The Toy Story Franchise (1-4)

Where I watched it: Disney Plus

English Audio Descriptions Available?: Yes, For All Titles

Today, Lightyear hit Disney Plus, and with that knowledge in advance, I worked my way through all four Toy Story films in advance. My first encounter with Andy’s toys came in 1995, sitting excitedly in a theatre and getting to see this totally different style of animation. For a kid, it was still kind of mind blowing. I believe we were still living in the Disney musical time period, and earlier, Pocahontas was a thing, so seeing Toy Story was very different from that. I even got my own Buzz Lightyear toy, courtesy of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Not quite with all the bells and whistles, but he was Buzz. Then, when it came time for home video, i had a copy of this in that giant plastic container that all Disney films came in. So much bigger, and specific to only Disney titles. I hear those things are worth some money now, and I wish I had the foresight to keep the VHS tapes of films after I moved onto DVD/BluRay. While Toy Story opened my eyes to this concept that my toys that I always had some special bond with could be sentient, it really just did what we all wanted, and acknowledge a lot more nowadays. It tapped into nostalgia. By showing kids a room full of Andys toys, they connected with kids. But, but showing adults a room full of toys that were a nod to their childhood, they connected with adults on a deeper level. And it’s that connection that has stamped Toy Story as an all time classic, putting it on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, and into the National Film Registry.

After all, which kid in the mid 90’s was playing with space toys or cowboys? I didn’t own any toy that resembled anything Andy had except for the classic etch-a-sketch and timeless green army men. Woody is reflective of the Howdy Doody age, and Buzz Lightyear was connected to America’s fascination with NASA and the space race. Kids in the mid 90’s were into tickle me Elmos, Power Rangers, and getting a taste of Pokémon. It would have almost made more sense for Andy’s toys to have been a tamagotchi that needed to be fed all the time, than half the toys he actually had. But that didn’t matter. That was the appeal of Andy’s room. This Time Capsule brought adults into a kids film, and it’s why Toy Story is so universally popular today, and has an entire section dedicated to it and its characters at Disney parks.

They followed the first terrific groundbreaking effort with a sequel, that somehow never felt like it was meant to be a cash grab or existed simply because the first made money so they made Toy Story a franchise. After all, Disney was known for sequels, it’s just that they usually went straight-to-video. but the second time around found Buzz leading the rescue of Woody, in a flipped plot of the first film, but also explored Woody’s backstory. Where did this toy come from/ This has led to many fan theories about why Andy’s toys are not from his generation, as Woody meets Jessie, a toy created to be his sidekick, but has deep abandonment issues as she’s spent a lifetime inside a box after being left behind by her owner Emily. If Andy’s mom was Emily, it could explain why Andy is so obsessed with a TV show character not from his childhood. While the first film gave us the iconic you’ve Got A Friend inn Me, which remains one of my favorite Disney songs, it was the sequel that delivered my favorite of any of the Disney films, the heartbreaking When She Loved Me (Jessi’es Song). This ballad plays perfectly over a montage of a little girl whose life cannot be made any more happy than just by owning Jessie, who eventually grows up, and grows out of Jessie, leaving her in a box, and breaking Jessie’s heart. If this didn’t move you, check your pulse.

And while the first film featured the obvious antagonist with Sid, the second film threw a twist in by making Prospector also a villain. we didn’t need another one, as Al had already stolen Woody and was functioning as a villain for the film, but Prospector revealed himself to be a secondary villain, being the first in the series to set up the idea that a toy could be a bad guy, instead of a sadistic neighbor kid who should be parented a lot more than he was.

By the third film, Jessie and Bullseye have joined the Toys (Andy never questions how he keeps getting free toys, like the aliens from the first film), but time has passed, and Andy is much older. He’s getting ready for college, and he hasn’t played with his toys in years. Of course, those of us who know teenagers can crack a good joke about all the things these toys have probably seen Andy do over the last few years, but this is G rated, and Andy seems like good people. Even his sister is older now, which leads to a reference about how bo Peep has vanished from the gang. Oddly enough, Andy and his family have held onto the Potato Heads, toys that are decidedly made for much younger kids. But, hey. you know.

After a mix up, our toys wind up at a daycare where there are two rooms. Once with older kids that aren’t psychotic and actually enjoy playing with toys, and another room where demon spawn rise from the gates of hell to do things to toys that no child would actually do. Toy Story 3 assumes that kids under a certain age don’t understand the concept of toys, or playtime, but it’s often the younger ones that do playtime, and wouldn’t be nearly as destructive as this film needs them to be. The first two films basically told a flip story of Woody rescuing Buzz and reminding him of his importance to Andy, while the second film took Buzz reminding Woody of the same thing. The third film can’t do that, as most of the toys assume they are garbage, and this is their fate. So it is a different dynamic, and in that dynamic is the brilliant Lotso, probably the king of all the villains.

but where this film faltered slightly for me was in the lacking of a distinguishable song, s well as the sequence where no one would reasonably believe those toys were going to die in a fire. No one. However, of the three Toy Story films, this had the most emotional ending, as Andy said goodbye, finally playing with his toys one final time, before leaving them with Bonnie. And that shot of Bonnie waving Woody’s arm, it cuts like a knife.

Toy Story 4 is unnecessary. We never needed a Bonnie centric film, Forky is obnoxious, and most of our original gang have very little to do. Granted, a few of their voice actors ahve passed away, but a film that exists just to make some money and answer the question of what happened to Bo peep? i just don’t think we needed that answer that badly. It tries to emotionally resonate with Gabby Gabby, and introduces Duke Kaboom, but for the most part, this is the first sequel that felt like Disney was just milking the franchise. It’s the existence of this film that doesn’t give me hope for Lightyear.

I’m a huge fan of the franchise as a whole. The first two are easily in my Top 10 films of all time. They are comfort films I’ve watched probably 50 times total between them. I’ve seen Toy Story 3 maybe ten times, and while it’s just an inch behind the first two, it’s still a great film. The fourth film? The only thing I liked was the familiarity, and a few ew toys. Will Lightyear be a better or worse addition? I don’t know.

Final Grades: Toy Story A+, Toy Story 2 A+, Toy Story 3 A, Toy Story 4 B-

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