After Toy Story 3 — or any of the Toy Story movies, really — the idea of making another Toy Story seemed like heresy. And yet, here we are in a post-Toy Story 4 world, coming to terms with the fact that, if anything, the fourth installment in the series is better than the third. The big-ticket question that follows is what shape the Toy Story universe will take going forward. Toy Story 4 ends on a note that would seem to close off the possibility of any direct sequels going forward, but stranger things have happened.
Though the Toy Story film slate remains a mystery, we do know that a series of Forky-centric shorts titled Forky Asks a Question will be streaming on Disney Plus. The move makes sense — Forky was clearly developed with future potential in mind (he’s Disney’s creation, not Bonnie’s), but is maybe a little too flimsy to carry an entire feature film on his own.
Which brings us back to the classic pair of Woody and Buzz. Though they’re equally associated with the franchise, if there’s anything that Toy Story 4 proves, it’s that you can have a Toy Story movie without Buzz, but you can’t have a Toy Story movie without Woody.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Toy Story 4 follow.]
The end of Toy Story 4 separates the cowboy and the Space Ranger seemingly for good. Buzz stays with Bonnie, while Woody leaves to live with Bo Peep, independent of any children. He’ll be traveling with Bo and the carnival, getting to see the world and helping other toys find homes along the way. That he’d somehow cross paths with Buzz again seems unlikely — yes, such traveling carnivals will revisit the same towns, but Bonnie’s family only comes into proximity of it while on a road trip, anyhow.
That is to say, any future Toy Story installments will either have to rely on some serious finagling to get the gang back together, or go in a spin-off-esque direction, focusing on Woody and Bo, or on Buzz and Forky (or Jessie and Forky, for that matter, as Disney keeps revisiting its old female characters). Such spin-offs, however, seem to be a source of diminishing returns for Pixar. The Cars franchise is the biggest example as, despite spawning two TV series, shorts, and a spin-off film series, has all but fizzled out (there’s no real talk of a Cars 4 and the Planes film series was effectively cancelled as a result of the shuttering of the DisneyToon Studios branch in 2018). The other recent Pixar sequels, Monsters University and Finding Dory, were good (earning a 65 and 77 on Metacritic, respectively), but not as warmly received as their predecessors.
Toy Story 4 is an anomaly, and though the argument has been made that, if anyone can keep a good thing going, it’s Pixar, Toy Story 4 feels like the perfect way to close that particular door. The only avenue that is really left open is returning to Forky — hence his little mid-credits moment — and his return via shorts has already been established.
Though star Tom Hanks has said that there hasn’t yet been any conversation about a Toy Story 5, he has also said that he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see a sequel — despite also claiming on The Ellen Show that Toy Story 4 would be the last. Similarly, Tim Allen has said he’d encourage Pixar to do a fifth movie, so it would seem that the door is open so long as the reviews remain alright. The worry is that Toy Story will go “full Cars” and get to a point of ignominy rather than reaching a good, clean end.