I loved Toy Story 4. While perhaps not matching the spectacular first instalment for pitch-perfect storytelling or achieving the wrenching emotional heights of the third movie, the fourth chapter of the Toy Story saga was, in my eyes, a frequently hilarious, wonderfully heartwarming, and beautifully realised addition to the canon.
There will be others who liked it less. This is the nature of entertainment, and I don’t expect anyone to share my view. “I didn’t like Toy Story 4” is not a statement I have any wish to argue with. On the other hand, “Toy Story 4 is sexist, racist and disablist” is a statement to which I can’t help but object fairly strongly.
The latter argument was made by one Stella Duffy, a film critic who I can’t imagine has ever actually enjoyed a film, in an interview with the BBC. Duffy, who on watching Pixar’s latest was outraged by the realisation that nobody had ever heard of her, set out to rectify this situation, calling out TS4 for “having no leads that are black characters”.
This, as anyone who’s seen the film knows, isn’t actually true. The movie’s breakout stars are Bunny and Ducky, a pair of carnival-prize stuffed animals who are voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and who are gut-bustingly hilarious in every scene they steal. But you see, these toys are brightly-coloured plush animals, not black “humanoid” toys, so they fail the Duffy test. “How can they possibly think that it’s alright now?” she demanded to know, declaring the film’s whiteness (which isn’t actually whiteness) “shocking”.
Duffy also railed against the heroine of Toy Story 4, Bo Peep, as “anti-feminist” because she is in love with the cowboy Woody. All Bo Peep’s independent spirit, fierce and funny personality, and utterly kickass action sequences, declared meaningless because the writers had the temerity to have her experience love.
Now, we can point out that Duffy’s criticisms suggest that either she hasn’t seen the movie, or that when she did, she was too busy taking angry woke notes to pay attention to the finer detail. We can point out the real diversity that the movie showcases. We can even note that she criticised the film for being “disablist” without elaborating on what that meant, or whether she meant “ableist” (possibly she means the movie was discriminatory against anthropomorphic plastic forks).
But there’s a limit to how much we can argue with ostentatiously woke scolds like Stella Duffy without doing ourselves a disservice. The best retort to her joyless carping is simply this: Toy Story 4, and the three that preceded (which must’ve been even more problematic according to the Duffy Scale) have given more pleasure, more excitement and more sheer heart-swelling happiness to millions of people – of all ages, genders, races and creeds – than the likes of Duffy in their thin-lipped battalions ever could or ever will. The people who create works like these films – works of heart, adventure, love and sometimes downright silliness – are the ones who make the world a better place. The people who demand art pay total obedience to their rules, while offering nothing themselves beyond a wagging finger – they never will.