The toys are back in town…..again!
Following the events of Toy Story 3, Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the other toys have been enjoying their new life with their new owner, Bonnie. At Kindergarten orientation, using her imagination, a spork, and some pipe cleaners and wood, Bonnie creates a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale). While on a family road trip, Forky and Woody end up getting separated from the rest of the gang and have to find their way back. During their journey, they run across an antique shop, where Woody comes across his old flame, Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Also in the antique shop is a doll with a defective voice box, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who has her eye on obtaining Woody’s voicebox, even going so far as to hold Forky hostage in order to get it. With the help of Bo Peep, the gang, and a few new characters, Woody sets off to rescue Forky and return safety back to Bonnie.
Among the highly acclaimed films in the Pixar filmography, Toy Story is easily many people’s favorite. With its clever and humorous writing, groundbreaking animation, and warm heart, the film became a timeless classic among 90s kids, and was followed by two solid sequels. It seems almost bizarre for a fourth Toy Story film to be made, especially since the third film properly closed the book by having Andy pass down his toys to Bonnie, ending an era. Arguably, you can say that the story doesn’t have to end with Andy giving his toys away, and that there are plenty more adventures for the toys to have, but the real question is whether or not this movie justifies a continuation. The answer to that question, unfortunately, is an astounding “maybe?”.
The only valid reason I can come up with for this sequel is that many people wanted to know what happened to Bo Peep, especially after she was cast aside off-screen at the beginning of Toy Story 3. Thankfully, Bo Peep was given a great character update, and she has more to do in this movie than she did in all of the previous films combined, although I’m not sure how a porcelain doll can have an outfit change. But is this character update enough to justify this new chapter? Maybe not, but the film is breezy and light, and provides a heartfelt story about insecurities, protecting those you love, and letting go (even though I’m sure we visited these themes in Toy Story 3!).
Much has changed in Pixar’s animation style since Toy Story’s release in 1995. The animation quality of Pixar films improves significantly each year, and this reached its peak in their 2015 black sheep, The Good Dinosaur, where the backgrounds looked practically photorealistic (although they were unfortunately accompanied by cartoonish-looking characters that stuck out like sore thumbs). The animators took it to the next level in Toy Story 4, because it is beautifully lit and rendered, and the characters look like they actually belong there. The opening scene, which takes place during a rainstorm, features Sheriff Woody, and his soaked silk clothes are so vibrant and dark that they almost look like live-action. On the other hand, the human characters, while on par with the way humans looked in Inside Out, are less photorealistic than the toys, but hey, the humans looked worse than the toys in the first film, so at least this remains consistent.
One slightly disappointing aspect of the film is that many of the other characters that we have grown to love over the years have been reduced to small supporting roles (in the case of Mr. Potato Head, it is understandable, given that Don Rickles sadly died during production). Then again, there are so many new characters in this film, it is no surprise that you have to make room for them to shine.
These new characters are welcome additions. Easily, the standouts are Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny, two carnival game prize toys who tag along with the gang. Their running gag, which I dare not spoil, had me rolling in the aisles with laughter. This gag is one of those rare occasions where the joke starts out funny, and manages to become even funnier with each recurrence. Another surprisingly entertaining character is Keanu Reeves as Canadian stunt-biker Duke Kaboom, obviously based off of Evil Knievel. The scenes where he reminisces about his original owner have an almost mystical feel, and his absurd reactions to these memories are humorous. In addition, lines like “Let’s make Dad commit a crime so that he would go to jail!” got my audience howling.
What really surprised me was how the villain was portrayed in this movie. Gabby Gabby is more complex and believable than the other villains in the Toy Story series. Although I will say, her ventriloquist dummy minions will probably be in my nightmares for a while!
There are plenty of callbacks to the original film here, but admittedly, many of them are inconsistent. As I previously mentioned, Pixar’s animation has upgraded since the 90s, and as a result, Andy (seen in flashbacks) does not look like he did in the previous films. In addition, Randy Newman is back as the film’s composer, but many of the music cues used in this film are taken straight from the first, and are placed at odd moments in the film. This is an unfortunate misuse of one of the most iconic film scores of all time.
I do not feel as attached to this film as I was to the previous three films. I think part of this has to do with the fact that I was around Andy’s age when the first Toy Story came out, and by the third movie, I was in college, as was Andy when he gave away his toys. Since this film picks up with a new, younger kid, the nostalgia is not with me anymore, and therefore, it just feels like another animated film . Not a bad one by any means. In fact, it is one of the better Pixar sequels we have gotten lately, but I’m sure many people my age would feel the same way I do. I enjoyed this film immensely, but it all ended for me at Toy Story 3.
Toy Story 4, while mostly unnecessary, is another fun and heartfelt addition in Pixar’s beloved franchise. It is bright and beautifully animated, with some great voice talent and a surprisingly adult message. Some people might say that the way this film properly ends the series, but given that many of us thought the same thing about Toy Story 3, who knows? They may go to infinity…and beyond!