Are they leaning into the “Pixar mom” meme at this point? I only ask because Little Bo Peep has a dump truck four times as big as the rest of her body.

Anyway, it’s another Pixar movie starring toys and crap. All your favorites are here, and they’ve never looked better. The animation is just stupendous. Look at that god damn rain at the beginning—relax, guys. I kind of feel like you’re showing off at this point. The human characters look great, full of warmth and personality and emotion. The biggest weakness of the Toy Story franchise was how the people tended to resemble plastic toys themselves, and that’s no longer the case.

But I think I’m over Toy Story. Let’s face it, there’s exactly three stories you can get out of this concept—toys lose their owners; toys are no longer wanted; toys confront an existential crisis—and after four movies, Pixar has explored them all. Everything on the screen provoked a reaction of “yep, seen that before.” It’s well-animated and as sharp and funny as ever, but it’s all getting a bit too comfy at this point.

There’s only one truly original idea: the fork. Woody’s new owner Bonnie makes a weird misshapen figure out of a plastic fork, a popsicle stick, and a pipecleaner, writes her name on its feet, and it comes to life. Which pokes at a neat idea: what makes a toy a toy? Woody and Buzz are expensive branded products, but really, all that separates a “toy” from anything else is a child’s belief. Forky is made of random junk, but Bonnie has decided that he will be a toy. However, the resulting character makes no sense: changing from a near-silent lobotomy victim to wisecracking comic relief as the movie progresses. (There’s a sequence where Forky, believing himself to be trash, keeps trying to throw himself away. Randy Newman, tasked with writing music for this, screwed up his brow in concentration, came up with a song called “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” and then patted himself on the back for a hard day’s work.) Sadly, Forky ends up becoming yet more clutter in a movie that’s already overstuffed with characters, most of whom wrapped up their arcs several movies ago and have no reason to be there.

Buzz is the prime example. It’s honestly funny how the writers have zero idea of what to do with him and basically write him out of the movie. I mean, his arc is resolved. His whole deal in Toy Story (1995) was that he was delusional and actually thought he was a space ranger. He is no longer delusional, no longer thinks he’s a space ranger, so what are we doing here? Buzz Lightyear is a character past his sell-by date, the equivalent of when you tell a funny story to someone, and instead of laughing they ask “…and then what happened?”

There’s also the issue of what’s not in the movie: a compelling villain.

Sid was great in the first movie, and I have a soft spot for Al McWhiggin. By contrast, Gabby Gabby doesn’t do the business. There’s an idea there (soft-spoken madness), but they don’t push it as far as they need to. The dial’s stuck on 2. They end up giving her a cloying, overly sympathetic backstory (to the point where she basically is forced to become a good guy), leading to the most obnoxious and unearned heel-face turn since Cletus “Gator Molester” Shithat betrayed his best friend Billie-Bob Grunklefuck in the Floribama Swamp-Ass Grand Wrasslin’ Championship of 1993 (classic match, I’m sure you remember it) and becoming a good character. If the first Toy Story had been written this way, we’d get a 20 minute flashback showing how Sid is secretly a nice child who gets yelled at by his dad. Can this studio grow some balls and write a proper villain again? The glory days of Hopper and Syndrome seem far behind us.

Toy Story 4 is not a bad movie. It is a deeply pointless one, however, which may be worse—I love many bad movies, but cannot love a waste of time. I’ve long felt that Pixar is a rat in a Skinner box that pressed a button a few times, received massive amounts of food, and now they’re just senselessly hammering that button forever, regardless of whether food is coming out.

Now they’re making a Toy Story 5. Okay. I have some creative story ideas they could use:

  • Woody gets washed out into the Pacific Garbage Patch. Alone and isolated, he goes mad under the hot alien sun, worshipping a god sculpted from plastic drinking straws. At night, he dreams of high-density polyethylene pellets melting and sliding down the stark walls of the sky, like the pale sperm of some celestial progenitor. He starts laughing dementedly, realizing that nature is a powerless fraud, and the world is controlled by the forces of manufacture and industry. In the final scene, he dives suicidally into the ocean, deliberately choking an endangered dolphin with his body while praying to return to the necrotic plastic heart that beats at the planet’s core.
  • Woody’s voice-box begins to break. When he pulls the string, the words slur and distort. There’s a sneak in my boot! Someone poisoned the warble-hole! The speech swiftly becomes incomprehensible, melting into a garbled wreckage of sounds, but sometimes, almost-audible messages can be heard, as though something with a thousand tongues is trying to communicate through him. One day, his voice box crackles to life on its own. “Don’t look for it in the garden.” What could this mean? When the toys explore the garden, Hamm finds a single tiny black flower growing beneath a canopy of wisteria and bougainvillea . The toys uproot the flower and dig a hole straight down: two feet under, there is a small, unmarked wooden box with a lock on it. They take the box inside, and Slinky Dog, working alone for several days straight, manages to pick the lock. “What did you see in the box?” Woody asks. “Nothing,” Slinky Dog says, glancing nervously at the ground. “The box was empty.” Immediately, he runs out of the house and out onto the road, where a car smashes him to pieces. The horrified survivors take no more chances with the box. They slam it shut (taking care not to look inside), re-lock it, carry it back to the garden, and bury it again. They promise each other that they’ll forget the incident. But one day, Woody pulls his voice-box string, and hears a distorted recording of Slinky Dog…
  • A weird change overcomes the toys. They fall into bestial rages. They are consumed by a hunger that only warm, living flesh can satisfy. Jessie is shown eating a dead bird with her teeth. Mr Potato Head’s hollow shell starts filling up with bloody mouse bones. They start communicating through glottal grunts and roars. Only Rex is unaffected. Researching the problem, he realizes that all of the toys are made of plastic, which is made of petrochemicals, which come from petroleum, which comes from ancient decayed biomass that includes dinosaurs. Essentially, the toys are now possessed by the souls of dead dinosaurs, and Rex is immune because he’s already a dinosaur. He doesn’t know what to do, and lifts up his arms in comical horror as the dinosaur-possessed toys assemble around him—blood dripping from their plastic mouths and hands—and kneel, awaiting his command.
  • Bonnie grows to adulthood. Puberty runs her down like an 18-wheeler truck. Confused and impressionable, she makes some friends online, and them some other friends. They introduce her to right and wrong. She cuts her hair, and dyes the remnants in variegated colors. She manufactures an edgy online persona, given to ranty, sweary, pop-feminist dialectic. By age 17, her Twitter pfp shows her with one eyebrow quirkily raised, sipping from a mug with “MALE TEARS” on it. But smugness gives way to guilt. She is a white-presenting person living in the wealthiest nation on Earth, and she feels absolutely horrible about. She was born in sin. Her parents were manspreaders, whitesplainers, and possibly even misgenderers. She seeks to escape who she is. She changes pronouns six times. Her mastectomy is booked for July. Maybe if she destroys the guilty girl, piece by piece, she’ll escape the sense that she’s evil and corrupt. She remains fond of her childhood toys, but realizes that she cannot go on owning Woody—he’s modeled after a Wild West sheriff, and 👏 we! 👏 don’t! 👏 do! 👏 that! 👏 anymore! The final straw comes when she watches the Woody’s Roundup puppet show. Not once does Woody acknowledge that he’s living on Chiricahua Apache land! Horrified, she burns Woody on an open fire, hoping to purge her sins. Woody screams as his face melts. He screams and screams.
  • A new toy joins the gang: Murdilator the Deathslayer. He’s pretty cool, particularly his brain-vivisector attachment. But beneath the MADE IN CHINA sticker on his foot there’s a compartment, and inside the compartment, Buzz finds a rolled up scrap of paper. It’s a handwritten Mandarin message. 救命啊!我被困在玩具厂里了!“HELP! I AM TRAPPED IN A TOY FACTORY!” Murdilator consents to have his brain-vivisector attachment damaged on purpose, so that Bonnie’s mom will return him to the story, which will then ship him back to China. The toys sneak into the return-parcel, and one week later, they’re being unpacked at a factory at Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. They want to find the imprisoned man and save him, but they’re in for a shock: all the workers at the factory are that man! They have arrived at a dismal Dickensian sweatshop. Thousands of dead-eyed contract workers sit in rows, performing Q&A inspections of worthless plastic dreck for brutal hours and starvation wages. Even death is not an escape. The factory doors are locked, and anti-suicide nets are strung under every window. An overseer walks up and down the benches like a slave-driver at a galley, and snatches up the damaged Murdilator from the packaging. With vindictive swiftness, he identifies the worker who signed off on this particular toy, and docks him a week’s salary. The man starts weeping. He has a family. The toys are left heartsick by what they’ve done: they haven’t helped the man, they’ve made his lot in life even worse! The rest of the movie is Murdilator the Deathslayer sitting on a therapist’s chair with Hamm, trying to overcome his guilt. Eventually, he has a breakthrough. He leaps into the air and cheers, and we end on a blissful reprise of “You Got A Friend in Me”.
  • Bo Peep is sold to a new owner. Unfortunately he’s an anime fan. The camera’s focus tightens around her terrified face, like an ensnaring net. From somewhere out of frame, we hear heavy breathing, and the sound of pants unzipping. The camera goes mercifully black.
  • A crossover, where Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber explain Christianity to the gang. Who’s mightier, God or the Boogie-Man? Does the Bible really tell us to forgive our enemies?
  • Really, they should probably just not make the movie at all. Enough’s enough.

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