I get it, that’s an emotive title and you’re probably feeling some things right now. But before we get into Toy Story 4 and Forky, there’s a very important question that needs to be answered.
Like ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’, ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’, and probably some other weird question we ask ourselves about chicken…. ‘What is the greatest movie trilogy ever made?’ is one of the great debates of our time.
The contenders are many – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Nolan’s Batman, Back to the Future, The Godfather, The Matrix, Alien (1-3).
So many trilogies, so little time. Some incredible movies, and some absolute steaming burn your eyes, turds – Spider-man 3, anyone?
In this humble writers’ opinion, you can keep your Don Corleone, Marty McFly & Ripley, and trade them all in for a good ol’ Sheriff, and a Space Ranger.
Yes, that’s right, Toy Story is the greatest movie trilogy ever made.
No, someone hasn’t poisoned the waterhole, and I don’t have a snake in my boots. Stay with me, and I’ll give you my top ten reasons why…
Unlike Disney’s ‘once upon a time’ staple, over the years Pixar have generally followed the ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…’ formula.
Toys that come to life when you’re out of the room absolutely fits that mould. But Pixar also took the time to really delve deeper, and to create stories that truly resonate with the audience.
Although in a far-fetched world, the themes explored over the trilogy are timeless – jealousy, acceptance, self-discovery, unconditional love, bravery, fear, purpose, friendship, adventure and so much more.
There really is something for everyone, from wide-eyed kids to world-weary adults.
When the first Toy Story came out way back in 95’ it was highly anticipated, as it was the first ever feature-length CG animation.
Sure, it looks a bit dated now, and humans were apparently so hard to render that someone decided Andy’s friends would have to be terrifying clones of him (seriously, look again), but for an entire generation, this really was a ground-breaking cinematic experience that changed the realms of possibility forever.
Just as 1978’s Superman made audiences truly believe a man could fly, Toy Story showed that the potential of CG animation could be infinity…and…*cough*…beyond…
Perhaps the most impressive triumph of the trilogy is how successfully so many iconic characters were introduced, and that they continue to be so beloved.
Woody and Buzz are obviously the standouts for most, but the list of greats from Andy’s room is truly endless – Mr Potato Head, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog, the Green Aliens and RC to name but a few.
Even in the second and third movies, new favourites like Jessie, Bullseye, Barbie, Mrs Potato Head and Ken were seamlessly introduced.
With so many supporting characters to Woody and Buzz, Pixar still managed to give each their own individual moments to shine.
Whether through memorable lines – “Look, I’m Picasso!” (Mr Potato Head exclaims to Hamm having rearranged his face).
Or standout scenes, like Buster the dog helping Woody to save Wheezy the penguin from the yard sale, and Ken’s fashion show montage, perfectly choreographed to Chic’s ‘Le Freak’.
Villains are also memorable, from the genuinely terrifying Sid, and his dog Scud, to the twisted Prospector and the psychopathic Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear.
With the subject matter, Pixar is dealing with here, these movies could easily be sickeningly sweet and cheesy. Instead, the writers navigate themes and plot points faultlessly.
Excitement, emotion, humour, fear, sadness, and genuine drama are all pulled off expertly throughout.
In the earlier movies, a conventional nostalgia for childhood is stirred up, without resorting to any characteristic ‘Disney-esque’ sentimentality. While Toy Story 3 achieves the same results by showing Andy moving towards emotional maturity.
Chocked full of memorable and quotable lines, jokes just for the older audience, and nods to pop culture throughout, the writers truly achieved greatness across the trilogy, to the extent that the first and third movies were even nominated alongside live-action features for best writing & adapted screenplay Oscars. An incredible achievement for animation.
Most of Pixar’s movies are genuine passion projects of the studio. They are the experts at having a clear vision of the look and feel of the worlds they want to create.
Often movies with the most ambitious of visions can end up failing though. Usually due to negative outside influences.
Ironically, Toy Story 3 could have ended up being one of these very failures, as around 15 years ago, Disney tried to force the studio to make their own version of the third instalment which would have essentially just been a rehash of the second movie, but in Taiwan…
Luckily, when Bob Iger became the new president of Disney, he sought to open negotiations with Pixar. Ultimately this led to the alternative third movie being panned and allowed the studio to once again function in a way that I believe is one of the main factors of their success – that there are virtually no outside influences.
The studio conceives, writes, casts, animates, and directs everything themselves. The very same team that dreamt up the idea of Toy Story all those years ago, is the same one that took the trilogy all the way through to the third movie.
For me, this is the reason the direction of the original two movies was so successful, as the studio had the freedom to follow their vision from inception through to completion.
And once Disney got their greedy Mickey mits off the third movie, Pixar could follow this formula once again, with Lee Unkrich, the editor of the first two movies and co-director of the second, finally given the chance to fully direct Toy Story 3. With once again exceptional results.
As with any classics, when you think of the characters portrayed you usually struggle to think of anyone else that could have played the parts so perfectly.
This is absolutely the case with every Toy Story movie. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen just are Woody and Buzz, there are no other actors I can imagine in the roles, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to.
The same can be said for every character though – Don Rickles as Mr Potato Head, Wallace Shawn as Rex, even Pixar’s go-to-guy, John Ratzenberger, who has a part in every movie the studio release, still owns each role he’s given, including Hamm in this trilogy.
What’s wonderful is that you can tell that the actors love the material they’re given. No one is phoning it in. Each performer, from industry veterans and Oscar winners to those lesser-known in the cast, all treat the movies with love, care, and respect.
There’s no hint that anyone believes animation is a lesser medium to live-action, and the results are excellent.
I’m also a stickler for continuity. Nothing can tarnish a franchise more quickly for me than when a returning character is suddenly played by another actor (as great as he is, I still struggle to take Don Cheadle seriously as Rhodey in the MCU).
Now granted, in animation it’s a lot easier to disguise this, but Pixar still went to the trouble of ensuring every actor reprised their roles in each movie. The only time this couldn’t happen, was when Jim Varney (Slinky Dog in the first two movies) sadly passed away.
Blake Clark, a good friend of Varney’s, therefore, stepped in for Toy Story 3. The result was seamless, and most would have no clue a different actor was voicing the part.
Another lovely touch of continuity from Pixar, involves the actor who plays Andy, John Morris. Morris had voiced Andy in the first two movies but had basically retired from acting ever since.
When Toy Story 3 was officially put into production, director Lee Unkrich decided to try and track Morris down to see if he would be interested in returning.
Although studying at college at the time, Morris jumped at the chance, as the project held such a special place in his heart, and him coming back really adds another sense of depth.
No duds (apart from Toy Story 4)
However great a trilogy may be, it’s universally accepted that there is always a weak link. For every ‘Empire Strikes Back’, there’s a ‘Return of the Jedi’. For every ‘The Matrix’, there’s a ‘Matrix Revolutions’.
Now this isn’t to say that every trilogy has a bad movie per se, but there’s definitely at least one that just doesn’t live up to the others.
This can be for a variety of reasons – writing, acting, plot, or, for example, a tussle over bad guys between director and studio that can lead to a movie so overloaded with villains that it has no focus! HUH, Spider-man 3?! Apologies, I digress…
My point is that the Toy Story trilogy does not have this problem. Each new instalment was a natural continuation rather than a rehash, and it’s debatable that each movie is better than the last.
This is made even more impressive in the case of Toy Story 2, with the knowledge that it was turned around only a year after the release of A Bugs Life.
John Lasseter, having worked flat out since the first Toy Story, cancelled some much-needed holiday with his family to go straight back to work, to oversee a complete reworking of the movie.
This was an insane task to undertake in the time available, but the result was incredible, with another classic being born. Critics have even referred to these movies as the first ‘flawless’ trilogy.
Fans seem to agree, as Rotten Tomatoes scores currently stand at 100%, 100% and, kind of annoyingly, 98%. I can only assume the 2% are hardcore Lots-O fans. He does smell of strawberries, I suppose…
The soundtrack is always perfect
To put it simply, Randy Newman’s soundtrack is perfect. It fits the tone of the movies beautifully – subtle, sweet, touching, uplifting, timeless.
Sure, the lyrics can be a little too, literal at times, but for me, that just adds to the charm. ‘You Got a Friend in Me’ is right up there in the pantheon of great songs from movies.
‘Jesse’s Song (When She Loved Me)’ accompanies what continues to be one of the most heart-breaking scenes in cinema, ever, and ‘We Belong Together’ won the Oscar for Best Original Song. What more could you want?!
Toy Story 4’s Ending
So many trilogies fail to stick the landing. Not this one. Spoiler alerts here by the way. But seriously, it’s been a decade!
At the beginning of Toy Story 3, it’s been eleven years since the gang saved Woody from the clutches of the Prospector and Al the toy collector, but it was absolutely worth the wait!
At first, all seems well, as we’re treated to an epic Wild West opening, with our heroes Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, & Rex, battling One-eyed Bart & Betty (Mr. & Mrs Potato Head), Slinky Dog & Evil Dr Porkchop (Hamm).
However, we soon learn that this is merely a memory of a playtime long ago, and that things are now very different. Andy is seventeen and about to go to college.
His trunk of toys is much diminished, but still solely focused on their beloved owner, and they’re longing to be played with once again.
These opening few minutes really tug at the heartstrings and set the scene for the emotional rollercoaster to come. Before long, the toys find themselves stranded at Sunnyside Day Care, a deceptively happy place that Lots-O rules over with an, albeit cuddly, iron fist.
The movie then transitions seamlessly into a classic prison break parody, creating genuine suspense and thrills along the way.
As with every Toy Story movie, there are plenty of big laughs too, but this instalment is absolutely the darkest of the trilogy.
A gut-wrenching scene involving the toys and a blazing furnace particularly highlights this.
By the end of the movie though, in a scene that is sure to choke up even the most stoic, the gang do get one final playtime with Andy, as he introduces them to their new owner, Bonnie.
In these final moments, Toy Story 3 perfectly completes a tale of unconditional love, friendship, and, ultimately, moving on.
The credits rolling after Woody’s “So long, partner” was a parting glance at old friends for a generation. A fitting goodbye.
Toy Story 4 needed a wider meaning
As well as everything else I’ve talked about, for me what makes these movies evoke such emotion is what they can represent to the audience.
Maybe every adult’s realisation that we all eventually put away childish things?
Or perhaps, that all along, these wonderful films have shown us that it isn’t just Woody’s story of loving Andy we have watched.
But a story of all parents, who as best friends and treasured possessions of their children, dread that inevitable day when they too are played with no longer…
The problem with Toy Story 4 & Forky…
By now I imagine you’ll understand where I’m heading with this. For all the wonderful things this trilogy did to cement it as the greatest of all time, there’s one thing that’s jeopardising it’s legacy.
That Pixar went back.
Sure, Toy Story 4 is a perfectly fine movie.
Woody learned to live for himself rather than his kid, we got to see what Bo had been up to for all those years, and Forky’s existential crisis was objectively adorable and hilarious, I get it.
But for all of the things it did well, for me what Toy Story 4 does that I can’t get on board with, is tarnish the original trilogy.
By returning to a world and characters that already had their perfect ending, the emotional weight of Toy Story 3 was undermined in the worst way, for seemingly just another big box office return.
Again, spoilers here, but it would be like the MCU bringing back Tony Stark in a few years.
The character arc he experienced over the movies, leading to his sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame would be completely undermined.
So, in a world with so few perfect things, that’s how I choose to remember the Toy Story franchise.
Three ground-breaking movies, with exceptional writing, plot, and direction.
Three movies packed full of beloved characters, brought to life by exemplary acting.
The only trilogy with no duds, and the perfect soundtrack as it’s partner.
The trilogy that stuck the landing so stunningly and who’s wider meaning spoke to audiences so deeply.
So, Toy Story 4 and Forky, no offence, but in relation to me ever considering you cannon; you are trash, and you can stay in the bin.
What do you make of this article?
Did you enjoy Toy Story 4?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.