WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Toy Story 4, in theaters now.
All of the Toy Story films come with a certain level of contemplative somberness. The films reflect on ageing and death in a way most animated family fare would never even dream of approaching. Each villain in the series has been defined by a sense of abandonment, whether it be parental (Sid in Toy Story), societal (Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2) or familial (Lotso Huggin' Bear in Toy Story 3).
But, none of them has hit closer to home than Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), the defective talking doll who rules over many of the items in a small-town antique store. She's simultaneously the creepiest and most sympathetic villain in the franchise, providing a stark (but tragic) reflection to series protagonist Woody (Tom Hanks). In the process, Gabby proves to be perhaps the most complex and compelling villain in the entire Pixar filmography.
Gabby is introduced when Woody and Forky (Tony Hale) first venture into the antique store looking for Bo. The small and dusty building is home to a number of toys, most of whom spend their time in hiding. By contrast, Gabby sits atop a tall shelf, looking down at the rest of the store. She was made defectively, with her voice box broken before she could ever be played with. As a result, she was never taken in by any children, a heartbreaking experience for her because all she wants to do is be there for a child.
It's a tragic reflection of what could have happened to Woody. Woody was only stuck in the closet for less than a year before he risked exposing himself and getting Bonnie in trouble by sneaking into her backpack. Meanwhile, Gabby spent decades waiting to be found by a child. Gabby is the leader of the toys in her home, much like Woody once was. She treats her ventriloquist dummy henchmen with a certain level of respect. It doesn't make it any less terrifying, though, when she'll calmly order them to rip open a toy to get what she needs from him.
Gabby's end goal throughout the film is to finally get a voice box. She believes that if she could just talk, some little girl would love her. Specifically, she wants to become the most important toy for Madison, the granddaughter of the store owner. Upon discovering that Woody has a functioning voice box, she captures Forky and demands it from Woody as a ransom for his release. At points, the voice box is even almost forcibly ripped out of Woody.
But, breaking from Disney convention, when Woody willingly turns it over Gabby fully keeps her end of the bargain. She bids farewell to Forky as a friend, having taken good care of him while he was her captive guest. She even speaks to Woody about why she wants the voice box. By the end of their conversation, Woody isn't just trading his voice box for Forky. He's doing it -- at least in part -- to give Gabby the chance to lead the kind of life that he's loved so much. She's a surprisingly kindred soul to Woody, which makes Madison's casual rejection of her -- even when she has the voice box -- all the more heartbreaking.
A (SURPRISINGLY) HAPPY ENDING
That unexpectedly human side of Gabby allows her to have one of the few positive endings a Pixar antagonist has ever received. When Woody and the others rush off to return Forky to Bonnie, Woody stops for Gabby. Reminding himself and the others that he "never leaves a toy behind," he convinces Gabby to try again, with a different little girl.
Initially meant for Bonnie, the pair stop when they see a crying, lost little girl at the carnival. Woody encourages Gabby, who has been perpetually lost for her whole life, to go to the child and be there for her. The little girl immediately loves Gabby, and Gabby's plot closes with her smiling up at Woody as she finally gets a real home.
The ending reinforces Woody's commitment to making both children and toys happy. But, it also refocuses his drive from helping himself to truly help others. It plays a big part in his motivation to stay a "lost toy" with Bo (Annie Potts) and help other toys find a home. Gabby actually helps Woody come to terms with his own place in the world. By saving her, Woody saves himself.
Gabby is easily one of the most complex villains Pixar has ever created, not just as a dark mirror to our heroes but as someone in need. For Woody, that's the perfect final confrontation at at the end of his journey to accepting his own true calling.
Directed by Josh Cooley, Toy Story 4 stars Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Keanu Reeves, Annie Potts, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Jeff Pidgeon, Blake Clark, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and Tony Hale.