When Pixar announced that they would be providing us all with yet another instalment of the Toy Story franchise, it had a mixed reception. Many thought that it was just a money-making antic by Disney in the effort to drag out a franchise that many believe they had brought to a close in Toy Story 3. The toys have found a new home with Bonnie, Andy is off to college and Woody’s mission was complete – to ensure that he was there as a friend for Andy until he didn’t need him anymore.
Which is all well and good for Andy – but what about Woody? Does he just continue the cycle of being a toy to someone until they grow up and grow out of him? Every time, the cycle would continue and in the end, Woody would just keep getting left to one side. We can see at the beginning of Toy Story 4 just how much of an emotional impact this has on Woody and it’s happened throughout the franchise; in the first, he was worried about being replaced by Buzz, in the second he was worried about what would happen to him after Andy moved on and then in the third, he finally came to terms with the fact that he would be one of those toys that would be passed around and around.
But in the end, Woody is always just settling for what he thinks his purpose is.
That is the theme that Toy Story 4 really explores – what Woody wants. They explore this through the motif and metaphor of his ‘inner voice’. It’s originally used as a joke but it is one of the most vital themes throughout the film. When he speaks about his inner voice to Buzz, he refers to his conscience and states that it tells him what to do, what is right and wrong. For him, he believes that to be whatever he can possibly do to ensure that the child that he is currently with is happy. In Toy Story 4, that is to look after Forky no matter what.
Buzz misunderstands what he is talking about, thinking that he is talking about his pull-string. This leads to a bunch of gags where Buzz believes that his inner voice is found through the buttons on the front of his suit – he keeps asking them for help by touching them but then in the end, discovers that they aren’t helpful and he goes with his own heart.
We then meet Gabby Gabby. Gabby Gabby is a baby doll in an antique shop who was created in the same time as Woody but has a defective voice box. Her voice has been stolen for her and because of this, she believes that it is the reason that she hasn’t been bought by the antique owner’s granddaughter, Harmony. This is what creates the conflict within the films as Gabby Gabby knows that Woody’s works perfectly and therefore, she must have it so that she can be loved by Harmony.
Woody battles against this fiercely, ensuring that he can do everything in his power to not let this happen. But by the end of the film, he discovers that giving Gabby Gabby his voice box is the only way that he can fulfill what he believes to be his sole purpose – making sure that Bonnie is happy even though she hasn’t even noticed that he is missing. She’s too focused on the fact that Forky is missing. Ensuring that Gabby Gabby promises that Forky will be returned to Bonnie, Woody agrees to having his voice box taken from him.
Even though this is quite a disturbing turn of events, it also plays into the metaphor of his inner voice and therefore his ‘conscience’ taken from him. Gabby Gabby is so certain that this is exactly what she needs to fulfill her purpose that when Harmony still rejects her, it comes as a blow to the gut. Woody and Forky are audience to it, too, and it sparks something up within Woody. He and Gabby Gabby have more in common than he thought previously.
Everything that she was doing, even going against her fellow toys was for the child instead of for her well-being. Woody believes that if he brings Forky back to Bonnie, she will be happy and perhaps will play with him again – even if she doesn’t, he doesn’t care. He would put his own happiness to one side to ensure that she was happy.
But the moment that his voice box is taken from him, he realises that what he really wants wouldn’t affect Bonnie at all. He wants to stay with Bo Peep, he wants to be played with by kids that will love him – even if they are new every single day. While at first, he admonished Bo for her care-free way of life and believed that she could surely only be pretending that that was what she wanted; he begins to then realise that it’s what he wants, too. He doesn’t want to become a part of that cycle where he is left behind by kids that forget him even if he still loves both Bonnie and Andy.
The franchise always speaks openly to adults just as much as children – while it is fun and colourful for children to see, it is equally thematic and deep for the adults. It takes them back to their time when they were growing up and they had toys to play with that they loved. It also makes them want to go back to their attic, get them all out and apologise for leaving them alone.
But this particular theme talks about doing things in your life for others and not for yourself; sometimes even sacrificing your own happiness and wellbeing in the process. Woody has lived his whole life for the people around him and he then decides that he is going to live it for himself for once and follow his own dream.
Sometimes, your inner voice is wrong.