SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen Toy Story 4 and intend to do so (and I would certainly recommend seeing it, please stop reading and come back after you have seen the film. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone.
We enjoyed Toy Story 4 tremendously. We’re big fans of the series of films and were really looking forward to seeing the fourth, and perhaps final, chapter in this remarkably creative story.
I thought the film dragged a bit in the middle but besides that, thought it was as imaginative and fun as the first three.
But, a few days after seeing it, the ending of the film continues to fascinate.
I know it will seem a bit ridiculous to some to put a lot of thought into a movie of this kind but as one of the young people whose reviews were included in a New York Times article said: “maybe the message (of the ending) …is important for older people.” For this older person , that 11 year old could not have said it better.
So, what happens at the end? In the end of the film, Woody, who was the favorite toy of Andy, the original Toy Story central human character, decides to leave the rest of the toys that now belong to Andy’s young friend, Bonnie, and become “a lost toy”, traveling with his girlfriend Bo Peep and some other toys. Woody had been the leader of this troop of toys and they depended upon him to lead the way. In Toy Story 4, Woody in fact initiates a new toy into the group and convinces him to relish in the fact that he is needed by his new little friend, Bonnie.
Woody’s decision to leave the group broke the hearts of many moviegoers, including I’m sure, most children. How could he break up the family? How could he follow his own heart rather than stay with the group?
While I had that same sense of sadness, there was a different emotion that took over when I saw this ending and yes, the ending made me cry.
Bo Peep urges Woody to recognize the fact that more than his friends needed him, he needed to be needed by them. But in a critical scene at the beginning of the movie, it was clear that Woody had been relegated to the closet and was not Bonnie’s favorite. His time had passed in many ways and Bo told him that it was time to be “for himself”.
I’m not suggesting at all that families should not stay together and that one should walk out on his or her family or group of friends. But, time does change relationships and at some point, it is important to realize that by defining ourselves by others’ expectations of our presence and our role could be selling ourselves short. At some point, we need to be ourselves and do “our thing” even if it means changing certain relationships. Again, I would never say this about family relationships where we should gladly push aside our own desires for the good of the family. But, to a greater or lesser extent, each of us must, in a small way, express our independence at some point and not leave all of our dreams behind. When Woody went away with Bo, my first reaction was “good for him”! Like every young adult who leaves home, Woody’s family was right behind him, recognizing it was time for him to take that step.
Finding the right balance between being there for others and living our dreams is a life long pursuit and at certain times in our lives, we need to consider what has happened to our pursuit of those dreams and what we can do to recapture them.
But, then a few days later, another thought came to mind. As I thought about Bo Peep beckoning and the family encouraging him to go by smiling and saying in essence: “We’ll be OK”, I realized that I recognized that scene as I had lived through it, in fact orchestrated it, many times.
Often, when a family gathers around a beloved family member who is near death, I, as most clergy will do, encourage the family members to “give permission” to their loved one to die. We tell them to loosen their grip on their loved one and allow the person to move to the next world. Especially if there is a belief in an existence for the soul after death, this will bring a small smile to the faces of the loved ones to imagine their beloved moving towards “infinity and beyond” holding the hand of one whom they had lost before.
With that image in mind, my perspective on the last scene changed completely and I think that, even though I didn’t realize it until a day or two later, that was where my tears came from.
As the credits rolled, they were interrupted by brief vignettes of life after this big transition. The final one showed Bonnie’s new favorite toy, Forky, meeting another toy like him with a look of love in his eyes. It was an unmistakeable statement that life for the family goes on and that the legacy Woody had left would inspire and guide those who came after him.
What a wonderful movie! And the ending led me to think about decisions I have made in my life and times of great emotion that I have had the privilege to experience with others.
Thank you to the writers of Toy Story 4. You really made us all think about real life and the transitions we all face.