A fifth Toy Story film is in the works at PIXAR, and by CEO Bob Iger’s own admission, Disney’s looking to the franchise to bring about its redemption.
The Walt Disney Company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but an air of angst looms over the fanfare and merry-making as Disney now finds itself embroiled in a culture war, much of it because of the company’s own doing. Fans have grown weary of the remakes that seem laser-focused on defiling Walt Disney’s legacy, as well as being obnoxiously deviant from the classic films that served as the cornerstone for the success of the company.
And while Disney’s troubles go further than the company’s theatrical offerings, the House of Mouse is leaning heavily on one of its most popular and successful film franchises for its hopeful redemption.
The “Toy Story” Film Franchise: 30 Years in the Making
When Toy Story debuted on November 22, 1995, no one could have known just how successful the film would ultimately be. And because Toy Story was the first feature-length film from PIXAR Studios, there was no history or data against which to compare the film and its potential for wild success or horrible failure.
Toy Story was the animation industry’s first-ever film for which 100% of the animation was computer-generated. At just 81 minutes in duration, the first Toy Story film is also the shortest in the franchise and the shortest of all of PIXAR Studios’ 27 animated feature films.
The Story of a Boy and His Toy
Toy Story is a narrative about several things that resonate with kids and kids at heart. It follows the story of an old-school pull-string doll named Sheriff Woody (voiced by legendary actor Tom Hanks) and his owner Andy, an elementary school-aged boy. Andy and Woody spend their days together, play together, laugh together, and even go to Cowboy Camp together. But on Andy’s birthday, a brand-new action figure threatens to shake things up for everyone.
An Award-Winning Piece of Animation Wonder
It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Music–Original Song, Best Music–Original Musical or Comedy Score, and Best Original Screenplay, making it the first animated film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award in a writing category. Toy Story also garnered two Golden Globe nominations–for Best Motion Picture in the Comedy or Musical category and for Best Original Song for “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” The film won Best Animated Film at both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards as well as the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards.
The animated feature film did so well, in fact, that a second film was nearly immediately in the works at Pixar Animation Studios.
Toy Story 2 debuted at the box office on November 24, 1999, followed by Toy Story 3 in June 2016, and Toy Story 4 in 2019.
Disney Announces a Fifth “Toy Story” Film
In February 2023, Disney CEO Bob Iger hosted his first quarterly earnings call since being reinstated as chief of the company in November 2022. Though Disney’s earnings exceeded even Wall Street analysts’ predictions, Iger quickly transitioned from the good news to the not-so-good: effective immediately, the company would undergo a massive restructuring, and 7,000 employees would be laid off in an effort to trim $5.5 billion from the company’s bottom line.
Later in the call, Iger announced three new film projects in the works–Toy Story 5, Frozen 3, and Zootopia 2–but not because Disney was playing favorites. Rather, according to Iger, Disney is looking to the three beloved franchises to search as the redemptive beginning for The Walt Disney Company.
The Unbearable Tragedy of “Toy Story 4”
To look ahead to Toy Story 5, it’s important–though difficult–to look back at the storyline in Toy Story 4.
The egregious film was nominated for several glamorous awards, including the Hollywood Animation Award, which the film garnered in October 2019.
But many diehard Pixar fans (this writer included) took issue with the storyline within the fourth installment of the franchise, as elements in the story, including characteristics, personality traits, and reasoning and logic among the characters, seemed to deviate greatly from what fans had learned from the first three films.
The most glaring example of this in Toy Story 4 is Woody’s decision to choose Bo Peep over all of his friends among Andy’s toys. Woody’s character throughout the franchise up to that point would not have allowed him to make that call. But Toy Story 4 debuted and shocked fans with its apparent disregard for the continuity of the franchise. In each film, Woody maintains a mindset of “no toy getting left behind,” and his decision in the fourth film simply doesn’t fit with his arc.
Franchise fans weren’t only sad about the ending to the film but sad throughout the entire story as the opening scene teased them with a counterfeit version of Andy and lured them into a stupor of Toy Story nostalgia. Then, as the visage of what would serve as the film’s gut-wrenching ending played out, fans mourned the parting of ways of two pals, to say nothing of the obvious absence of Pixar’s usual creative prowess in storytelling.
“Toy Story 5” Could Be Disney’s Salvation
For these and other reasons, Disney and Pixar Animation Studios owe fans a fifth installment in the Toy Story film franchise–but not a second installment of Toy Story 4. And if both production powerhouses played their proverbial cards well, Toy Story 5 could not only answer the call from Mr. Iger and The Walt Disney Company, but it could also win back fans–fans who love Toy Story and could fall back in love with Disney if the wrongs of Toy Story 4 are made right in Toy Story 5, as well as former fans of the Mouse who have walked away because of the company’s apparent agenda in its films in recent years.