Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Toy Story 4.
After years in service to others, a beloved character renowned for his honor, bravery, and leadership, decides to step away from everything he has ever known, to begin living a life defined by what he wants rather than what the world expects of him. He leaves all of his responsibilities behind, with the blessing of his closest friends, to be with the woman he has always loved. It’s a powerful ending shared by both Avengers: Endgame and Toy Story 4, as both films give their heroes, Captain America and Woody, the same emotional and well-deserved farewell.
Steve Rogers and Woody had a lot in common even before their latest movies. Both were natural leaders of tight-knit groups; people looked to them for guidance, especially during their most perilous moments. They were both fiercely loyal and uncompromising in their service to a greater cause, constantly putting the needs of others before their own. And they were both relics of a past who never totally found their place in a modern world full of men in metal suits.
Those similarities are why they each bravely stood alone against an enemy in their latest adventures—Woody in the antique shop and Captain America against Thanos—inspiring others to join them. And it’s why they both ended up in the same place at the end of their long journeys. In Avengers: Endgame, Steve decided it was time to start experiencing a life for himself, like Tony had told him to, rather than continue fighting a never-ending war. He stayed in the past to live a life with Peggy Carter that duty had robbed him of years before.
And Woody, who had already lost Andy and was no longer an object of Bonnie’s affection, did the same at the end of Toy Story 4 when he stayed behind with Bo Peep to experience the freedom of being an unclaimed toy. As we saw in the beginning of the film, Woody had passed on that chance with her before, only to learn that being a kid’s plaything is a fleeting joy, no matter how much you love and protect them.
Both characters came to realize that, at some point, you don’t have anything more to give, because you’ve already given too much, and they both realized that because of their friends. Had Captain America not seen Tony Stark make the ultimate sacrifice in Endgame, he might never have been able to walk away himself. Tony died having loved and being loved; if Steve never stopped fighting, he surely would have perished on the battlefield too someday, but without ever having known the kind of love (3000) that Tony had.
And without Bo Peep, who long ago accepted the truth of what it means to be a toy—that you can be either be defined by your kid or by yourself—Woody never would have seen that a life lived for oneself is possible. Bo Peep was strong enough to do something Woody wasn’t, and in her strength he discovered it was okay to say goodbye to Bonnie because the world is full of Bonnies and Andys and happiness, but only if you’re willing to take that risk.
It might be hard knowing the world won’t have Steve Rogers protecting it anymore, or that there won’t be a sheriff to look after Bonnie when things get scary, but that’s okay. The world will always be scary no matter what, and we can’t ever expect anyone to serve if we won’t also allow them to stop. The people who depended on Captain America and Woody knew this better than anyone. Steve’s closest friends who fought alongside him knew he had earned the right to walk away; Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of the toys let Woody go with a hug. They saw firsthand everything those two had given and sacrificed, and they knew each had earned the right to retire to a life of peace and happiness.
For as many sad goodbyes and heartbreaking moments of love and sacrifice both Avengers: Endgame and Toy Story 4 put their audiences through, each also ended with a beautiful moment for their greatest heroes. By letting Steve and Woody walk away, both movies said it’s okay to be happy and take care of yourself. Sometimes the best thing we can do for the people in our lives is let them go before we lose ourselves.