The Toy Story series has an interesting philosophical premise in which you can’t separate a toy’s purpose from its creator/owner. What gives the toy its value is not what it is made of or where it came from but by and for whom it was made. And that resonates.
The latest installment to the series is certainly the most existential of the bunch. Take for example the main character, Forky—a preschool arts-and-crafts project literally made from trash. Forky is given life by being created and named by Bonnie (the new owner of the toys from the previous iterations), and he finds himself wondering throughout the film whether he belongs to the trash or belongs to Bonnie. Is his central purpose connected to that which he was made fromor for whom he was made? He feels at ease in trashcans and dumpsters and with other garbage, but is this his purpose?
Toy Story 4 cares less about the question of “Why are we here?” and more about the question “Whose are we?” But at times, it doesn’t know how to answer its own question.
What do you do with toys whose owners no longer care for them? What do you do with those who have never had an owner to begin with? Won’t all toys eventually be forgotten? Will not all of them inevitably end up on the Island of Misfit Toys?
These are terrifying questions, and some of the most joyful and most depressing moments in this film revolve around toys finding (or not finding) an owner.
What’s a toy’s purpose with no owner? A toy is inherently created to be loved and enjoyed, so what do you do with that missing variable? Can a toy be a toy without an owner, or does it then become an antique? You could ask the same question of us, what are we without a relationship to our creator—can we find purpose aside from it? Can we fill the void of creator-creature love with creature-creature love?
Again, this film brings up huge questions and doesn’t quite know how to answer them all, but it does try its best.
Without giving too much away, the ending attempts to persuade its audience that a toy can find meaning after its owner while still recognizing that a toy’s most noble purpose is being there for a child. It can barely make up its mind though. On one hand, it makes it clear that it is better for a toy to be with an owner, yet on the other it can’t just say that toys without an owner are “trash” (as the film describes as being “Useless. Like your purpose has been fulfilled”). In some ways it does seem to say that creature-creature love can fill the void, but I wasn’t convinced.
The ending feels hollow to me. I’d like for every toy to have an owner, and for them to have one forever. I guess I’m just glad to not be some human’s play-thing, and I’m glad I don’t have to work with the assumption that my creator might one day just leave me out to dry leaving me to try to make sense of a life without him.