The ‘Toy Story 4’ Philosophical Questions and How Parents Can Attack Them
Disney dropped the final cut for its upcoming Toy Story 4 trailer, and I have to admit that it is extremely cute. The first film came out when I was just a teenager, so seeing those toys again was nostalgic. The trailer also revealed a bit of the premise behind the newest installment of the Toy Story franchise — what does it really mean to be a “toy”. Are kids ready for this level of existentialism in their cartoons? And, if they are, how do parents handle the barrage of questions that will definitely follow the film?
Newcomer Forky Forces the Question of What is a Toy
The whole question is broached by the new character on the team, Forky voiced by Tony Hale. He is not your average toy. I don’t want to say too much, but Forky is literally the product of a kindergarten arts and crafts session. But, the girl who now has Andy’s toys, Bonnie, loves Forky and its Bonnie’s love that brings the little spork man to life. Forky just needs to understand what he is and why he is, before he and the rest of the toys are put in a dangerous situation.
It’s up to Buzz (Tim Allen), Woody (Tom Hanks), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) and the rest of the crew to answer Forky’s questions and keep him out of the trash. That’s where the new toy believes he belongs. Later, Woody and Bo Peep (remember her from the early films, voiced by Annie Potts) recruit a stuntman toy named Duke Kaboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves) to rescue Forky from a very bad situation.
Forky learns what it means to be a toy eventually, but will the little kids watching in the audience be able to follow along?
We’ve Been Talking Existence Since ‘Bugs Bunny’
Do you remember those Bugs Bunny cartoons we used to watch as kids in the 80s and 90s? That animated rabbit and his friends were always questioning existence in shenanigans that were nonstop. Remember the one where the human hunter and villain Elmer Fudd was hit over the head and forgot who he was? Bugs took the man on a host of misadventures as Fudd tried to figure out who he was. Okay, so this is more amnesia than existentialism, but the episode also delves into the question of identity and existence.
And guess what? We understood every bit of it.
In fact, kids have been understanding these questions since the earliest days of cartoons. Let's face it, even the Toy Story films have covered some pretty heavy topics over the years. (Remember Sid the neighbor and his serial-killer-in-the-making setup?) Look at how popular those films were. Many kids and parents saw them multiple times with no problem digesting the heavy topics. Getting the kids to understand is thus not the problem. Answering all those questions after they see Toy Story 4 is where the problems may arise.
Help with Those Questions After ‘Toy Story 4’
Questions from little kids about why things exist are scarier than any grad school exam I have ever faced (including your Victorian Lit double features, Dr. Barbour). Even if you answer the question, there are always 20 more that follow. Soon, you are exhausted and contemplating your own existence as a little human trolls you through the house chirping, “why?”
Fortunately, there are options.
Plato: The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization offers tools and resources for parents of school-aged existentialists. Check them out before the film to arm yourself with enough ammo to combat those questions during and after the film.
The Center for Public Philosophy run by the University of California Santa Cruz offers explanations and even book lists for parents and educators. Nothing distracts a younger child from existential questions like a bright and shiny book or a fun story. These resources also help answer any questions they may have after watching the Toy Story gang help Forky to understand that he’s not trash.
Love to Know offers a host of activities that you can do to get the kids moving after sitting in the theater for nearly two hours. Answer their existential questions using one of these hands-on activities.
The point here is not to fear, parents. No matter how you approach the existential questions in the film, rest assured that the kids will have a good time. You can catch Forky and his new toy family in Toy Story 4 on June 21 in theaters everywhere.