Toy Story 4 | Josh Cooley | June 21, 2019
In the emotional aftermath of Toy Story 3, I was of the mindset that Pixar should leave well-enough alone with any further Toy Story films. They mostly avoided sequels (not counting the Cars trilogy, last year’s long-awaited Incredibles 2, and (of course) the other Toy Story films), so why make a possibly unnecessary sequel when the ending of the third was the right note to end it on? Well, I shouldn’t be one to bet against Pixar and the film that started it all for them …
Toy Story 4 doesn’t waste a minute of its roughly hour-and-a-half run-time, flashing back to a toy rescue on the night Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was sold. 9 years later, Woody (Tom Hanks) feels like he’s losing his status as one of Bonnie’s favorite toys, so he sneaks into Bonnie’s kindergarten orientation to help his shy human kid. Bonnie proceeds to use a mish-mash of arts and crafts items to create Forky (a spork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner arms, and Popsicle stick feet voiced by Tony Hale). Forky, though, isn’t without his own set of existential issues that come with being a sentient toy, so Woody takes it upon himself to “parent” Forky. The toys accompany Bonnie’s family on an RV road trip that passes through the town of Grand Basin, only to find Woody waylaid by Forky’s escape and capture by talking antique store doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, as well as a run-in with the now-ownerless Bo and Polly Pocket knock-off Giggles McDimples (Ally Maki). The other toys, meanwhile, have to figure things out for themselves, leading Buzz to follow his “inner voice” and encountering plush toys Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) while trying to find Woody and Forky.
This is where Toy Story 4 is both strongest and weakest. By splitting up the familiar cast of characters, the film allows the mainstays of Woody and Buzz (in that order) to shine, while also reinventing and deepening the character of Bo Peep. And there is Forky, of course, who gets a surprising amount of thematic and character development in the 45 minutes to hour he’s on screen. Additionally, Canadian stunt-toy Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves in the midst of his John Wick renaissance) has an amusingly punny but condensed arc in the back half of the film that could do with a little more development. However, this mostly sidelines Jessie (Joan Cusack), the rest of Andy’s toys, and Bonnie’s toys – but Trixie (Kristen Schaal) and Buttercup (Jeff Garlin) do have a few amusing moments in the latter half of the film.
Much like the prior films in the series, Toy Story 4 continues to show the growth of the Pixar team, both in the animation and the examination of key themes. Animation-wise, Pixar films have never looked better, starting with some slight retconning/recreating in the first ten minutes and continuing with macro focus from the toys’ POV. Also, long gone are the days of human characters that look … off. (Actually, those days were numbered after The Incredibles, Up, and Brave, among other Pixar features.) As for the themes, Toy Story 4’s script (from Stefany Folsom and Andrew Stanton based on a story they contributed to, along with Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hines, and the ousted-over-sexual-harassment Pixar alum John Lasseter) delves into a few wider themes – mainly loss, the growth and acceptance that comes with it, pseudo-parenting, and moving on (the latter of which may be a little evident from some of the marketing). Even with the hour and a half run-time, it manages to examine these through the toys’ perspective better than most other family-friendly films I recall seeing in recent years. Granted, this is the fourth film in the series after 2 straight-to-broadcast short films, so there’s been plenty of time to grow with and become attached to the toys, which strengthens the impact of the themes.
The necessity of Toy Story 4 will more than likely be up for online debate for a while, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook one last ride with the animated toys you grew up with.