Warning: This post contains spoilers for Toy Story 3, which you should really just go watch now if you haven't already because it's incredible.
There is a moment in everyone's life when childhood ends. For some, it's when they receive their first paychecks. For others, when they leave for college. For me, it was when I saw Toy Story 3.
I was 4 when the first movie came out in 1995. I had already grown obsessed with The Lion King the year before — I routinely made my dad lift me in the air like Simba, as a I gazed over my kingdom of stuffed animals. But Toy Story made me empathize with those animals. I was a little younger than the lead character Andy and cared just as much for my toys. Like all kids who watched Toy Story when they were young, I spent nap time with one eye open, waiting to see what my toys did when I drifted off to sleep. I piled as many dolls and animals into my bed as possible at night because I didn't want any of them to feel lonely or left out.
It was around the time Toy Story 2 premiered in 1999 that I returned from camp one day to find that my parents had put a small fraction of my toys into storage. I didn't use them anymore, eschewing playing pretend for computer games and slowly typing out my first novel (a 23-page epic about a fairy kingdom). Nonetheless, I imagined the toys trapped in a dark closet, lonely, and went into hysterics.
By the time Toy Story 3 came out, I was 19, studying abroad in Italy and by most measures an adult. Still, I had brought two of my favorite stuffed animals with me on the trip and hid them in my suitcase every morning when I left for class. It took me a full week to find the only theater in Rome playing Toy Story 3 in English (though it did have Italian subtitles, which meant that Dr. Porkchop from the first scene in the movie became Dr. Prosciutto). I dragged three friends to the theater with me—all male and all 19 or 20 years old—and warned them that I'd probably cry.
As the movie drew to a close, I wasn't just crying. I was weeping. I was convinced that Disney was going to do a very un-Disney thing and kill off my favorite characters from childhood. As Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the gang reached out and held each other's hands, ready to accept their inevitable demise, I looked to my left and saw the three boys I had brought with me to the movie. They were all crying too. It's a neat trick: convincing jaded college students that beloved characters will perish in a roaring fire, even though said students know that this is a kids' movie and that couldn't possibly happen, right?
But the movie's real ending, when Andy gives away his favorite toys to a little girl named Bonnie, passing them on to the next generation, is so much better. I had been a child when Andy was a child, a petulant tween when Andy was a tween. And now, a year after I had moved away to college, Andy was doing the same. As he was forced to leave his childhood behind, it dawned on me for the first time that I would never live at home again, that all my toys would be moved to storage and that my bedroom—eventually stripped of its posters—would be made into a guest room. In the same way that many Millenials feel they grew up with Harry Potter—"He was my exact age! I thought I was going to get to go to Hogwarts too!"—we also grew up with Andy. And after Andy let go, we were ready to let go too.
But catharsis be damned because Toy Story is back...again. Disney CEO Robert Iger announced Tuesday that Toy Story 4 is set to hit theaters in June of 2017. And I'm apprehensive because Toy Story 3 completed my childhood, and I'm not ready to go back to being a kid again.
It turns out, I'm not the only person to think Toy Story 3 was a perfect film—infused with hilarious new characters like Barbie and Ken, but nurturing our sentimental attachment to Woody and Buzz. Many of the animators at Pixar, too, thought the movie was unsurpassable, which is why the idea of yet another sequel was shunned for so many years.
There are a lot of reasons to believe that Toy Story 4 will actually turn out to be a great movie. Each Toy Story sequel has been better than the last (a seemingly impossible feat after the second movie). Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, who wrote Celeste and Jesse Forever together, will pen the script, and they're both very funny people. They'll be guided by three Pixar vets: Finding Nemo's Andrew Stanton, Up's Pete Docter and Toy Story 3's Lee Unkrich.
And, perhaps most reassuring of all, John Lasseter—the man who originally came up with the Toy Story concept and helmed the first two films—is returning to direct the fourth, and I doubt he'd do that if the plot weren't terrific. "We love these characters so much, they are like family to us," he said in a statement. "We don't want to do anything with them unless it lives up to or surpasses what's gone before."
He agreed that 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 couldn't 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."
But Lasseter also directed Cars 2, which doesn't exactly inspire audiences to spend weeks reflecting on what it means to grow up and let go of the comforts of childhood. Plus, Bonnie seems great and all, but she's no Andy. Even if he makes an appearance in the film, Andy will no longer be the boy all the toys are trying to return to every time they're left at a Pizza Planet or accidentally dropped into the trash. I may have loved Bo Peep or Rex, but I identified with Andy. Asking audiences who have grown up with him to rewind the clock and relate to Woody and Buzz's new owners, whether it be Bonnie or Andy's own kids or some new stranger, will be tough.
I put this story behind me, got past my fear of adulthood and planned for a time in my life when I would show my children the Toy Story movies, not all at once, but paced out as they mature. Now I feel robbed. What if the fourth film is bad? Or what if it's good, but it doesn't complete the story the way the third film did? Does that ruin the whole franchise?
I can't imagine a better ending than where they left us last time. That said, I really hope I'm wrong.
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