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Toy Story 4 and the Curse of the Never-Ending Franchise

Just keep 'em coming along.

As part of the Toy Story generation, I naturally have a lot of feels about the trilogy. I literally saw Toy Story 3 a year before I went to college with a dear friend of mine named Andy who was going to college that year (he didn’t cry, but it’s okay because I cried enough for the both of us).  When the news first broke that we were getting a fourth installment, I was skeptical at best, since they wrapped up the story so neatly in the last installment.

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The trailer, released today, is suitably charming; we see our familiar heroes spinning around against a backdrop of a blue sky; the calm is disrupted by new character Forky (Tony Hale) having a bit of an existential breakdown, causing chaos. Forky’s emotions make sense since he’s a spork with googly eyes and pipe cleaner arms, and also because everything produced by 2018 is an existential crisis.

Pixar has released a synopsis for the film, outlining the general story beats: “Woody has always been confident about his place in the world and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. But when Bonnie adds a reluctant new toy called “Forky” to her room, a road trip adventure alongside old and new friends will show Woody how big the world can be for a toy.” The plot sounds fairly original and looks to give all of the adults some major panic attacks with those sweet existential questions about sentience.

As pointed out by Julie Alexander of The Verge, Forky’s panic attack is similar to how the first Toy Story centered on Buzz not realizing that he was a toy. If the parallel is intentional, it might be a nice way to bookend the series. We know from interviews with the cast that the ending of this one is going to be super, duper intense, so this might actually be the last one. If Thanos’s snap took out one of our heroes, I’m going to be upset.

Of course, this begs the question of do we really need this film? For every excited response to Forky I saw on Twitter, there was a fan replying that they didn’t want Toy Story 4. Which got me thinking, when is it time to say enough is enough?

To half-quote Bo Burnham from one of his stand-up specials, Hollywood “will stop beating this dead horse when it stops spitting out money.” If a concept is good and if it makes enough money, we will see it grow and grow into some sort of terrible zombie, shambling forward into the abyss until it dies a slow death. If you think that’s a call-out for The Walking Dead franchise which now stretches interminably before us, you’d be correct.

Some of us love the MCU; others think it’s just going to continue until the apocalypse finally takes us out. Say what you will about the Star Wars sequels, but they can be read as a somewhat unnecessary epilogue to a six film series that had a pretty tidy ending (which is not what I personally believe, so don’t @ me about this). Supernatural just won’t end despite having a pretty tidy five season arc about eight years back, or has it been longer?

Stories should end. When it comes down to it, I personally will take a complete saga that’s short over a lengthy million year long epic with ten spin-offs and no end in sight. Unless you’re Law and Order: SVU, the time will come to close the book on a particular narrative. However, endings don’t necessarily translate to dollar signs. While certain endings guarantee bang for your buck — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was marketed as the movie event of a generation and once the Avengers 4 marketing kicks in, we’ll probably see something similar — the option of a sequel and that familiar core audience is appealing.

Toy Story 4 didn’t need to happen. Neither do a lot of beloved sequels and ongoing series though. As someone who loves a lot of unnecessary spin-offs and follow-ups, I genuinely can’t fault people who are excited for this film because hey, as long as Hollywood keeps churning out endless properties, there’s going to be someone who likes them. Plus, Forky is already a favorite and I will not slander the film that brings him into this world.

(Image: Disney/Pixar)

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Kate Gardner
Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.

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