In an act that would even make the slowest snail rolls their eyes in disbelief, I’ve not yet seen Toy Story 4. Part of this is due to time and the desire to save this cinematic gift from Pixar as something to unwrap on my birthday. I also wanted to properly revisit the celebrated animated trilogy.
Much like getting out an old family album and viewing each photo with a mixture of fondness and melancholy: the Toy Story movies have become a precious cultural touchstone. They remind us of an innocent time when imagination and playing seemed like the most important thing in the world. This is a theme that recurs throughout my top five scenes.
5) An Adventurous Space Opening
The cold open for Toy Story 2 feels like the stabilisers have been removed from the filmmakers’ bike. The scene sees Buzz Lightyear on an exploratory mission in Sector 4 of the Gamma Quadrant. As much as the Toy Story films depict the sheer thrill and wonder of playing with toys, this sequence is a cinematic play session of the tent-pole movies that have inspired the series.
At the same time, it’s an interesting showcasing of Buzz Lightyear in his element. His various abilities are no longer flashy features on a product, but effective tools in combating his various foes. In this way, the sequence is an interesting riff on the central irony of the first film, elevated by Randy Newman’s rousing and adventurous score.
4) The Original Playtime Sequence
In many ways, the opening of Toy Story is an important sequence. Not only does it efficiently introduce all the main characters of the narrative, but it also sparks some of the philosophical questions that permeate the series. How does a toy have to be played with? Are the toy’s identity and purpose attached to the roles assigned by the kid that plays with them?
But above all, the sequence is imaginatively staged and sincere in its depiction of a young boy’s play session. In particular, the medium shots, framing and homemade production design wonderfully convey the looming size of the environment that Andy has created.
3) I Will Go Sailing No More
As much as Toy Story is about Woody attempting to reassert his relevance in his group’s hierarchy and Andy’s affections; (akin to the Western genre attempting to find relevance after the American space-age), it’s equally about Buzz coming to terms with his identity as a toy. The previous scene involving Buzz at a make-believe tea party was an amusing riff on a drunk scene in a serious drama.
But this sequence is a sobering depiction of suicide, with Buzz believing he can fly to reach an open window across the stairway. Randy Newman’s vocal performance conducts the scene’s emotions. His voice swells with perpetual hope as Buzz prepares to fly and his melancholic, pause-filled reading of I Will Go Sailing No More, gives the scene it’s sombre power.
2) A Silent Escape
Much like the opening for Toy Story 2, this scene coasts on the charm of its boundless cinematic imagination. The sequence is a great homage to the silent era comedies with its physical stunts and Woody’s series of worried facial expressions. It could have easily have been a Pixar short but in its relevance to the story, it’s invaluable in illustrating the stakes of escaping from Sunnyside.
1) A Final Playtime
Andy handing down of all of his toys to Bonnie is a tearful and bittersweet scene. It singlehandedly justifies Pixar’s choice to allow the Toy Story films to grow with its audience. Aside from the obvious tinge of nostalgia that engulfs proceedings, (via Andy briefly describing each toy), the scene also functions as a Rorschach test. Depending on the viewer, it will either represent a flood of childhood playtime memories or a sobering reminder that this simple time in their life is over and is never coming back.