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Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 4 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

Movie Info:

  • Rating: G
  • Genre: Animation, Comedy, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
  • Runtime: 90 minutes
  • Studio: Disney/Pixar

From Toy Story 4 (2019) by Disney/Pixar:

“Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) has always been confident about his place in the world, and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. So when Bonnie’s beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (voice of Tony Hale), declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy. But when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family’s road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts). After years of being on her own, Bo’s adventurous spirit and life on the road belie her delicate porcelain exterior. As Woody and Bo realize they’re worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy, they soon come to find that’s the least of their worries.”

[Buy the FULL Comprehensive Review & Discussion Guide]

Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

Toy Story 4 (2019) is definitely going to be the top box-office hit of the summer of 2019. Disney/Pixar brings back the original cast (including using some slick tricks to bring the late Don Rickles back to life as Mr. Potato Head), parts of the original soundtrack, and some old characters (which we haven’t seen in over a decade) with updated CGI, new faces and another story for us to laugh, cry, and fall in love all over again with Andy… I mean, Bonnie’s toys. A definite must watch family movie appropriate for all ages.

** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **

How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

Every time I think I have Disney/Pixar figured out, here they come with another movie that leaves me crying in the movie theater with a random preschooler asking their mother, “Is she gonna be okay?” As someone that grew up with Andy and the toys, I thought I had plenty of closure from Toy Story 3 (2013) and this movie was going to be overkill for the franchise. I now stand corrected and have another movie in my therapeutic toolbox to help me work with my kids. And by “my kids,” I specifically mean my foster youth of all ages.

Hear me out on this one. I know that this movie does not explicitly talk about the foster or adoptive system, so the Hoot Score we gave may seem a little high. Though Toy Story 4 (2019) may not talk about a child welfare system, there are so many parallels that equate in the toy world for a child that is still waiting for their forever home. As we see in this movie, there are varying attitudes for the toys we meet (or reunify with after a multi-year hiatus) in regards to a child’s growing up or outright rejection of a toy. Some toys, after years of waiting for their ideal child, are grossly disappointed and in such despair they can’t imagine looking for another child. Another toy finds a home during the holiday season, only to experience rejection after he doesn’t perform on par with the commercials. Another group of toys reshape their view on the toy/child relationship entirely and choose to remain inclusive to all children while traveling the country. And another new friend struggles to even identify as a toy, much less as someone’s toy. With all of these wildly different attitudes, what is the one thing we see in common? How each toy responds to rejection and, with varying levels of supports, and finding permanency that meets the needs of their newfound identities.

For children in the child welfare system, there is no separation from the grief of pain or loss through rejection. Our children and youth face all sorts of rejection whether that be in a biological parent’s passivity to working a permanency plan, a foster parent disrupting placement upon discovering a child’s trauma does not meet their expectations, a youth never finding a forever home after years of waiting on the figurative shelf, or never coming to terms with reality’s dissonance from their dreams and sense of self. Because of this overarching themes of rejection and shaping identity many children or youth could benefit greatly from viewing this movie with a caring adult willing to right through the grief and loss and validate their experiences.

Discussion Points:

  • Rejection and Loss
    Foster children and youth suffer a significant amount of loss upon entering the child welfare system. Imagine being picked up from your life and being placed in a strange home without any connection to your world. No parents, no pets, no friends, no neighbors, no mentors, no classmates, no aunties and uncles, not having your favorite foods or clothing, and not even getting to celebrate traditions your way. Though foster placement may be temporary initially, the act of moving a child out of their built-in supports and attachment patterns into a space without those protective factors is highly traumatic. In addition to this, our children and youth suffer more adverse childhood experiences in the realms of abuse, drug exposure, domestic violence, lack of supervision, deaths of family members, and incarceration of family members, which creates more pain through exposure and loss. Because of this, caregivers need to be experts in grief and loss to prepare for when (not if) a child struggles with grief related to feelings of rejection and loss.
  • Transitions Are Challenging
    So many transitions happen in this movie! Woody adjusts to not being a favorite toy and finding a new purpose in life, Bonnie transitions into school, Forky transitions from an identity of “trash” to “toy,” Bo Peep transitions from a traditional toy into a lifestyle of seeing the world and helping toys find children, and (huge spoiler) Woody transitions from a belief of only being one child’s toy to becoming a new kind of “found toy” in finding a new life purpose. Change is inevitable, but foster/adoptive children or youth can often find changes and transitions utterly terrifying. Think about how many times your child or youth has changed homes, changed workers, and even potentially changed their names! In all the changes, our child may seek some sense of control (including trying to control you and your household), so foster and adoptive parents need to be sensitive to the underlying issues that may produce symptoms in form of survival behaviors. Remember that all behavior communicates needs, and there are times where a child or youth may need our help to decode the connection between feelings and behavior, whether they are an old-timer like Woody or a brand new “toy” such as Forky.
  • Trauma Affects Individuals Differently
    There are so many underlying points related to trauma in this film, I’m sure we are not going to hit all of them. For now let’s focus on Bo Peep, Gabby, Duke Caboom, and Woody primarily to keep it simple. Woody and Bo-Peep have had loving relationships with children that have grown up and each handle saying good-bye to their children very differently though they came from the same environment. We also meet Gabby in this film, who has never had a child but has dreamed of a specific child for so long that is the only option for her. Through the course of the film, we see how each handles trauma from the rejection from past or prospective children and how this forms each individual character. This helps us understand that every child’s relationship with trauma is purely based on that child’s perception of the traumatic event and not on the event itself.

Cautionary Points:

  • Loss and Grief Abound
    It is important to remember that our children have gone through many challenges and experiences unique to a foster or adopted child. Sometimes we know pieces of information upon placement, but other times we find out about trauma triggers and problematic survival behaviors after building a relationship of trust and security with a child. Children and youth who have endured significant loss and rejection may struggle with big emotions. This can also be a great opportunity though to discuss these painful things and provide support for a child.
  • The Ventriloquist Dummies Are Very Creepy
    There are some scenes where Ventriloquist Dummies are being utilized by Gabby as silent mob men. They don’t talk, but they have creepy eyes and move jauntily and give a bit of a suspense/thriller vibe to their scenes. If you have a child who can’t handle feeling like dolls are watching them, be warned that this one may be hard to handle.
  • Elopement Portrayed In Positive Light
    While watching the film, I specifically thought of some teenage clients of mine who frequently struggled with elopement (running away) and were easily triggered by discussions of running away and starting a new life. This is mostly portrayed with Bo Peep but does include Woody at the end of the movie. While it does appear that running away from the Second Chances Antique Shop did good for Bo, it should be noted that running away is often a survival behavior that foster youth develop in response to hard things. While on the surface this may not seem like a huge barrier, youth engaging in fight or flight instincts in response to stress/unresolved trauma could be put in serious risk by running away. Bo Peep is 1) a toy and 2) functions in the film like an adult would due to her age as a toy, so she does not need to worry about human trafficking or drug exposure or other risk factors. Our children and youth certainly need to be aware real potential consequences of running away to help understand that the runaway behavior is in no way beneficial in the foster care system.

Discussion Guide:

  1. Why does Bo Peep say, “It’s time for the next kid,” when she could simply hop out of the box and stay at Andy and Molly’s house?
    Caregiver Note: This question will help your child or youth starting thinking about the movie’s overall tone concerning change not always being a bad/terrifying thing. Like some of our children or youth, Bo Peep did not get much notice that she was being sold to another child. The buyer came at night in a rainstorm even, a very unlikely scenario. This may resonate with some children, the image of moving from one place to another with little warning and hardly any time for goodbyes. If they bring up the time coming into custody, ask them how they felt about moving so suddenly.
  2. Does Woody fit in with Bonnie’s toys? Where does he appear to be struggling to fit in? Why does he choose to not listen to Mayor?
    Caregiver Note: Woody was previously Andy’s favorite toy and because of this, often held a leadership role among Andy’s other toys. In Bonnie’s room, Bonnie not only already has established toys present but she appears to lean more towards playing with toys that she identifies with (i.e. – putting Woody’s Sheriff badge on Jessie, a female cowgirl) or are similar to toys she already has (i.e. – the dinosaurs, futuristic-looking toys, animal toys, etc.). Woody struggles with this because his identity is so far invested in not only being a toy (which we’ve heard the message of for three movies leading up to this one) but being a favorite toy and in having such a status caring for a child. Woody’s identity is challenged by Bonnie picking other toys and even preferring a toy made of pieces of trash over him. Woody is so focused on reinforcing that identity, he chooses to disobey the Mayor and refused to listen to potential consequences that could have hurt Bonnie in the long-term. Talk to your child as a follow up about a time where they felt like they didn’t fit in with a crowd and why.
  3. Why does Gabby want Woody’s voice box? Why was she so desperate that she tried to take it by force and manipulation? Did her methods of force and manipulation result in the outcome she wanted?
    Caregiver Note: Gabby at first has all the makings of a traditional villain to challenge Woody’s beliefs as a toy that nobly wishes to commit to one child and care for them until he is no longer needed. However, as the film progresses, we discover that Gabby shares the same beliefs as Woody and is acting out of desperation to connect with her dream child, Harmony. While eventually she did get the voice box, Harmony rejected her. Gabby was so hurt by this rejection she almost missed out on finding a child who needed her just as much as she needed a child. Talk to your child about this and how Gabby could have better tried to make her needs known. Talk to your child about how rejection hurts but that doesn’t mean every person will reject them.
  4. At the beginning of the film we see Jessie have a panic attack in the closet (think back to Toy Story 2). Why does she react that way if it happened so long ago? Why does Bo Peep act so tough when she’s around the toys at the carnival or Second Chances?
    Caregiver Note: Children and youth from the child welfare system have often had to live in frequent states of “fight, flight, or freeze” and because of this have not had as many opportunities as other children to develop their prefrontal cortex (where decision making occurs). Because of this developmental delay, children in care may struggle with connecting feelings to behaviors and, as a result, controlling those behavior impulses. We often call these behaviors survival behaviors as they were developed in times of stress to express and meet needs. Help your child or youth to connect that Jessie was still triggered by being in dark, enclosed spaces from where she was in storage before meeting Woody in Toy Story 2 and that her need was for feeling safe. Also help your child or youth connect that Bo Peep acting tough around the other toys is also a behavior Bo Peep has learned to cope with elements out in the world to help her stay safe, especially as a toy made of porcelain.
  5. Why did Woody have a hard time with calling Bonnie “Andy” all the time? Why did Woody have a hard time watching Jessie play with Bonnie and wear his Sheriff badge?
    Caregiver Note: Woody only appears to know of Andy throughout the series, so I believe it is safe to assume that Andy was Woody’s first and only child. Because of this, Andy formed a bond with Woody that set up Woody’s expectations for all future children. This bond is attachment, and as we see with children in the child welfare system, primary attachments such as Woody and Andy’s are difficult to transition out of due to them being the blueprint to future attachment relationships. This is why Woody can’t just let go of Andy and his identity as the favorite toy. Woody continued to struggle watching Jessie literally take his place on Bullseye and with his Sheriff badge while Bonnie played with her. Discuss how Woody struggled with a new identity and other toys seeming to be elevated above his old station.
  6. How did Duke Caboom, Woody, and Bo Peep respond to their children giving them away? Who seemed to “handle” it better? How did that toy handle the change better and why?
    Caregiver Note: It’s important for caregivers to remember that two children or youth can come from the same environment but have different levels of thriving in adverse climates. Traumatic events are measured in intensity by how the child or youth perceives the traumatic event. This can be influenced by a child or youth’s personality, natural or familial supports, and even by attachment style. Woody had an intensely close bond with only Andy at the beginning of the films. He struggles to transition to being a non-favored toy of Bonnie because the role of a favored toy of Andy (one child) is all that he knows. He struggles with this change as this challenges his identity and what he believes to be his life purpose. Woody tries to “help” his cohorts only to overstep boundaries as a result of this dissonance between his actual role versus what he has grown accustomed to.Bo Peep had a bond with Molly but already understood before leaving Molly that her time in Molly’s life was for a season. She was more prepared for the transition, even though the move we see was so sudden. After transitioning to an antique shop shelf from her second (known) child, Bo Peep chose to evaluate her life choices and decided to take a more active role in choosing where she lived with Billy, Goat, and Gruff (her sheep). Bo Peep had more experience with loss and change and was better equipped to handle this shift emotionally.Duke did not have the opportunity to bond with a child. Duke Caboom was given as a Boxing Day gift (in Canada) to his child named Rashid. According to Duke, Rashid was ecstatic at first to have Duke but was quickly disappointed that Duke’s stunt capability was more limited than what commercials showed and was abandoned after this. Duke was hurt very much by this because this was his first and only exposure to a relationship with a child and his expectations of a relationship with a future child are based off that first experience. Because of this, Duke refers to Rashid constantly, trying to prove to himself that he was worthy of Rashid’s love and attention by performing riskier stunts.
  7. Have you ever felt like Gabby or Duke where you had to do something to earn someone’s affection and attention? What was that like?
    Caregiver Note: As mentioned earlier, children or youth who have endured trauma and have had longer periods of “fight, flight, or freeze” do not develop their prefrontal cortexes as much and due to this have higher likelihood of impulsivity. This means that a child or youth has limited ability to stop and connect feelings to behavior, among other challenges. Often in response to trauma exposure from inconsistent care a child or youth develops survival behaviors to meet their needs. Like Duke, some children may act out or engage in attention seeking behaviors to get attention they crave (which can be exhausting for a caregiver over time). Other children may try to oversell themselves with an overabundance of affection and try to hide perceived imperfections to make themselves more “loveable.” It’s good to talk out loud about some of the behaviors your child or youth engages in to help them connect to the need they are trying to fulfill and to help open discussion on how to better communicate those needs with you. Remember, this is not a roasting session or a blame game. Allow the child to think through and figure it out themselves as much as possible. This gives them the chance to flex those “brain muscles” up in the prefrontal cortex.
  8. When we first meet Forky, he keeps saying “trash” and running to the trashcan. Why do you think he does that? What finally helps him to not do that anymore?
    Caregiver Note: As we see in the film, Forky was made from supplies Woody salvaged from the classroom trashcan. Forky throughout the beginning of the film then tries to repeatedly return to what he knows and finds comfort in… a trashcan. While talking to Woody on the road, Forky explains that trash is “warm and cozy and safe,” which is why he continues to return to it. It’s important for caregivers to remember that no matter how neglectful or maladaptive an environment may seem to us, a child or youth may continue to run to the perceived safety of what is familiar to them. A child who was neglected may continue to sleep underneath piles of clothing long after moving to a warm foster home with plenty of bedding. A teenager who has plenty of clothing may insist on wearing the same threadbare hoodie they arrived in on a colder day. Another child may act in a way that seems to seek abusive behavior from a caregiver. All of these behaviors stem from a need for control and/or familiarity. This can be a good question set to open discussion about what a child or youth finds “warm and cozy and safe” to help you as the caregiver help ease their transition into your home. Eventually, once Forky connects that when Woody says “toy” he means what Forky perceives “trash” to mean, he is very enthusiastic about providing that comfort to Bonnie. Forky just lacked the language to understand Woody and Bonnie’s expectations. Remember, we may understand what we mean, but a trauma-informed caregiver may need to read the message between the behaviors and help a child or youth translate at times.
  9. Activity: Make A New Friend!
    Caregiver Note: Provide some craft supplies mixed in with “trash” items like utensils, bottles, or empty containers. Make a “friend” and have your child or youth make one as well. Instruct them to come up with a story for their friend and include their strengths, weaknesses, favorite things, and dreams for themselves. Afterwards have the child compare those things to their own story. What’s similar? What’s different? Make sure to explain to the child that no matter how great the strengths or how frustrating their weaknesses, they are all deserving of love and care. Examples of toys still having value in spite of weaknesses/differences include Gabby’s voice box, Bo Peep’s broken arm, Duke Caboom’s jump distance, and Forky’s ever-moving body parts. Encourage your younger children to talk through their new friend, like how Bonnie speaks through Forky to her teacher, if talking as themselves is too challenging. Sometimes having a friend “help” explain feelings makes the experience a little easier.
  10. Activity: Find the Lost Toy
    Caregiver Note: This activity can be thought of as reverse hide and seek. The object of this game is for one player to hide (as the “lost” toy) and after a count of 15 the rest of the group works together as a team to find the lost toy. This activity is great for bonding because 1) it’s fun and 2) it helps convey the message that no matter how far a child goes, the family will look for them, help them, and love them.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.**

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