Update: In late October, Pixar played musical chairs with Toy Story 4 and The Incredibles 2. Toy Story 4 is now slated to come out in summer 2019, with The Incredibles 2 opening in summer 2018…
Pixar’s future slate, a line-up peppered with sequels, is a complicated discussion. Another story for another day, but so far, I’ve been quite fine with Pixar’s post-Toy Story 3 sequels. Monsters University, I felt, was a worthy and entertaining prequel that complemented and even completed the original Monsters, Inc.. Kind of a bold claim yes, but I’ve stuck by it since the year it came out. Finding Dory was – dare I say it – thematically richer than its already textured predecessor and really hit home for me as someone who has a disability, but thankfully the story and character development added up alongside the film’s ideas, it’s marvelous. Cars 2? The dreaded Cars 2? A silly spy romp that’s surprisingly watchable if you know what it went through during production. (Yes, the behind-the-scenes story is a nightmare!)
On the horizon are three more sequels: Cars 3 is opening next summer, The Incredibles 2 follows and will rule summer 2018, and Toy Story 4 will hit in the summer of 2019. I’m looking forward to everything in the Pixar pipeline, but in terms of the sequels – excluding Incredibles 2 – I’m more excited for Cars 3 than I am for Toy Story 4… In fact, Toy Story 4 is the Pixar film I’m the least excited about. I’m actually on the fence about it, to really be honest…
This seems like a very strange, very flawed, and invalid view to have, but hear me out…
I don’t dislike Cars. In fact, I love the first film very much. No, it’s not a groundbreaking masterpiece that easily sits alongside Pixar’s greatest, nor is it the studio’s most ambitious film. What is it then? A quieter stroll through John Lasseter’s love of car culture, Americana, and the road, all tied to a story about slowing down and seeing the beauty in life’s smaller things – one that mirrored his own road trip that reconnected him with his family. That may ring “cliche” to others, but I felt the film handled its done-before themes well, and gave us very likable characters and a fun, detail-packed setting. People, since the minute the movie was coming out, have questioned the world it takes place in. I don’t think they wanted us to overthink it, for it is a silly fun “what if?” scenario no different from a classic short cartoon with an oddball premise. It’s not the thorough, specific, and precise worldbuilding of Monsters, Inc. and Inside Out, it’s a purely cartoony set-up… And it knows it! So I have fun with it.
Cars 2 tried to mash McQueen’s racing and Radiator Springs world with international espionage and intrigue, but the production problems and drama made it into a mess. A fun mess, but still a mess that was a few revisions away from being something solid. Thankfully, with Cars 3, Pixar has had more than enough time to think things through.
Cars 3 began development shortly after the release of the second film, so when it hits next summer, it will have taken six years to come together. Cars 2 on the other hand took three years to come together. Cars 3 won’t be about spies or evil oil barons, it’ll be about the road once more, and racing. The story of Cars 3 will actually be very racing-centric, making it Pixar’s first full-on sports movie. Ten years into his career, Lightning McQueen might be outmoded by all the upstarts and rookies, particularly one named Jackson Storm. To keep himself in the game, a sleek young sports car named Cruz Ramirez intends to teach the older dog-err car new tricks.
Directed by first-timer Brian Fee, Lasseter said in a recent interview that Cars 3 will also focus on Doc Hudson’s passing. In 2008, when development on Cars 2 was revving up, the voice of Doc Hudson – Paul Newman – had passed away. Instead of finding a replacement, Lasseter and crew thought it was best to not recast, and ultimately killed off the character. During production, the story team had different intentions: Doc Hudson’s death was meant to have a much bigger impact on the story, but in the finished film his death is quickly brought up and then pushed aside. That’s one thing that particularly bothers me about that film, but I’m glad they’ll be addressing it here.
I also like that the most prominent of the new faces is a Hispanic female character. Recently, we’ve seen Pixar push for more prominent female characters in their films, though female characters have been very important in older Pixar films (Atta, Dory, Elastigirl, Collette, EVE, Ellie, et al.), it’s nice to see more becoming protagonists (Brave, Inside Out) and more becoming big characters in sequels. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Lightning and Cruz, and how their relationship will play out.
Hopefully the characters from the first film play a bigger role here, because they are pretty much sidelined in Cars 2. Again, a result of the troubled production and the attempts to mash the spies and racing stuff in a short period of time. Heck, I wouldn’t mind seeing the international racers return. Or maybe give them their own short, because I quite liked those car designs, and was hoping we’d get more of them. Only Francesco had something of a personality, the rest was decoration. Hopefully some of the new competitors, outside of Storm, will be decent supporting characters.
Overall, I like the idea they’re going for: A long-time champion looks to stay in the game, and prove that he’s far from being outmoded by the young’uns. Isn’t needlessly complicated, is to the point much like the first Cars, and should be smooth when all is said and done. Now, earlier reports indicated that Route 99 would play a part in the story, and hopefully that has been kept, because little has been said about that aspect.
So… How is that more exciting than the continuing adventures of Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear?
Toy Story 3 is, to me, the perfect ending to the series. Now, Lasseter and crew have said that Toy Story 4 is going to be more of a standalone adventure than it is another chapter in the master story. That story ended when Andy gave his beloved toys to Bonnie, so think of Toy Story 4 as the feature-length equivalent of the Toy Story TV specials – Toy Story of Terror! and Toy Story That Time Forgot. This is one thing that excites me about the film…
However, the story that they are choosing to tell doesn’t have me hooked. Woody and Buzz will embark on a road trip to find Woody’s lost love, Bo Peep. Bo Peep, as we all know, was not in Toy Story 3. Since she is the porcelain piece of a baby’s lamp, she was sold a long time ago. Andy’s sister, Molly, was still a tyke in Toy Story 2. It makes sense that she would be out of the picture, and the third film addresses this beautifully when Woody is reminded that Bo was given away a long time ago. No need for a flashback or anything, Woody’s pained reaction delivers everything in just a mere second. Bo got sold because… Well, that’s reality. Molly, or anyone else in Andy’s household, wouldn’t hold onto a baby’s lamp.
Toy Story 3 is a very bittersweet film about what you lose when you grow up, or when life tends to interfere and sometimes ruin a good thing. Inside Out is also all about this, but Toy Story 3 is pretty much a lightly melancholic story. Things are uncertain when the toys realize that Andy is not only grown up (and when you grow up, it is the societal norm to stop playing with toys), but will live at college. Will Andy throw them away? Will the toys spend years in the attic? Will they be donated? The reality that Andy isn’t a kid anymore lingers throughout the film (much like how Carl’s unfulfilled dreams permeates Up), but the toys – I think – get the best possible ending. Someone Andy knows is still very young and will play with them, they have new friends, and most of all… They’ll be loved by someone… It’s what being a toy is all about. It’s the perfect ending.
Bringing back Bo Peep, I think, will suck some of that power out of the trilogy’s ending. Pixar’s films work so well, much like Walt Disney’s animated films, because they don’t shy away from some realities, and they show the young audiences viewing them that life isn’t perfect. Having the film end where Woody and the gang have enough to have a good new life, but not everything, was the fitting way to end things. Woody may not have Bo, but he has a great new life, and could possibly find a new love down the road. It all made sense. Toy Story 2 built all of this up so wonderfully… “How long will it last, Woody?”
Having Bo come back, to me, feels like a forced attempt to give Woody a happy ending and to rosy-rosy things up. Why do that? Why negate a great theme in your trilogy? Sometimes the best works of family entertainment don’t sugarcoat things. This idea, to me, succumbs to the “Hollywood ending” generalization that’s hurled at movies with unreasonably happy endings. Part of me thinks… Wouldn’t this whole story be stronger and much more mature if Woody had to accept the fact that he was never going to see his love again? Or am I a cruel, coldhearted jerk? To me, having Bo come back is similar to having Bambi’s mom turn out to be alive, or Tod and Copper being allowed to see each other again, or Bing Bong not being forgotten. This story just feels too happy and too perfect, I think it unusually contradicts Toy Story 3‘s core ideas, and in a way, the whole trilogy.
Maybe I’ll eat serious amounts of crow in June 2018. I’m open to doing it, the last time I was skeptical about a Pixar film, I regretted it. That was The Incredibles. 11-year-old me in 2003 said, “Humans? That’s not as imaginative as toys, bugs, monsters, and fish!” The Incredibles is perhaps my favorite Pixar film, even though I don’t do the “favorites” thing with Pixar. Somehow, some way, Pixar might make this unlikely story work, and that Bo’s grand return will bring the waterworks in full force, will make perfect sense, and will not feel forced at all. Maybe I’ll leave the theater that weekend saying “Holy crap! How wrong was I?” with tears streaming down my face. Maybe, maybe!
I’m not saying Toy Story 4 will in fact be bad. It could be anything. I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t time travel to June 21, 2019, see the movie, then come back and tell you whether it’s good or not. (Although a lot of the Internet seems to have the ability to do that. I hear it’s true that Colin Trevorrow really botched Star Wars Episode IX, and that Cars 3 will indeed be terrible.) I’m not ruling anything out, but right now, personally… The synopsis doesn’t grab me. Cars 3‘s synopsis grabs me, this one makes me worry. I understand my worrying could be all for naught, maybe I’m being unreasonable, I am open to being wrong on this. But like I said, bringing Bo Peep back to me seems like a bit of spit in the face of the themes of Toy Story 3, and pretty much the entire emotional underbelly of the whole trilogy.
Now let’s go over some positives. Story-wise, the plot at least sounds feasible. Who knows where Ms. Peep ended up. She could be in some house in the tri-county area, or a city far away. Woody and Buzz finding means to get there at least make sense. The filmmakers said it’ll be a “road trip” story, so I’m going to assume Bo ended up somewhere miles away. How they’ll know where to even begin to look for her, who knows. Lasseter seems to have the road movie down pat (at Pixar and at Walt Disney Animation Studios, see Bolt), and Toy Story is a quintessential animated buddy comedy, so… This could be a lot like the first film, more so than the sequels.
Like I said, I also like that this is a standalone story and that it’s not quite linked to the main master story. That ended with Toy Story 3, which opened the door for the fun stories we saw in the TV specials and shorts. That gives them a little more freedom, plus I like that fresh blood has been brought onto the writing team, in the form of Will McCormack and Rashida Jones. (Together they wrote the romantic dramedey Celeste and Jesse Forever.)
John Lasseter directs this time, and at least he’ll be directing it from the ground up. Cars 2, his previous directing effort, was actually him last-minute salvaging a troubled film via his iPad after the ship was sinking under the previous director. Anyone who downplays his skills because of Cars 2 is not seeing the bigger picture, at all. Lasseter directed Toy Story and Toy Story 2, and he also directed A Bug’s Life and Cars. He *can* direct, but my question is… How will he be able to direct Toy Story 4 whilst being a chief at Pixar, Disney Animation, Imagineering, DisneyToon, and having so many other responsibilities? All his pre-Cars 2 movies were made before he got up to all of these positions. If he can make it happen, I’ll be really impressed. At least he’ll have a co-director in Josh Cooley helping him handle things from the lower deck.
Toy Story 4 in many ways is Pixar’s riskiest film. Toy Story is perhaps one of the only trilogies with each installment being excellent, to follow that up with something just as good is a big task. Scratch that, a HUGE task. People may have been mixed on Monsters University, people may have been fine with Finding Dory being great but not Finding Nemo-level excellent, but I don’t think many will be content with a simply good Toy Story film. I’m sure Pixar and Lasseter are more than aware of that, too. From the hearsay I’ve read over the years, they are not proud of Cars 2 and know it was a trip-up. (You can tell in some ways, too. For example, Cars 2 is completely absent from the Pixar montage at the beginning of Inside Out‘s teaser. The montage features A Bug’s Life, Cars, Brave, and Monsters University, four films the Internet has officially deemed the “weak Pixar” movies.) I don’t doubt that they’re going to put their all into this.
No matter why or how it got green lit should be out of the question at this point. My guess is that big bad Bob Iger up at big bad Disney mandates that Pixar must make sequels, but Pixar tells them – Mr. Incredible-style – “We’ll get there when we get there!” They don’t rush their sequels, the only one they breezed through was Cars 2, but the others they took their time on. For the most part, they got good reception on those titles. The Internet says Monsters University is abysmal, but most critics gave it positive scores. Finding Dory was showered with praise.
Cars 3 and Toy Story 4 were both given plenty of time to stew. I’m sure both will be consistent and feel well-put together, but Toy Story 4‘s storyline could easily go south given what they plan to do with Bo. I’m willing to be wrong on this one. I’m ready for Pixar to make all of this work wonders, and that I won’t be saying “too rosy-rosy” when Bo Peep comes back into Woody’s life. Or heck, you never know, the Pixar geniuses may have a trick up their sleeves. Who knows how it will all play out?
For the time being though, I think I’ll continue being more excited about the anthropomorphic auto flick while being cautiously optimistic about this one…