To immortality... and beyond! Film franchise that is light years ahead of the competition

In his weekly column John Dolan admits to an 'unashamed cry-fest' having watched Toy Story 4, — what he describes as 'the finest family film franchise of all time'.
To immortality... and beyond! Film franchise that is light years ahead of the competition
Toy Story 4 is in cinemas now.

THE state of me around midday last Sunday. I’m not a crier, far from it, but the tears were fair rolling down my face.

These were proper, Hollywood tears; they brimmed up in my eyes until they overflowed, then trickled slowly down my cheeks and tipped into my mouth. Their salty taste jolted me — I didn’t even realise I’d been sobbing up to that moment, I was so distracted.

The reason for my unashamed cry-fest? Toy Story 4, the latest installment in what is quite simply — and I say this while brooking no opposition — the finest family film franchise of all time.

Indeed, I would go further and argue that the four Toy Story movies together can lay claim to be the finest compendium of films in any genre, ever made. Ever!

There, I said it. Come at me!

Hit me with your Stars Wars, your Brief Encounters, your High Noons, your Citizen Kanes, your Titanics, and your Harry Potters. They’re brilliant, classics even. But they can’t hold a candle to the collective genius of Toy Storys 1-4.

Of course, it helps to have kids in order to truly appreciate the sheer brilliance of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the crew

Indeed, it’s actually worth raising kids — going through all those nappies and bleary nights, the public tantrums and potty mishaps, the moods, stomps and slammed doors — just to be able to sit down in a cinema and have the absolute, unadulterated pleasure of watching a Toy Story film.

The children are the target audience for this animated series, of course, but the stories, the plots, the characters, the laughs, the twists, and — yes — those teary moments, are designed to appeal to everyone who ever breathed, whatever their age.

There is no particular secret to the success of the films, but I would venture that one of the most important ingredients is the franchise’s ability to tell a moral tale without moralising, to teach us a lesson about life without preaching.

In recent times, the film industry has been guilty of that type of saccharine, Oprah Winfrey-style moralising that ventures beyond condescending and patronising. Sometimes, it seems the whole point of a movie is not to entertain, but to tell us what we should be feeling, thinking, and saying.

Strangely, adults seem gullible enough to regularly fall for these types of movies, but Hollywood knows only too well that you can’t kid the kids. Children can smell a preachy pile of liberal baloney a mile away and won’t fall for it.

What every Toy Story film does is tread that line wisely, while always managing to remain on the right side of entertaining. It gets out its little life messages — be the person you want to be, stay loyal to your friends — in a fun way, and that’s not an easy task. For a franchise that is all about toys that come to life, its humanity is write large throughout it.

It’s as though the writers and producers are constantly asking themselves the questions ‘Is this funny?’ and ‘Does this work?’ rather than asking themselves the question ‘What do we want kids to think?’ I know, hardly radical, but the genius is in that type of simplicity.

In an uncertain and fast-changing world, the four Toy Story movies — the first was released all of 24 years ago now — have remained simple at their core: good, clean, wholesome fun, with plots that always hit home because they mirror all the viewers’ own experiences.

Characters are lost, literally and metaphorically, and are found, or find themselves. The power of friendship is constantly underscored. There are bumps in the road, but life goes on.

Those are the backdrops to all the movies, but the tales are told at breathtaking pace. Not a word or scene is wasted. There are shocks, and laugh-out loud moments. Then, at the end, the sentiment overfloweth: tears of sadness, and tears of joy, often at the same time.

I won’t spoil your fun and tell you why I was sobbing when I saw a preview of the film at The Gate Cinema in Cork city — it was released nationwide on Friday — but Toy Story fans will easily guess what prompted me: The same, winning themes of love, life and laughter coming together in perfect unison.

I heard in a radio discussion the other day that cinema attendance figures are declining — even in a country like Ireland, which has one of the world’s highest rates of cinema attendance per capita.

The reasons for this, I would hazard, are twofold.

Firstly, the moralising message of so many liberal film-makers these days.

And secondly, because of the Hollywood tendency to flog a cash cow until it becomes a dead horse.

Take the glut of superhero movies that have infiltrated our cinemas for years.

I’ve never been a fan, although the odd Spiderman is fine and dandy, but it seems that barely a week goes by without another highly formulaic Captain America or X-Men film being released. The target audience for these movies appears to be ‘kidults’ aged 18 to 40, with plenty of spare cash, many of whom probably lack the attention skills to get their teeth into a good thriller or drama.

While the cash tills have jingled for years on the back of this genre, there are now encouraging signs that the kidults are finally growing up and getting bored of the same old story.

Meanwhile, millions of people who don’t fancy watching Captain America part 14 (will our hero die at the end? Or will there be a Captain America 15? Ooh, the suspense...!) have given up on the cinema ever providing something stimulating, new and fresh, and Netflix and other TV providers have rushed to fill the gap.

Now, people can be entertained in the comfort of their own home — and ‘cinema and chill’ just doesn’t have the same appeal!

Another reason I was sobbing my heart out last Sunday is that I knew those climatics scenes may have been our farewell to Woody, Buzz and their friends who have entertained the inner child in us all for almost 25 years. Tom Hanks, who voiced Woody, reckons this will be the last one.

No!! Pass me another hanky...

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