Extraordinary Magic in Everyday Life
Through Reactions to Disney’s Biggest News
Fast-forward eighteen years later, and something happened that was assumed to be unthinkable. In predicting a future slate of films from Pixar Animation Studios, any fan or analyst might exclude one item because the mere thought of it was absurd: Toy Story 4. And yet, Thursday, November 6, 2014, as I exited my Public Speaking class and thumbed through Twitter, the mention of just that stopped me in my tracks. Not just a mention, either—an announcement. An official announcement. Yes, Toy Story 4 is on the way, slated for theatrical release June 16, 2017, under the direction of John Lasseter.
After a lapse of anything Toy Story-related, Toy Story 3 came at a time when the public hadn’t seen Woody or Buzz in quite a while. Following Toy Story 2‘s 1999 release, Pixar developed only original films, no sequels, until 2010’s Toy Story 3. Within that real-life time gap came a resonate time jump within the plot, with Toy Story 3 taking place just as Andy is about to turn eighteen and preparing to leave for college. A number of items made Toy Story 3 a powerhouse cherished by virtually all and acclaimed by many as an example of the finest work of not just Pixar, but of any animation anywhere. For one, it’s a superb film on the outset. Add the attachment the audience already has for its characters, the span of time the public had been without seeing them, and the depth prompted by the relatability of growing up/leaving for college/passing generational status/fill in the blank, and you’ve got yourself an achievement in storytelling that transcends the screen and becomes very real.
The film received its deserving share of recognition, too, going on to become the #1 animated movie of all time (a record since surpassed by Frozen) and garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, an honor bestowed to only two other animated films, Beauty and the Beast and Up.
Toy Story 3 served as an anchor for a company-wide implementation of all things Toy Story over the span of several years. Just two years prior in 2008, Toy Story Mania! opened as a must-see E-Ticket attraction at both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney California Adventure, quickly followed by Toy Story: The Musical on the Disney Wonder cruise ship. In preparation for the new film, its predecessors were re-leased in 3D as a special double feature theatrical event in October 2009. Following Toy Story 3‘s tremendous success, Toy Story Playland opened at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. On the homefront, Pixar proposed a creative way to keep the characters thriving in the form of Toy Story Toons, a series of theatrical shorts and television specials starring the toys in their Bonnie-era happily-ever-after. The next of these, Toy Story That Time Forgot, debuts this December 2 on ABC.
Toy Story Toons offered a perfect happy medium: we still get more time with Woody and Buzz, but the pressure and intimidation of a full-blown sequel is not present . It was, so it seemed, an intentional decision on Pixar’s part to avoid another full-length feature because a fourth film was thought to be out of the question, especially considering the finale-esque quality of Toy Story 3‘s emotional conclusion.
That’s why official news of Toy Story 4 comes as a legitimate shock. It is surprising to learn that talks of its existence are even real, much less moving full speed ahead with a firm release date and production crew in place. The announcement prompted immediate disbelief and reservation for many fans, myself included. Namely, what is left to tell? This would be different if Toy Story 3 concluded with an open-ended finish, but its story was so exquisitely wrapped up. These shorts are fun. Fantastic. Love them. They break no equilibrium. They give us more without going too far. Does Toy Story 4 go too far? It’s too early to make such a statement, but the go-to answer I innately want to say is yes, but only because of the care I have for this character world. Of all Disney’s beloved properties, Toy Story is the one that is most special to me, as it is for many people. It is personal for many reasons, but mostly due to its narrative paralleling my own generation so closely. Toy Story was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, and now in college, my childhood Woody toy sits on my dresser. This is the series that taught me what authentic friendship looks like—what it means to be truly loyal and the value that inhabits that connection.
But I’m not alone in this, and it is reassuring to know that John Lasseter is cognizant of these concerns. Lasseter previously helmed Toy Story, a bug’s life, Toy Story 2, Cars, and Cars 2 (hold your fire with that last one…), and currently holds an executive leadership position at not only Pixar, but also Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. In a public statement regarding Toy Story 4, Lasseter affirmed the cautions expressed in the previous paragraph. “We love these characters so much; they are like family to us,” Lasseter said. “We don’t want to do anything with them unless it lives up to or surpasses what’s gone before. Toy Story 3 ended Woody and Buzz’s story with Andy so perfectly that for a long time, we never even talked about doing another Toy Story movie. But when Andrew, Pete, Lee, and I came up with this new idea, I just could not stop thinking about it. It was so exciting to me, I knew we had to make this movie—and I wanted to direct it myself.”
Lasseter later told the LA Times that part of this idea involves the film being a love story. What that means has yet to be revealed. Thickening the report is news of screenwriters Rashida Jones and Will McCormack (of the 2012 comedy Celeste and Jesse Forever) penning the script. By choosing to not bring Toy Story 3‘s writer, Michael Arndt, onboard again, clear effort is being made to divert Toy Story 4 from simply (and safely) repeating the successes of those that came before it. The story will not have the same time jump associated with real time as its predecessor, but will instead begin just after Toy Story 3. Lasseter’s words, while perhaps expected, do add a sense of legitimacy to the project. If it is to be done, it’s being handled by the best, concocted by the best, and delivered by the best. That’s not to say the decision wasn’t entire free of financial incentive. In his book Creativity, Inc., Pixar President Ed Catmull describes a new business plan for the studio to develop one sequel every third release. This is quite different than how the studio began its foray into full-length films with a decade-and-a-half of nine original films and one sequel. Clearly it is now in a new season in which it is inevitable for a bulk of Pixar films to eventually be given sequels. Follow-ups are currently in the pipeline for Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars.
News of Toy Story 4 follows a string of huge announcements that make it easy to find Disney in everyday life. Frozen replacing Maelstrom, the Sorcerer’s Hat being removed, Iron Man facing off against Captain America… each of these came as jaw-droppers that immediately elicit thoughts and wide perspectives, with understood sentiment behind each lens. Many decisions are being made that are unpredictable, choices that we didn’t realize were even open for discussion. For Toy Story 4 in particular, another film could serve as another anchor for another wave of Toy Story fandom, which could include rumors swirling right now that would impact Walt Disney World in a big way. That’s not to mention the Toy Story series being hugely indicative of the current pulse of the animation business in general. You remove this franchise from the pages of film history, and animation as a medium changes completely. So in a way, if Toy Story is a reflection of computer animation’s influence, it only makes sense to be present on an ongoing basis, yet for these characters specifically, it feels like we’ve already said goodbye to them. Yet, maybe that was all a matter of perspective. Do I think it’s a good idea? I don’t really think I’m qualified to discern that, at least not until June 16, 2017. Whatever reservations I may have don’t negate Woody and Buzz Lightyear having more significance to me than any other Disney characters. Not enjoying the anticipation that will build toward spending more time with them would be a missed opportunity indeed.
I(mages part of author’s personal collection.)
Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade in Frontierland and then sprint to Main Street in time to see it again. You can find him on Twitter @olddirtyblake or at BlakeOnline.com.