Monday, March 27, 2017

New Batteries?: 'Toy Story 4' Adds a Writer

It turns out that someone else might be playing with the toys...

When reporting on an upcoming Pharrell Williams-driven musical movie called Atlantis, Variety and various publications mentioned that the screenwriter of the project - Martin Hynes - is a writer on Toy Story 4.

Up until now, we knew that Rashida Jones and Will McCormack (Celeste and Jesse Forever) were handling the screenplay for this Pixar fourquel. Fresh outside voices that hadn't tackled one of the Emeryville studio's films before. Now it looks like Hynes (who wrote and directed The Big Split and The Go-Getter, and also played George Lucas in the short film George Lucas in Love) is in the sandbox. Funny how it usually somehow goes back to Mr. Lucas...

We know little beyond this, though. We don't know if he is rewriting the script, or if he's aiding Jones and McCormack. I have a feeling the former might be the case, because... Toy Story 4 was delayed twice after it was first announced. Pixar originally unveiled the project in November of 2014, and a summer 2017 release date was inked. Nearly a year later, the movie got pushed to summer 2018, Cars 3 took its original spot from it... But then last autumn, it lost the summer 2018 slot to The Incredibles II. It is now set to open in the summer of 2019, and no Pixar films have been slotted beyond that.

Now perhaps this happened because Cars 3 and The Incredibles II just so happened to surge ahead in development, and reached that "in good shape" state before Toy Story 4 could. The movie is still a good two years away, so at the same time I assume that these delays happened for another reason. It's no surprise, for Pixar is following up what is pretty much a perfect ending. Toy Story 3 ended everything on such a high note, making the series that rare trilogy where every installment in it is great.

We may have been told over time that Toy Story 4 wouldn't be a continuation of the "master story", as I like to call it, but that it would be its own standalone movie. Basically a feature-length Toy Story of Terror! or Toy Story That Time Forgot. I was fine with that, until they revealed that it was going to be about Woody and Buzz setting off on a road trip to find Bo Peep, Woody's long-lost love interest who was given away between the events of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. Ever since that announcement, I've been unusually skeptical of this film... How could they bring her back into Woody's life without softening the bittersweetness of Toy Story 3?

What makes the Toy Story trilogy so great is that it deals with abandonment, among other great themes. Woody and Buzz and the gang know that, one day, Andy will grow up and will stop playing with them. This comes into play in Toy Story 2, and it's the main focus of the third movie... And Pixar, being the studio that they are, didn't sugarcoat things. They didn't make things all rosy-rosy, instead they made a rather melancholic movie! I remember some complained at the time that it was too dramatic, and that it wasn't funny enough. Andy ends up giving his toys to someone else, friends have disappeared over time, the villain has a bleak outlook on toy life, the Prospector was ultimately right in some ways...

But what mattered was that most of the gang was still together, and that someone Andy knows will take good care of them. That's life. It can't always be perfect. It was very similar to Up in that regard, Carl doesn't live his dreams with his wife, his childhood hero is a monster, and he ultimately ends up losing his house. To me, bringing back Bo negates a chunk of the series' emotional core. Now, I have said before that I'm willing to be wrong on this. I don't doubt for a second that Pixar's story team could make that story work, despite how I feel about all of it.

Maybe the delays and the addition of another writer suggest that they may have rewritten the story completely, or have worked very hard to make the return of Bo Peep an emotionally satisfying follow-up to a great trilogy. I don't know, I'm not a fly on the wall at Pixar, but it seems like development on this one has been pretty rocky. Of course I'm not too phased that we're not getting this movie in less than three months, because I'm used to animated movies getting release dates and then getting delayed. I'm also used to many cool-sounding animated movies getting cancelled. If they need a lot of time to make Toy Story 4 excellent, so be it!

What say you?

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