As you surely know by now, last week Disney and Pixar announced plans for Toy Story 4. The news was met with a mixed response of understandable dread and cautious anticipation. We love the characters, but we also know how fourth movies have traditionally panned out (the exception being Rocky IV, naturally). Toy Story 3 ended on such a strong note and no one wants to be left with the bad taste of franchise fatigue. But with the right idea, Toy Story 4 could surprise us all and break the curse of “fourquels.” So go ahead and have your pick Disney/Pixar. Just be sure to send me the check later.
1. Toy Story: The Next Generation
With three films and a number of shorts, maybe it’s time to retire Woody, Buzz and the gang and introduce a new group of toys with new relationships. Our lead characters could be a female knight, a monster, a ninja and maybe even a character from Disney’s Buzz Lightyear of Star Command for continuity’s sake (there’s a whole galaxy of characters in the show that had to have been made into toys at some point in the Toy Story world).
In terms of the story, I’m thinking a cross-country family road trip to California is in order. So our lead kid (we’ll call her Jody) takes her favorite toys with her on this cross country-trip with her parents. But, it’s no fun to have the toys stuck in the car the whole time, so at a rest stop the toys get out and the family accidentally leaves them behind. What follows is the toys’ trip across America, through national landmarks, a weird ghost town, and a theme park. Of course they pick up a stray toy or two along the way. Finally, the toys arrive at the San Diego Comic-Con where Jody is. The toys must navigate through thousands of people to find Jody, and just when they see her they are snatched up by two familiar, Cheetos stained hands. That’s right, Al McWhiggin of Al’s Toy Barn is back! From there the toys must escape from greedy comic-con vendors in order to return to Jody.
For marketing reasons alone, the focus on new characters seems unlikely, even if the original stars were still featured in shorts. The plot could still work with Woody, Buzz, and the rest, but I’d love it if Pixar returned to some of the originality they were so well-known for before getting sequel happy. So come on Pixar, bring on the controversy and surprise us all.
2. Toy Story International
Near the end of Toy Story 2, the gang is nearly shipped off to Japan. I won’t lie, part of me wanted to see this play out, if only for the change in scenery. This time I promise I won’t startle and offend you with the idea of introducing new lead characters. Let’s say we pick up sometime after Toy Story 3 and Bonnie Anderson is now seven or eight and still the owner of all Andy’s toys. Bonnie’s dad gets a job offer in Japan or China (it’s really up to Disney’s marketing department, I suppose) and relocates the family and toys.
After the move, the toys must adapt to their new surrounding while making new friends along the way. Asia’s merchandise is drastically different from America and the toy possibilities that could be introduced are endless (maybe a kaiju action figure and a Hello Kittyesque figure, or an Anime representation of Buzz could come into play). One of the new toys that’s introduced tells Andy’s toys that the group have no idea where they come from. He leads them to a manufacturing factory where some of the toys (not Woody or Jessie, because we already know they’re one of a kind) discover hundreds of copies of themselves. This leads into an exploration of originality and whether the toys’ personalities come from inside or if they are just a part of the merchandising machine. Because this is a kid’s movie and happy endings are a must, of course they find out their personalities, not their looks, define them. It’s a way to delve deeper into some of the existential themes the first three movies explored.
As important as Asia has become in international box office revenue it makes sense that Disney might want to broaden their reach even further by taking the action overseas. Toy Story is after all a global phenomenon so maybe it’s time to step out of the backyard and watch the money pile up. Big Hero 6 seems to have benefited greatly from its international appeal, and if Toy Story 4 can attempt this and avoid the cultural stereotypes Cars 2 fell prey to, they can take the franchise to some new and interesting places.
3. Toy Story: The Toy Maker
The gang must contend with a new line of popular toys that have hit shelves. But these toys are different, they aren’t classic archetypal figures. What makes these toys so popular is that they can easily be taken apart and used to build new toys (think the Build-A-Figure line). Kids no longer have to settle for toys made by the manufacturer and can instead create their own in any way they can imagine (a Barbie doll head on the body of a dinosaur).
Bonnie receives some of these new build-a-toys from a friend. But these build-a-toys’ personalities are unpredictable because of their ability to be taken apart so easily and made into something else. Woody believes this goes against the entire purpose of being a toy, but Buzz believes if the build-a-toys are fine with who they are, then they shouldn’t try to change that. Woody convinces the build-a-toys that no real toy would let themselves be torn apart. So along with Buzz, Jessie, and the others, Woody takes the build-a-toys to the toy shop they were sold from. Once they get in, they are attacked by toy-soldiers with missing limbs and Babyface (the baby doll head stuck on metal legs from the original film). Woody and Buzz come to the realization that the build-a-toys are next generation Mutant Toys and that there’s only one person who could be responsible: Sid. Sid enters the shop and just as he’s about to re-purpose them, Sid’s son enters and recognizes that the toys belong to one of his friends from school: Bonnie. He convinces his dad to give the toys back to their owner. But Sid refuses to shut down the build-a-toys shop. When Woody is about to frighten Sid into giving up his shop, the build-a-toys stop him and reveal to Woody they like being able to change and their ability to be remade is a gift. The film ends with the idea that differences should be celebrated and change isn’t always a bad thing.
The build-a-toys line could make for some unique merchandising opportunities. As someone who also took apart and rebuilt many an action figure in my day, I think Sid has always been more creative than evil. He may have made a cameo as a garbage man in Toy Story 3, but he was only going on ride-alongs to collect toy parts to build his business. At its heart, this version of Toy Story 4 is a celebration of creativity and an exploration of death and rebirth in the most kid-friendly way possible. Bring the tissues for this one.
4. Toy Story: Age of Toys
With the ever increasing popularity in video games over the past decade, toy sales have decreased significantly since the 90s. Action figure and doll sections in stores have begun shrinking after being crowded out by iPad displays and portable game devices. Toys are less relevant than they use to be and I think it’s time the Toy Story films tackled that issue head on.
Bonnie is now ten, and while she still plays with her toys from time to time, they’ve mostly been relegated into the toy chest. Instead she, like most children, has become enamored with digital devices. Woody’s been discussing the issue with some of the neighbor children’s toys and they’ve encountered the same problem. On the television, Buzz sees a report that a major toy factory is closing down and will be turned into a video game warehouse. Similar news is being reported all across the world and with the holidays quickly approaching the toys fear that if they don’t start selling well they will be discontinued. Jessie refuses to be abandoned again and suggests a drastic step, one that goes against everything they believed in. Jessie decides in order to save themselves, they must reveal themselves to the humans. This creates controversy among the toys and sides are chosen. But Mr. Potato Head and Jessie take it upon themselves to speak and move in front of Bonnie. What follows is a massive media focus on toys. Everyone wants to own a toy and now manufactures can’t keep up with the demand. Some of the toys love the spotlight, but after a while they all begin to feel used instead of loved. The toys must reassert themselves and find their place in the public eye.
This plotline may just be the necessary step to take Toy Story into a drastically different direction that could open the world for further sequels. This film could completely change the notion of what it means to be a toy and have an owner while tackling media, celebrity and technology in the 21st century. Throw in a Wreck-It-Ralph cameo and we’re set!
5. Toy Story: Toy Monsters
Woody notices some of the toys have been disappearing in the night, and the other toys don’t have a clue where they could’ve gone. Buzz decides a group of them should stay up through the night and do a little reconnaissance to figure out what’s been going on. They nod off while waiting, and just as Jessie opens her eyes she notices the closet door begin to close shut. She wakes up the others and they run into the closet and stumble out into a trail of slime. They all look up and see a monster standing over them. Woody and the gang have just found themselves in Monsters Inc.
The monsters have always known the toys could move and speak on their own, but only recently did the new CEO of Monsters Inc. come up with the idea that certain toys can be used to generate screams. The toys are forced to move and speak in front of kids in order to scare them. The CEO tries to convince Woody and the others that this is a necessary measure, but all they want is to rescue their friends and go back home. The CEO tells them they can either work together or be destroyed, and he gives them some time to think over their decision. Only the board of the company knows the toys are being used for screams against their will. Because of their fear of being destroyed, the previously kidnapped toys have never tried to get a monster on their side. Woody and the others are led to holding cells where all the kidnapped toys are kept. But Woody and Buzz manage to escape before they can be locked up. This leads to them being chased around Monsters Inc. They escape into Monstropolis and manage to lose their pursuers. As they make their way through this strange city Woody and Buzz overhear two monsters talking about the CEO and Monsters Inc.’s new corporate practices. The two monsters are unhappy about the use of the toys and feel it takes away from their roles as monsters. Buzz and Woody reveal themselves to the monsters who are Mike and Sully. In order to save their friends and the integrity of Monsters Inc, Woody, Buzz, Mike, and Sully must team up to take down the CEO.
A crossover between the two properties has genuine potential. It’s not something that needs to spinout into a Marvel style Pixar Universe; this is just something that could be a onetime deal with the two Pixar franchises that seem most likely to interact. But if Pixar wanted to add some really cool Easter eggs, the doors in the Monsters Inc. would be a really great way to briefly peek in on some other characters like Russell and Jack-Jack. This film could also be a creative way to explore some classic horror movie tropes, like talking dolls, and turn the situation into something funny and heartfelt. The Toy Story franchise has always been built with big ideas and it doesn’t get much bigger than this!