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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: 'Toy Story 4'

June 24, 2019
2 min read time

When it comes to the business of telling stories on screen, the definition of success is constantly evolving. Since the mid-to-late 1980s, we have mostly relied upon the opening weekend box office to be the key indicator, but this past weekend's results have proven that even that metric doesn't always tell the whole story.

Toy Story 4 opened over the weekend to numbers that would appear high from any reasonable perspective: a $118 million take. Not bad for animation giant Pixar’s latest entry in its original and longest-running franchise.

It's the biggest opening ever for a Toy Story movie. It’s also an incredible number for the fourth film in any franchise; especially one that arrived almost a decade after the previous entry. But rather than the number resulting in the film being hailed as a triumph, many observers are calling it a disappointment—all because it's lower than initial estimates suggested.

Heading into the weekend, prognosticators were pointing to a number closer to $140 million, which makes $118 million look like a let-down.

Reviews and audiences have praised the film, so why did it flounder according to so many? If you look a little deeper into the predominantly positive notices, some narrative takeaways can be drawn.

Some have observed that the world wasn't necessarily calling out for a fourth Toy Story film, especially considering how the previous one wrapped up. Toy Story 3 had one of the most emotional climaxes in animation history. People still talk about the furnace finale as a bastion of quality storytelling. The film ended with Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toy gang in the hands of a new owner—a little girl named Bonnie—now that Andy, who we first met as a little boy in the original Toy Story, is all grown up.

It was a seemingly perfect ending to an iconic film series that changed Hollywood—and cinematic storytelling—forever.

All of which points to Toy Story 4 perhaps feeling a little... inessential. The kinder advocates of this perspective describe the fourth film as something of a post-script. A charming, well-written post-script, but a post-script nonetheless.

If there's any studio in town known for its reverential treatment of story, it's Pixar. Incredibly, it’s that reverence that led to Toy Story 4 being delayed several times in the name of getting the story just right. A possible takeaway here is that Pixar's reverence for story should've led them to maybe not make the film at all.

But in the current landscape of an intellectual property-driven film business, endless sequels are more inevitable than ever. But sometimes, audiences prefer stories to end. Therefore, the mild fatigue for the Toy Story universe could be playing a role in the film not quite meeting expectations at the box office.

The other major new release over the weekend highlights a unique, almost unprecedented narrative scenario. A remake of the 1988 semi-classic Child's Play opened to a $14 million gross, a solid take for what was clearly designed as a counter-programming move to the opening of Toy Story 4.

What's unique about this situation is that the original Child's Play franchise is still going, with an upcoming TV show following from the seven-films-and-counting series.

The takeaway here would appear to be that audiences are willing to accept two versions of the same character or story at the same time, which would seem to negate the prevailing wisdom.

Although fans (and the creator) of the original Chucky may feel slighted, any scenario that results in more stories being told can only be a good thing.

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