything that had happened to them in the first film and acted like it. They were still the characters I loved from that first movie, but the growth they went through wasn’t lost. This was a real sequel and the movie that made me trust Pixar to get it right.
So while my feelings about Pixar aren’t exactly the same as they were when I first saw Toy Story 2, I’m still choosing to be optimistic about the new movie, especially at this early stage. I’m still choosing to believe that the people at Pixar care about these characters as much as I do and won’t make a new movie if it doesn’t live up to what’s come before. Two years and change is a long time, and Pixar has shown a willingness to rework a movie or outright pull the plug if it’s not coming together. So until I hear something that definitively says otherwise, I’m going to believe that Pixar will once again do right by Toy Story.