Two days after putting the finishing touches on the new 7th Edition of The Screenwriters Bible, I viewed Toy Story 4 for the first time. I loved the film, but it was too late to add my thoughts about its contributions to the latest edition of my book. Thus, this brief reflection on the movie’s meaning.
I connected with the thematic idea of expanding one’s purpose in life, accepting the larger world, and deepening relationships. Did you feel that, too? And you may have noticed that throughout the action of the story, at least four characters (Woody, Bo Peep, Forky, and Gabby Gabby) take risks doing things for others and end up finding a new or (in Woody’s case) an old friend that results in even greater happiness. Yes, this is about growing up.
Your screenplay will communicate meaning if you present a character your reader can become emotionally involved with; and then show that character overcome a flaw to strengthen or secure a relationship. In Woody’s case, he stops defining his relationships in terms of the children who play with him, and builds a strong friendship with a fellow toy (Bo Peep) through facing opposition together to save poor Forky, the amazing talking plastic spork.
You’ll recall that in the movie’s opening, Woody gives up his relationship with Bo Peep because Andy (a human child) needs him. Now, at the end, we wonder if he will leave Bo Peep again.
Gabby Gabby undergoes major surgery (a voice box transplant) so that a child will accept her. She is rejected by the child. But she overcomes that setback by taking a risk with the lost crying girl on the carnival grounds. To a toy, the stakes are high putting yourself “out there” like that. You feel something when you care about a character who makes effort, takes action for another person or a cause. That “something” is meaning.
As you know, many movies present a shapeshifter, a “good guy” who betrays our hero late in the second act. Ouch! Toy Story 4 gives that tactic a creative twist. Gabby Gabby and her four dummies are pretty scary and quite threatening to our heroes throughout most of the movie. But Gabby Gabby is a shapeshifter; in her case, she’s an apparent “bad guy” who transforms into a “good guy.” That only becomes evident, however, because Woody takes a chance and trusts her with his voice box. And that’s meaning.
For more about meaning and screenwriting, consider the NEW Screenwriter’s Bible 7.