The sophistication of Pixar movies allows them to be enjoyed by all ages. So which demographic do I focus on when recommending what to watch next? For Toy Story 4, my curation is admittedly scattered as I address many parts of the animated sequel’s themes and tropes and most memorable moments. I’ve chosen a lot here, due to the movie being so rich with inspired and inspiring elements, even including more documentaries than usual as well as a television episode that can be isolated and argued as being a short film. Not all of these picks for what to watch after Toy Story 4 are similarly for all ages, but they should all be appreciated by the grown-up Pixar fans.
My son would probably disown me if I didn’t start off with this movie, and fortunately, it’s the most recent release among my many recommendations. I need to especially give an apologetic shoutout to everyone at the screening my family attended who heard the boy constantly shout “Slappy!” whenever the ventriloquist dummies appeared on screen. Despite Toy Story 4 insisting that these henchmen puppets were all named Benson, my son wouldn’t have any of it. They’re all Slappies. Slappy being the iconic ventriloquist dummy from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and the subsequent star of the Goosebumps movies. The first of which is surprisingly pretty entertaining, particularly thanks to the Jack Black-voiced Slappy.
The Kids Grow Up (2009)
The biggest theme of Toy Story 4 concerns existential questions about life’s purpose, but quite specifically, the movie is focused on the meaning of life after kids. Woody stands in for all the parents out there who’ve been taking their children to Toy Story and Pixar movies for many years — the original Toy Story, which was the studio’s first feature, came out 24 years ago — and whose kids are now grown up and leaving or gone from the house. Now what? Hopefully not depression, which is very common for people who, like Woody, have trouble adjusting. Pixar actually already dealt with the theme recently with the Oscar-winning animated short film Bao, but the best movie I’ve seen that deals with empty nest syndrome is The Kids Grow Up, a first-person documentary by Doug Block looking at the life of his daughter as she sets off for college and on his wife as she has difficulty coping with the departure.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Bo Peep’s return in Toy Story 4 is a big deal, and her character rises in significance as a featured player this time around after being absent from Toy Story 3. Her expanded role and agency as an independent female character has been said to have been inspired by everyone from Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road to Rey in the new Star Wars sequels. Another model for Bo Peep was Marion from the Indiana Jones franchise, especially in her relationship with Woody. “Because they’ve known each other for such a long time, the relationship that Indiana Jones had with Marion is something I had in mind with Woody and Bo,” director Josh Cooley told Entertainment Weekly. Technically, their reunion in the first Indy movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, counts and that’s the better movie to recommend, but the far less favored but still worthy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull brings the couple together again after an even longer span of time and, spoiler alert, conclusively. Just as with Bo and Woody in Toy Story 4, Marion and Indy immediately get back into a groove with great chemistry as they’re clearly destined to be together.
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)
My recommendations on these lists of Movies to Watch After… are not always a matter of picking great films (this could have been said for the above pick, as well). Sometimes it’s just about film history and sharing what came before, good and bad. Influence doesn’t just come from the classics. Curtis Hanson’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, for instance, is a competently made ’90s thriller with a fine performance from Rebecca De Mornay as a woman who terrorizes the family of a new mother she blames for her own infertility. The movie was a hit at the time but has mostly been forgotten over time, and the way De Mornay’s villainous nanny aligns barrenness with badness is viewed as antiquated in modern film discourse. Not that we wouldn’t see Hollywood still make a movie like this now, and audience expectation with such a villain is played with for the Gabby Gabby character in Toy Story 4, with Pixar once again showing progressive ideas in empathizing with the doll who was never able to have a kid of her own.
Tin Toy (1988)
I’ll make this one short (pun intended). While Toy Story was Pixar’s first feature, they were making animated shorts for almost a decade prior to its release. Tin Toy was the studio’s fourth effort, the second to be nominated for an Oscar, and the first to win the Academy Award. The short film has long had an association with Toy Story due to it also being about sentient toys, and talk of a Tin Toy sequel evolved into what became the unrelated feature, but its direct links were only that there’s a Tin Toy book on a shelf in the original Toy Story and that the short accompanied the feature in home video releases. But with Toy Story 4 we get confirmation the short and feature franchise coexist in the same universe with the appearance of the titular toy soldier in the antique store.
Where the Toys Come From (1984)
If you ever wondered what a live-action remake of Toy Story would look like, check out Where the Toys Come From. Actually, hopefully, it wouldn’t be so crudely made. While many people claim the Jim Henson special The Christmas Toy is the thing most blatantly ripped off by Toy Story, Disney was making stuff similar to their first release in collaboration with Pixar for decades (see down below). But few were ever as existentially minded as the Toy Story movies save for this hybrid of live-action and stop-motion animation and documentary that presented kids of the ’80s with a look at where their toys come from. The real toys played themselves on screen, their voices provided in voiceover, as they go on a journey to discover their creation. It’s not as deep as wondering why they’re sentient on top of why they exist, but the obscure Disney feature is pretty philosophical for a children’s film.
The Devil at Your Heels (1981)
Duke Caboom is a wonderful new addition to the Toy Story ensemble in Toy Story 4, and we can thank Keanu Reeves for most of that. The actor not only has a lot of fun voicing the little stunt motorcycle action figure but he also had some input on the character’s most amusing traits, particularly his constant posing. Additionally, Duke Caboom is being labeled in many reviews as a parody of Evel Knievel toys from the ’70s, only he’s Canadian and his costume and vehicle are modeled after the Canadian flag similar to how Knievel’s were star-spangled based on the American flag. But Canada also had its own Evel Knievel in daredevil Ken Carter, aka “The Mad Canadian.” He didn’t dress in a Canadian flag outfit and he didn’t ride a motorcycle but he drove a winged rocket car with the Maple Leaf flag on it. As far as I know, there were, unfortunately, no Ken Carter toys, but he got a significant showcase from the National Film Board of Canada with the documentary The Devil at Your Heels, which focuses on Carter’s plan to jump over the St. Lawrence River. The film, which has a surprise twist, also features an appearance from Evel Knievel, who visited the jump site as a special correspondent for ABC Sports.
Watch The Devil at Your Heels via the National Film Board of Canada
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is getting a lot of attention lately. There’s Room 237, the documentary about crazy fan theories about the movie, Steven Spielberg’s homage with an impeccable re-creation of scenes from the movie in Ready Player One, and soon we’re getting a sequel in the form of the adaptation of Doctor Sleep, for which director Mike Flanagan also impressively remade scenes from the 1980 horror classic. On top of that, as if we ever even needed any of these constant reminders since it’s an established masterpiece and beloved by cineastes and mainstream crowds alike, the latest Toy Story movie pays it tribute. The franchise has long been nodding to The Shining, starting with having the iconic Overlook Hotel carpet design show up in Sid’s home in the first movie and dropping the number 237 throughout the series, and now it continues with an eerie scene in Toy Story 4 featuring an old record playing “Midnight, the Stars, and You,” plus 237 as the address of the antique store owner. Cooley addressed the Easter eggs at a junket for the movie (via ComingSoon.net):
“[Producer] Lee Unkrich is a huge fan of ‘The Shining.’ I’m a huge fan of ‘The Shining.’ I mean, the movie is insane. Every family should go out and see ‘The Shining’ [laughs]. So just the fact that we were going to be in a creepy place, having the old record player, that was essential. And we put that in as scratch at first, and just temporary. And I loved—it just made me happy. And then, we were able to actually use it and I just went over the moon. I just loved it so much.”
Living Doll (1963)
Almost a decade before the Warrens were dealing with a supposedly real possessed doll called Annabelle, which has been credited as the inspiration for many evil doll movies since (including, obviously, the Annabelle series), there was this Twilight Zone installment, which coincidentally(?) features a character named Annabelle. The plot involves a talking doll called Talky Tina — itself modeled after Mattel’s popular Chatty Cathy — that turns out to be sentient and deadly.She’s said to be the inspiration for Gabby Gabby in Toy Story 4, which is funny since this story also influenced Child’s Play, a remake of which opens on the same day as the Pixar sequel. Living Doll also deals with a character’s infertility and how it makes that person bitter for not being able to have children of his own, and I wonder if that is related at all to Gabby Gabby’s arc in the new film.
Along with Marion and Indiana Jones, another classic movie couple that clearly inspired Bo Peep and Woody in Toy Story 4 is Ilsa and Rick in Casablanca. George Lucas probably based his characters in the Indy movies on them to begin with anyway. The scene early in Toy Story 4 with Bo and Woody saying their goodbyes as she’s taken to a new home is reminiscent of the ending of Casablanca and, spoiler alert, the parting again of its two former lovers. Bo might as well tell Woody, “Here’s looking at you, cowboy.” Later, when Woody turns up in Bo’s neck of the woods after fleeing the antique store, she might as well say, “Of all the playgrounds in all the towns in all the world, he walks onto mine.” Fortunately, for Bo and Woody, their sequence of events is reversed from those of Ilsa and Rick so that their unexpected reunion comes after their separation and they get to live happily ever after.
Midnight in a Toy Shop (1930) and Broken Toys (1935)
Now that Disney has put out four installments of the Toy Story, two of them since full acquiring Pixar, the company ought to recognize the franchise’s roots going back to the early days of the studio and its Silly Symphony series. The 12th Silly Symphony short, Midnight in a Toy Shop, might be the first instance of a toy story, depicting playthings coming to life in a toy store after hours, albeit with little personality outside of their basic purposes as dolls and tin soldiers. Also, a spider is the main character. Other cartoon shorts featured toys come to life over the next few years, but the 58th installment of the Silly Symphony series, Broken Toys, is more specifically relevant to the plot of both Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4. Unlike Midnight in a Toy Shop, this one is in color. Like the earlier film, unfortunately, it’s also racially insensitive with its representation, albeit fitting for the times. Its plot concerns broken and discarded (lost) toys now residing in a dump and one newcomer who leads them to a new purpose rather than wasting away as trash.