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How "Toy Story 4" (2019) Got Feminism Wrong


Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

Toy Story 4 is the fourth (and hopefully final) major installment in the Toy Story franchise. I saw it recently, and when the film was over, I was in the usual tears given its sentimentality -- dammit, Pixar! -- but I also felt really annoyed by its politics.

Last year, I wrote an open letter to Pixar (of sorts), telling them why we didn't need a Toy Story 4. This "open letter" was met with a lot of backlash on the internet. People wrote clapback articles, explaining why they wanted a fourth film -- almost as if they actually thought some random black lesbian's article was going to actually influence the thoughts and hearts of white men.

Haha. People are so naive.

The point is, I'm no body to society. Why would anyone give a crap about my opinion? People should know better. No one's going to listen to me. If people had listened to me, Trump wouldn't be president.

Also, I think people take my articles here way too seriously. Even though I am sharing my honest opinion, I'm also doing it to get paid and to entertain you.

Think of me as a comedian. Comedians tell the truth and they tell it in a funny way, but they're mostly doing it to get paid -- not to change the world.

That said, I'm going to explain what I did and didn't like about this film and how it does feminism all wrong. Because as I mentioned above, some things about the movie left me feeling conflicted.

You're probably waiting for me to explain why Toy Story 4 does feminism wrong, and don't worry: I'm itching to tell you.

After an annoying flashback montage, the film opens with Woody feeling displaced. Because he's no longer the lead toy (like he was back in Andy's room), he doesn't know what to do with himself.

Bonnie constantly leaves him behind in the closet during playtime, making it clear that he is not the favorite. But Woody can't seem to help but step on the toes of every female character in the film long after he has been deposed as king.

I immediately noticed an on-going theme where Woody -- feeling lost and confused -- couldn't help butting in where he wasn't needed and trying to parent and control every female character.

In the end, Woody learns to let women take care of themselves, that perhaps he was never needed in the first place, and retires with Bo Peep as a lost toy living in the wild.

This by itself would have been a wonderful little character arc for Woody. In fact, it would have been perfect if Pixar hadn't tried to make it about feminist issues.

The problem here is that Pixar tries to frame sexism as benevolent. But any woman who's been alive more than five years knows that men are not bumbling dads who accidentally harm us while trying to protect and care for us.

Men purposely and maliciously stalk us, beat us, harass and terrorize us, rape us, belittle us, deny us equal pay, commodify our bodies, treat us like helpless inferiors, deny us bodily autonomy, deny us boundaries, deny us proper healthcare . . . the list goes on and on.

The patriarchy wasn't "accidentally" created by well meaning men who just wanted to protect us. The patriarchy was purposely and deliberately created by men who hate and despise us and have zero empathy for us as human beings -- because they don't see us as human beings.

They only see themselves.


Another thing the film does wrong regarding feminism?

In light of the controversy currently surrounding #MeToo, Pixar's male employees are likely scratching their heads, wondering what the big fuss is. I mean, why is it wrong to make your female employees uncomfortable by treating them like sex objects at work? Women, amirite?

Because they are apparently baffled by the notion that women are human beings deserving of respect, they have opted to explore their feelings with a children's film.

That's fine, I guess. The problem is, feminism isn't about men. It's about women and how WE are impacted by the terrible things men have deliberately chosen to do to us.

And yet, Toy Story 4 insists on centering the feelings and desires of Woody and how the changing social hierarchy is effecting him.

We never really explore how Bo Peep, Jessie -- or hell, even Mrs. Potatoe Head! -- feel about their changing world. It's all about Woody's (and thus men's) personal feelings of displacement.

Seems we can never talk about women's rights without men making it about them somehow.

But hold on to your hats, partners, because I've got more complaining to do!

Bo Peep was probably the best thing about this film, but I still couldn't help feeling annoyed that men continue to confuse a Strong Female Character with a Female Character, Strong.

Bo Peep was a strong female character because she was written well -- not because she could kick ass with her shepherd staff . . . though that was pretty cool.

Despite the sappy stories about wanting their daughters to have role models, it looks as if Pixar only chose to focus on Bo Peep because they wanted to look "totally not sexist" after their male employees were shown to be totally sexist.

After all, they don't exactly have a history of caring about women employees or female characters (Google "Pixar Brave Sexism") so this move seems more about polishing their reputation than sincerely giving a s*** about women.

Except no one asked them to make grand gestures proving they weren't sexist. We just asked them to stop being sexist.

What the f. .. .?

What the f. .. .?

Aside from the film's faux feminist agenda (say that three times fast), I was surprised and disappointed by how poorly paced and choppy the story was.

Permit me to switch from my radical feminist persona to my degree-having writer persona.

Toy Story films are usually pretty well written. There's a clear plot and interesting characters and the film carries us from Point A to Point B in creative, fun, and often hilarious ways.

But Toy Story 4 really drags at the beginning. The opening is boring and is meant to play on the heartstrings of nostalgic adults . . . except it doesn't because the updated Andy looks nothing like the original chipmunk-cheeked Andy.

Also, the beginning of the story is just badly paced. It leaves you wondering, "Where the f*** is this going? Is this movie about Woody becoming a helicopter parent or . . .?"

But I'm glad I stuck around because the second half of the film is hilarious.

Forky (Tony Hale) is a wonderful character.

I thought it was interesting that Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) was able to create a living toy from trash. It raises a lot of dorky questions about how toy sentience actually works in this universe.

The film also featured Toy Story's first female villain with Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a vintage doll living a sad life in an antique store.

I never felt like Gabby was intended to be a villain, though. She was misunderstood as "evil" just because she was powerful and held sway over the store. From Woody's perspective, she's some kind of monster. Then he actually talks to her and realizes that she's a person who just wants to be loved.

This somehow ties into the faux feminist crap they were trying to do, I'm sure: men see women who push for leadership roles as evil usurpers when we just want to have control over our own f******* lives and to be treated as human beings.

Also, Woody handing over his voice box seems to imply that men would have to sacrifice something to treat women like people. In reality, they would sacrifice nothing while regaining the humanity they chucked aside when they decided women were things.

Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), the carnival toys, were also a great addition to the main cast.

The entire sequence where they try to get the cabinet key from the woman who owns the antique store was quite possibly the funniest joke in the entire film.

That brown people are always regulated to comic relief side characters doesn't bother me at all. . . . Nope . . .

But outside the faux feminist, faux progressive context, I thought the ending was pretty darn good.

As Woody hugged his friends goodbye, I actually started crying, and in my head I screamed, "WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING?" Because only Toy Story films make me cry consistently.

Woody stays in the wild with Bo Peep and gets to retire from parenting human children, instead seeking out his own happiness. The end.

I thought it was a nice ending to a great franchise.

Now . . . let's keep it that way.

© 2019 Lee

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