After a nearly decade-long hiatus following the previous film in the Buzz and Woody franchise, Toy Story 3 (2010), which also grossed $1 billion, Disney CEO Bob Iger returned this week to the stage. Apparently with both Tom Hanks' Woody and Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear, if Allen's social media posts are anything to go by.
Is this a good thing?
There was a time when Disney was hesitant to produce "official" sequels to their works, which are generally produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios or the company's live-action film division. These were inexpensive and quickie moves, usually only acknowledged by the store's merchandise division, and the parents who had to endure these agonizing experiences.
With Toy Story 2, a 1999 classic that is well-known because the filmmakers of the original Toy Story were so ecstatic to learn that Disney would produce a direct-to-video sequel to their work. Instead, Disney decided to release the sequel in November 1999.
Pixar—and even Walt Disney Animation Studios—have become less averse to adapting their beloved classics in the future: Inside Out 2, Frozen III, Zootopia 2, and now Toy Story 5. Most of those films were announced by Iger in the same breath as it was announced that the company would lay off 7,000 workers.
Sequels are inevitable in the current Hollywood environment, which has been heavily defined by Iger's IP obsession in the 2010s. The Toy Story franchise is a clear example of this, from Pixar refusing to allow Toy Story 2 to be direct-to-video schlock until the studio taking around 10 years for each of the subsequent follow-ups. Yet, every one of those add-ons sought to accomplish something few other sequels would ever consider in the current Hollywood model: end things for good.
Many enthusiasts today forget that Toy Story 3 ended as a classic story that began in 1995 with a boy named Andy introducing his spaceman toy to his cowboy doll. By the time of the 2010 threequel, Andy had gotten the opportunity to give up his beloved spaceman and cowboy toys, passing them on to a little girl named Bonnie.
Even for Pixar, this isn't a millennial writer's nostalgia story. Toy Story 3 was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Oscar Awards. Toy Story 4 was a gentle epilogue about the saga's most central character, which I've never seen before.
Toy Story 4 became a metaphor for parents who are given a fresh start after their children leave the nest, rekindling an old flame in his middle age. He would also end Woody's story with these toys, giving him closure as he chooses to say goodbye to Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang for the foreseeable future.
Tom Hanks recounted what it was like filming the final scene in the film, which was also his last day of work on Toy Story 4, before resurrecting "To infinity and beyond."
Hanks said of recording that sequence in the same booth where he first began work on 1995's Toy Story; "That's where it all began... When it came to pass, I felt as though I was on the other side of the river waving to everybody that I had left back in the old country."
Toy Story 4 appears to be as resolute about leaving Woody as the previous film was about saying goodbye to Andy. However, Disney is tempted to make a fourth sequel without the franchise's most popular character, which is already a stretch. And, indeed, Tim Allen has tweeted out Wednesday, "We shall see you soon!"
Toy Story 5 makes surprisingly good sense for Disney's bottomline. Over the last 30 years, multiple generations have been emotionally affected by these characters. Hanks even described Woody as "a three-dimensional piece of emotional baggage" children carry around with them. But it's already there. Twice.
Then, you hit the law of diminishing returns, and you end up with the kinds of sequels Pixar originally intended to avoid back in the 1990s: those that exist only to make money and have no story to tell.