Film Review – Toy Story 4
Toy Story 4
When Toy Story (1995) was first released, I was twelve years old. Now I’m in my thirties and the series is in its twenties. Time has been far kinder to the franchise. I make that correlation because it’s remarkable how the team at Disney/Pixar has kept this story – which kick started the CGI animation era we now live in – still feel fresh and relevant throughout all this time.
Each of the subsequent entries – including the latest Toy Story 4 (2019) – play with variations of the same theme: toys loving their kid owners and seeking that love in return. Giving toys personalities work so well because it brings to life the very imaginations we had when we were children. As a kid my toys didn’t talk or move in real life, but they did in my head, and that’s the appeal that allows these characters to come back even though the youngsters they first entertained are now grown adults.
And that’s what makes Toy Story 4 such a joyful yet strange experience. Josh Cooley’s direction (along with Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom’s writing) inject the material with a lot of heart and a ton of laughs, but I couldn’t help thinking how much the narrative explores the same themes the previous three installments already went though. This time around, our toys – including cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), space adventurer Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and others – come to a big surprise when their owner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) brings home a toy she created herself: a spork named Forky (Tony Hale). Things get complicated when Forky confuses himself with trash and tries to throw himself away while Bonnie and her family is on a road trip.
Woody, ever the leader and self-assumed hero, takes it upon himself to retrieve Forky and bring him back to Bonnie. However, along the journey he runs into two major obstacles, the first being the doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her creepy henchmen inside of an antique shop. Gabby Gabby spots Woody and conjures up a nefarious plot to use him as a means of escape. The next is the porcelain Bo Peep (Annie Potts) who once belonged with Woody and his friends but has now become a lost toy. Bo Peep, in convincing fashion, shows Woody all the possibilities there are in being a lost toy and not sitting on a shelf being forgotten by an ever-growing child.
In theory, the idea of a person striking out on their own and living their own life makes sense. Everyone should be able to make their own choices and follow their dreams. That notion gets a little hazier when we start talking about toys, whose sole purpose is to bring happiness to kids. One of the major points of tension is Woody being tempted to live with Bo Peep, but what exactly will that life offer? What if Bonnie one day decides to play with Woody, only to find him missing? When Bonnie grows up, there is the strong possibility that she will pass her toys to another kid, I’m sure both Woody and Bo Peep could be useful then. Bo Peep lives with a traveling carnival helping toy prizes find owners, but wasn’t that exactly what Woody was already doing with Forky and Bonnie? It seems a little weird for a toy not to want to have an owner, that’s like a car not wanting to be driven or a musical instrument not wanting to be played. The argument between living with an owner or being a lost toy seems pretty favorable in one direction, if you ask me.
Visually, this is the best looking Toy Story so far. Outside of the human characters, the environments, props, and toys all appear lifelike. The inside of the antique store is especially beautiful, with all of the cabinets, drawers, and clutter creating small crevices and back alleys for our characters to walk through. Above, a collection of chandeliers illuminates the entire room with a radiant glow when the sun shines through the window. The shop maybe somewhat of a prison for old toys, but at least it’s a beautiful prison. Technology has advanced so far that character models now display scuff marks, loose threading, and chipped paint. Bo Peep had her arm broken off at one point, but keeps it reattached with well-placed masking tape. All these little details add a nice texture to the overall picture.
This is also the funniest of the four films so far. The writing, animation, and voicework are all working at top level when it comes to comedy. New characters stand out from the pack. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are at the forefront as Ducky and Bunny, two carnival toys attached together. Not only do Key and Peele reignite the chemistry that made their television partnership such a success, but the animation and writing gives them room to shine. Seeing Ducky and Bunny visualize their various schemes made for some of the biggest laughs. We also can’t forget Keanu Reeves, who continues his extraordinary 2019 in the role of Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil toy in the likes of Evel Knievel. Duke’s dream of pulling off a big motorcycle jump is put to good use, both plot wise and in terms of slapstick.
Near the end, there was audible sobs coming from the audience. It’s almost become expected for Pixar films to draw out the emotions of the young and old alike. I didn’t tear up watching this, but I can see how much this franchise has meant to both the past and current generations. We didn’t need a Toy Story 4, but we are lucky to have one this entertaining and respectful to its characters, story, and audience. It plays like a nice, warm, final hug before we all have to grow up and move on.