Toy Story 4 – Review

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.

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NOTE: Inclusion on these lists does not necessarily mean endorsement. Furthermore, with all our resources, we highly recommend you preview them first to determine if there are any trauma triggers that your child may not be ready to handle. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its reviews 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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