Theme: Rescue of the Lost
Like its predecessors, Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 4 does not disappoint. It’s another homerun, knocking it out of the park for humor, beauty, goodness, love and truth. In an age seriously lacking in these virtues, Toy Story 4 is a welcome respite for weary hearts of all ages.
The movie opens with a flashback to nine years ago which sets the stage for the adventure that follows. On a stormy night Woody discovers one of Andy’s toys is lost, so he enlists the aid of the other toys to help him rescue RC who is being washed away in a gutter. Inadvertently he gets stuck outside when Mollie’s mother closes the window; hanging there he watches as they pack up Bo and her sheep (Mollie’s lamp) to be given away. Finding her in the box outside, Woody and Bo share a poignant good-bye. Bo belongs to Mollie, not Andy, and it’s time to be passed to another child. Woody could save RC but not Bo, setting up the question the movie poses: What happens to the lost, discarded, and broken toys?
The dictionary defines the word toy as an object for a child to play with; typically a model, miniature, replica of something . . . or someone. Woody is a toy of Andy; he is a diminutive (another definition) of Andy. As such he has a two fold purpose: first, to give delight to his owner by being the favorite toy and creating the happiest memories, and second, to exercise dominion or “run the room” as he later explains to Forky. His badge is the symbol of his authority over Andy’s other toys.
Toy Story 3 ends with a grown up Andy handing Woody and company over to a new child, Bonnie. Toy Story 4 gives a quick review of Woody’s life as the movie title appears and the theme song, You’ve Got a Friend in Me, plays. Now Bonnie’s name is on his boot and he is sitting on the bench, a visual metaphor for what has happened to Woody.
He is not the image bearer of Bonnie like he was Andy; she takes his badge and gives it to Jessie. He no longer runs the room, Dolly does. Woody may not be a lost toy on the outside but he is on the inside. He’s lost Andy, his vocation and purpose, and his love Bo. What he still has is loyalty, and that is what makes him such a noble toy.
The storyline of Toy Story 4 centers around Bonnie’s going off to kindergarten. When her parents tell her toys aren’t allowed in school, Bonnie becomes distraught and feeling well . . . . lost. Touched by her tears, Woody steals away in her backpack and accompanies her to Orientation Day.
When another child takes her craft supplies, Woody comes to the rescue and retrieves some out of the trash for Bonnie, who proceeds to create a new friend . . . a new toy. Forky, however, being created from trash and knowing nothing about being a toy keeps running away from Bonnie and exhausting Woody. The cowboy has a new job making sure Forky does his job as Bonnie’s favorite toy. So on a long walk through the woods, he mentors the little spork on the life of a toy and what it means to be loved and needed.
No Name Toys
Up to this point all the toys in the story have been named toys; toys whose owner’s name is written on them signifying they are loved and they belong to someone. Early in the morning Woody and Forky enter Grand Basin and come upon a whole new class of toy: no name toys. These are the toys that have been lost, rejected, broken and disowned.
Their first encounter with such a toy is in Second Chance Antique store. Upon seeing Bo’s lamp in the window, Woody takes Forky and slides through the mail slot in search of his old love. They are found by Gabby Gabby, a talking doll with a defective voice box and her cohort of creepy Bensons. Realizing Woody may have the very voice box she needs, she deceives him into getting into her doll buggy. Woody manages to escape Gabby but she keeps Forky in her grip knowing he is too valuable; after all, he has a name on his sticks and she surmises Woody will return for him.
Woody comes upon an entire group of lost and disowned toys when he escapes into the traveling Carnival’s playground; among them is Bo and her sheep. Happily reunited, Woody learns Bo spent years wasting away in Second Chance Antiques until she decided to go out on her own. She has survived with other lost toys by being played with occasionally by kids attracted to the Carnival. Broken and taped she has adapted to life on the road without an owner. Being a shepherdess, she has formed a new community with other no names.
After a failed attempt to rescue Forky with Bo and her companion, Woody the loyal, faithful, noble servant of Bonnie goes back for Forky alone and Gabby is waiting. Surrounded and backed into a corner with only a pencil to defend him, Gabby launches into a monologue of all she has learned about Woody from Forky. Memory after memory of his wonderful life with Andy and Bonnie come pouring forth from Gabby as if she can almost taste how good it has been, and then revealing how starved she truly is, she says “ I’d give anything to be loved the way you have been”.
Quietly Woody lays aside his pencil and makes one request “just leave me Forky . . . Bonnie needs him”. The beloved cowboy lays down his life to ransom Bonnie’s favorite toy.1
The Noblest Thing
Woody and Gabby have agreed on one thing; the most noble thing a toy can do is be there for a child. After Gabby’s first attempt to be loved is rejected, Woody and Bo help her find her perfect match, a little lost girl who needs a comforter. Looking on as the lost girl and the lost doll are restored, they gleefully exclaim “we actually did that”; little do they know a new purpose has just been conceived.
The movie ends like it began, with Woody saying good-bye to Bo and her tipping his hat. However this time Buzz is there to tell Woody “she’ll be ok . . . Bonnie will be ok!” Listening to his inner voice, Woody runs back to Bo. All the toys gather for their tearful good-byes and Woody lovingly pins his badge on Jessie.
In the credit scenes, Woody and Bo along with their friends have gone into the wide world rescuing lost toys and finding them new kids who will love them. While Bonnie returns from her first day of First Grade with a new toy/spork, she has created and Forky is thrilled to take her under his wing explaining “I-we are all toys unique and beautiful.”
Pixar’s genius is to take non-human things (in this case toys), animate them, and reveal deep truths about human beings. This approach accomplishes two things; it disarms the intellect and opens the heart.
What are the truths in Toy Story 4? They are biblical themes of creation, fall and redemption. The purpose of human beings created in the image of God (his models, replicas) to glorify him (enjoy, love,delight in) and exercise dominion (run the room) are seen in Woody. He is also the loyal, faithful servant (Isaiah 53:1-7), the Christ figure who lays down his life to ransom Forky and redeem Gabby. (John 3:16)
The mission of the church ( Christ and His Spirit-filled Bride) are seen at the end of the movie and in the credit scenes of Bo and Woody going out into the wide world to rescue lost toys and restore them to a loving owner. (Luke 4:18-19)
“Man’s chief end (his purpose/vocation) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” In Toy Story 4 language, this might simply be: the most noble thing a human being can do is be there to his God.2
1. Giving his voice recorder was symbolic of giving his life, for it is that which was his connection to Andy and Bonnie.
2. Westminster Shorter Catechism