While I think I will always feel like two kids standing on each other’s shoulders in a trench coat when making my way through “adult” society, the truth is that I’m getting old. Not old old, mind you, just regular old: adult old, responsibility old, 401K old.
The first Toy Story (1995) came out when I was six years old, and seeing it in theaters at that young age was one of the most memorable and formative experiences of my life. And then, four years later, we got another one. But unlike the other franchises I was used to seeing at this age, something was different here. Something had fundamentally changed. I had grown up, and so had the movie: grown up with me, and started to address some of the nagging questions that had begun to creep into my pre-adolescent brain.
Toy Story 2 (1999) wasn’t just the same old buddy movie that the first one was. It was a movie about growing older: about having the people in your life start to move on from the friendships you had, about coping with your own growing sense of mortality, and about the rest of the world going on as if nothing world-shaking was actually happening. Yes, it was fun and funny and played around with the concept of living toys in new and exciting ways, but it was also dark. It was also melancholy. It was also mature enough to slow down when things started to get heavy and allow us to grapple with those new and confusing things we were feeling (many likely for the very first time).
Then came Toy Story 3 (2010). More than a decade out from the bittersweet lessons of the previous movie, it too grew up and out with its first generation audience. It covered a lot of the same territory as the second movie — grappling with mortality and moving away from old friends — but it exploded those themes outward so as to apply to the whole Toy Story crew. It wasn’t just Woody dealing with these things now, but everybody. They had to learn what it meant to “outlive” old friends, persist with others and figure out what it meant to make new ones. It was the ending of an era, in much the same way that Logan (2017) was, and it treated us the same as it ever did: with maturity and grace, trusting that we would understand what it was laying down for us at the multiplex. And when all of Andy’s old toys finally stopped struggling against the tide, finally held hands and quietly accepted their fate, we did too.
Now, nine years after that conclusion, the talented men and women at Pixar have come back with another “last” installment to the franchise. Toy Story 4, set to be released in summer 2019, is promising us one final ride into the sunset: one final lesson from our dear old friends, one final, tearful goodbye.
And did I mention the spork? Because there’s totally a spork: some poor, Frankensteined-together toy that is simultaneously terrified of its own existence and unsure of its place (or lack of place) in this world of children’s playthings.
While I am sure that the film will deal with this new narrative wrinkle with the same aplomb that it has explored every other one over its going-on twenty-four year life, the semicomical reveal of Forky belies a very series, and quite frankly disturbing, implication of the Toy Story universe: everything, and I do mean everything, either is or potentially can be alive. Sometimes these are lovingly crafted figurines made in our own image. Other times these are misshapen homunculi cobbled together from plastic cutlery and pipe cleaners. Sometimes there is art and purpose in the design, and other times there is merely happenstance.
For my part, “old man” as I am (or, at least in this moment, feel), I am simultaneously looking forward to and terrified of what this movie has in store for me. I cannot wait to see all of my old friends together again after so many years without them, but trepidatious about what fate has in store for them, and why, exactly, nobody left the movie’s final recording session dry-eyed. We’ll learn everything soon enough, and I know that the answers will emotionally destroy me, whatever they are.
It’s Pixar, Man. They always do.