Within the first act of the original Toy Story, we see Andy playing with toys like Woody, Mr. Potato Head, and Rex. When Andy sets Woody down on his bed and walks away, we get our first look at Woody coming to life and truly existing. Many of the questions that have followed by viewers about the Toy Story universe have been related to the rules of how these toys come to life. Toy Story 4 is planning to tackle the idea of what makes a toy a toy and, oh yeah, tackle the concept of consciousness in the process.
In the Summer 2019 issue of Disney Twenty-Three, the magazine sent to members of Disney’s D23 fan club, writer William Keck shared details about the film that he learned through discussions with Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley and actor Tim Allen, who voices the iconic Buzz Lightyear. Cooley explains some of the central questions that will drive the film:
“But the concept of what qualifies as a toy can be quite vast and open to interpretation depending upon the imagination of the child. “Real kids don’t just play with toys, they play with everything,” Cooley points out. “Some kids play with the box more than the present inside. And that’s something we’ve never seen in a Toy Story movie. What are the rules when that happens? Is that box alive? Is that cup alive? We thought that was so weird and funny that we had to try it and see what happens.”
You have seen it plenty of times – you go out and buy a toy for a child and he or she ends up playing with the packaging instead of the toy you spent a great deal of time thinking about. Also, children sometimes create their own toys, love them, and play with them. We see exactly that happen when Bonnie creates Forky, as seen in one of the recent commercials for Toy Story 4. What made him come to life? Why is he alive? Is he actually alive? What is his purpose? Those are all existential questions that Forky will likely be asking. As we have seen from previous Toy Story films, the filmmakers do a wonderful job of making these toys and their issues relatable, where we identify with the various crises that are experienced. Thinking about the places that Toy Story 4 will go as one of their characters experiences an existential crisis has me incredibly excited.
Forky does not appear to be the only one who is struggling with existential issues. Allen speaks about the challenges that Buzz, too, will face in the film:
“But Buzz is faced with a new challenge of his own… one of an existential nature. As Allen explains it, “Buzz has to figure out who he is. Woody is talking to himself trying to figure out what to do, and Buzz is just staring at him wondering who’s doing the talking. It’s about consciousness, your inner voice, which totally doesn’t register with Buzz, who just saves people without thinking it all out.”
Well, Forky seems to gain consciousness for some reason. And now, Allen is talking about Buzz trying to find his inner voice and understand consciousness as well. There are many directions that the talent working on the film can take these complex themes. Given that the film is aimed at all ages, Toy Story 4 will likely have a lot to say, in a way that both kids and adults can identify with – just like Up, although kids may not fully comprehend some of the complicated themes in the film, there is plenty of material with which they can connect.
A few years ago, we saw Inside Out take on two of the most complex things in the universe, the mind and emotions, and it delivered a beautiful film that was brilliant, relatable, and stayed true to what we know about the brain and how emotions can influence it. So I have complete confidence that Cooley and his crew of Pixar creatives can tackle existential questions and deliver an intelligent film that also explains consciousness.
However, considering how the last time we saw the Toy Story films answer major life questions (in Toy Story 3), we were all left in a blubbering mess, I have to say I am also worried about whether my wallet will be able to handle the amount of tissues I will inevitably need from the tears streaming down my face.