Toy Story 4 Review
Of the 21 films Pixar have released to date, seven of the last 11 have been sequels. At one time it seemed they could do no wrong, but ever since falling under the Disney umbrella it appears their ingenuity has gone AWOL. The Toy Story series has so far managed to avoid the mediocre fate suffered by the likes of Nemo, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles. Three times was a charm, but returning to Woody and Buzz’s world for a fourth instalment would surely be too much? Thankfully, fans will be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Pixar have been smart enough not to play around with a formula that has seen Toy Story become their most treasured set of animation films. Toy Story 4 is more of an amalgamation of the previous three, following a similar arc to the third, while hand-picking various bits and pieces from the rest. Behind the slapstick they always find a way to play on the existential concerns that trouble us all: what is our purpose, why are we here and why do all of Andy’s friends in the first film have the same face? Some of those questions are confronted again in the fourth instalment, but perhaps the biggest takeaway is we learn that everyone needs some trash to love.
The film picks up from where we last left Woody and his friends; safely in the arms of their new owner, Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw). One toy missing in action was Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and we zip back 9 years to Andy’s childhood to find out the reason for her unexplained absence. Back in the present day, Woody (Tom Hanks) is finding himself increasingly sidelined by Bonnie, and is no longer the favourite he was once with Andy.
But he’s never short on heart, and as Bonnie struggles to come to terms with the idea of kindergarten, Woody does all he can to make her first day a success. That’s where Forky (Tony Hale) - an unused spork scooped out of the trash - is brought to life by Bonnie during arts and crafts and becomes her new best friend. Forky is crudely made and a bit of a mess and has an innate connection to the rubbish bin, which is a sentiment we can all understand. He struggles at first to deal with the real world and his relationships with others, so throwing himself into the bin at every opportunity is an escape, and something we all wish was an option.
From there the story opens up into a bigger adventure - an existential road trip of sorts - which brings Woody into contact with evil vintage doll, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), while he tries to return a lost Forky back to Bonnie. There are plenty of new faces thrown into the mix, some of whom you would’ve seen in the trailers, and although they are fun (is Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom able to lend a hand? Yes he Canada!), the familiar faces - including Buzz - are sidelined and deserving of more. This is very much Woody’s story, and it taps into an old, largely forgotten character connection that get the tears rolling come the end.
We’ve spent four films, a handful of shorts and twenty-four years with Woody, Andy has grown up, and he is more likely to spend time gathering dust than being the apple of Bonnie’s eye, which is when he finds himself at a crossroads. He's left to ask himself, if he can’t protect Forky, what else does he have left? The psychological aspect of these films have always been present, but they feel more pertinent than ever. It’s pure emotional manipulation from Pixar, but they do it better in Toy Story than in any of their other films.
Part of the reason Toy Story continues to work is because Pixar aren’t afraid of adding layers to the characters, not just within each entry, but across the films. Sequels generally fail because they think the best way to repeat the success is to do the same thing again – only bigger. The characters have remained at the heart of Toy Story and they continue to evolve. Sure, the adventures may be similar but these toys have become an extended family to the audience, so we can lean back on fond memories and the journey it took to get to this point.
Of course, there have already been calls for some of the new (or updated) characters to be given their own spin-offs, but that would be a mistake. They belong in this self-contained world and expanding the 'universe’ would only lessen the heart and warmth that Pixar clearly have for Toy Story. Their photorealistic compositing continues to amaze and it feels like there is even more love and care put into these films than anything else in their catalogue. Which is understandable, because after all, Toy Story was the one that started it all and revolutionised the industry back in the mid-90s. It appears they have found another perfect ending for the franchise, and it's time to listen to that inner-voice and close the toy box once and for all.
Toy Story 4 opens nationwide in UK cinemas on June 21.
Toy Story 4 (2019)
Dir: Josh Cooley | Cast: Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Patricia Arquette | Writers: Andrew Stanton (original story by), Andrew Stanton (screenplay), John Lasseter (original story by), Lee Unkrich (original story by), Pete Docter (original story by), Stephany Folsom (screenplay by), Will McCormack