Last weekend, two other universes happened to intersect with ours, which is to say that both “Toy Story” and “Men In Black” sent their latest installments to my local movie theater.
Each was the fourth installment of a three-episode story line. This seemed an especially difficult challenge for “Toy Story 4.”
For example, somehow the toys now belong to a little girl named Bonnie, but it is unclear who she is or how she connects with anyone in the previous films. I also note that bossy girl toys seem to be in charge this time around, which is clearly hard for protagonist Woody to take.
Significantly, I should note that unacceptable #MeToo-type behavior resulted in Pixar co-founder John Lasseter leaving Pixar and this project in 2017. Before that, original writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack had already left, saying that “minorities do not have equal creative voice” at Pixar.
All of that may not account for the disjointed-ness of “Toy Story 4,” but it made me wonder.
Bonnie must attend kindergarten orientation, where she is bullied and then left utterly alone. She finally makes a friend for herself from a discarded plastic utensil and pipe-cleaners, which she christens “Forky” (even though it is clearly a Spork), then gives the ultimate honor by writing her name on its broken popsicle-stick feet.
I had problems with this scene. My kids went to kindergarten orientation, too — the whole point of which is to ease your child’s transition from home to school, which means that the parents stayed, while the kids sized up the room. I was actually shocked that in the story there’s not a grown-up in sight. More shocking still, even before her first day of kindergarten, Bonnie can write her name perfectly.
The pacing seems off in this film. Woody spends far too much time telling Forky that he isn’t trash (and fetching him out of all the trash cans he leaps into). I actually wondered if this was supposed to be a suicide-prevention tale.
The story was also needlessly scary. The villain is a girl doll, “Gabby Gabby,” who kidnaps Forky in order to trap Woody and steal his voice box for herself, aided and abetted by a monstrous crew of what looked like Chucky dolls.
For me, this breaks some understandings about “Toy Story”-world. There’ve been scary dolls before — notably in the first film in the room of bad-boy Sid — but they turned out to have hearts of gold, helping Woody to rescue Buzz Lightyear and get him home.
That lesson was lost on these Pixar folks who gave no redeeming features to the Chucky-squad, and only the thinnest of sympathetic motives at the end to Gabby.
I think they have lost their touch or their hearts or something.
By contrast, I enjoyed “Men in Black: International.” It doesn’t have Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones, but it does have Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth as Agents M (Probationary) and H.
Tessa plays the new, feisty girl, Molly, whose mission since childhood has been to find and join the agency that came and neuralyzed her parents after an alien “incident” in the neighborhood. She hid, so she remembered it all, and grew up intent on joining the Men in Black. Her smile and energy are infectious.
Hemsworth, for his part, exudes a sort of playboy charm. There is definite chemistry between the two, and even some banter as they chase aliens through London, Paris, Morocco, and Italy, eventually solving the problem of what has gone wrong at MIB.
This film comfortably embraces its feminism —at the end Agent O even calls it “Men … and Women…in Black” — which may be why it is the better story. Crankiness is so unattractive!
Alas, “Toy Story” is the one that’s making money.
Money is a problem off the screens, as well. I watched both of these movies in one very comfortable afternoon at the Soundview Cinemas in Port Washington. After Clearview left, proprietor Jordan Desner redid everything in a fantasy-medieval decor, right down to the huge red and blue dragons in the lobby.
The theater is all at ground level and so especially convenient for children’s parties (like the one happening while I was there) or wheelchair access. But Desner doesn’t know if he will still be in business in the fall. Which would leave Port Washington with no movie screens when we used to have at least 10 — and would be a very great shame.