SPOILERS AHEAD FOR TOY STORY 4!
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
After some worries that Toy Story 4 couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, especially after the seemingly perfect conclusion we got in Toy Story 3, I’m pleased – and relieved – to say that 4 is simply fantastic.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the film was Woody‘s character arc. For all his positive qualities, he can a bit of a selfish jerk at times. It’s a testament to Tom Hanks‘ voice acting that he can somehow make a flawed character like Woody as likable as he is.
In a bit of a surprise move from Pixar, Toy Story 4 not only holds Woody accountable for being a jerk, it digs into just why he is one before giving him a big redemptive arc that’s been 24 years in the making.
Woody’s motivation for the entire series has always revolved around “being there for Andy/Bonnie” and it’s caused him to do some questionable stuff, like pushing Buzz out a window in Toy Story and tagging along with Bonnie to kindergarten after being told by everyone not to do it in Toy Story 4.
After spending a good chunk of 4 trying to recklessly get Forky back to Bonnie and causing some serious danger to his friends, Bo Peep finally does what some people have been waiting to do for years and calls Woody out on his behaviour.
But rather than shy away from the possibility of making their beloved protagonist unlikable, Pixar gives Woody a rare moment of painful self-realisation when he admits he acts the way he does because “being there for Andy/Bonnie” is the only purpose he has in life.
With that cathartic moment, Woody’s behaviour suddenly makes so much more sense. After all, haven’t we had moments where we do some questionable thing in an attempt to keep hold of something that makes us happy or gives our lives meaning?
All the cooked stuff he’s done remains unexcusable of course, but we finally get some understanding of why his jerkish side sometimes comes out. Who would’ve thought that toys could go through relatable existential crises like that?
And with that realisation, Woody earns his big redemptive arc at the climax: He manages to let go of his hang up over Andy/Bonnie by saying goodbye to Buzz and the rest of his gang so he can go be a free toy with Bo Peep.
Toy Story 4 represents something of a paradigm shift for the series but it is also something of a natural conclusion to Woody’s story. It remains to be seen whether or not we’ll get Toy Story 5 in 10 years time, but having Woody ride off in the sunset alongside Bo Beep after finally getting over Andy feels like a pretty damn perfect ending already.