The “Toy Story” franchise is one of the few series that legitimately gets better and better with every new film. However back in 2010 when the third entry was released we thought we had seen the end of the adventure. Andy gave away his toys to a new owner and the journey felt complete. We were wrong. Pixar eventually greenlit a fourth and (for now) final adventure exploring the lives of the toys after they were passed on to Bonnie. This was a risky move for Pixar. They had a flawless trilogy on their hands that felt like a true beginning, middle, and end. Adding a new chapter could have easily compromised the near perfect critical acclaim of the series or felt like a cash grab that never needed to exist. While it is certain to be a massive success one has to question whether or not “Toy Story 4” earns its existence or if it fails to live up to the expectations set upon it by the reputation of the preceding trilogy. So, let’s take a look at Pixar’s latest sequel film. This is my review of ‘Toy Story 4”.
“Toy Story 4” takes place two years after Andy donated his toys to Bonnie in the previous film. Woody (Tom Hanks) has found himself neglected by Bonnie while the rest of the toys seem to have earned her attention. When Bonnie heads off to her kindergarten orientation Woody stows away in her backpack determined to help her through her first day. He witnesses Bonnie making a new friend, Forky (Tony Hale) who quickly becomes Bonnie’s favorite “toy”. However, Forky sees himself as trash, not a toy. Woody attempts to convince Forky of his significance to Bonnie. When the toys join Bonnie on a road trip vacation Forky, still seeing himself as trash, jumps out a window causing Woody to chase after him. As the two try to reunite with Bonnie they come across an antique shop where Woody meets the defective Gabby Gabby (Christine Hendricks) who takes an interest in Woody’s voice box and kidnaps Forky. Woody reunites with an old friend, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) as well as Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and a few new toys, the sewn together duo of Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) and stuntman toy Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) to rescue Forky and return him to Bonnie. Along with way Woody learns lessons about the changing adventure of life and must come to grips with where he truly fits in a post-Andy world.
“Toy Story 4” had a lot to live up to not just because it’s a Pixar film, but because it’s a seemingly unwarranted continuation of one of the most perfect trilogies in all of cinema, animated or otherwise. Thankfully this feature lives up to EVERY expectation and even surpasses what you might expect to some extent. “Toy Story 4” first of all is very much its own adventure. The style, tone, and settings are all very different from the previous three films giving it its own clear identity from start to finish. This is also very much Woody’s story. Whereas the previous three films did feature Woody as the leading character, this film is pretty solidly a story about Woody’s life after being given away by Andy and, I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I wanted to see that kind of story as much as I really did. Like most Pixar films, “Toy Story 4” isn’t afraid to tackle some very adult concepts through its child-friendly characters and the primary lesson of this film is the will and need to evolve with life as Woody finds himself struggling to adapt to not being the center of attention.
It seems like the best natural progression for the character too when you think about it. When we first met Woody in “Toy Story” he was a little arrogant and he struggled with being replaced as Andy’s favorite toy when Buzz comes along. He also struggles to help Buzz understand his place as a toy and even goes so far as to try and usurp Buzz in Andy’s life. Fast-forward to “Toy Story 4” and we see just how much Woody has learned over the years. Being replaced as a favorite toy isn’t threatening to him anymore, it’s concerning and forces him to consider his future and where he stands in the world. He no longer fights the winds of change but chooses instead to embrace them and try to find a new belonging. His relationship with Forky also mirrors his initial relationship with Buzz. Forky becomes Bonnie’s favorite thing and instead of seeing Forky as a threat Woody helps him embrace his place in Bonnie’s life and is much more patient with Forky when trying to help him through an existential crisis. It’s really neat to see how far Woody has come and this serves as the interconnecting theme that ties this film to the previous trilogy. All together the four movies examine Woody’s overarching adventures filled with important moments of growth and personal discovery, ironically making a plastic plaything seem spectacularly human.
But it’s not just Woody’s adventure that makes this film worth the watch. While Forky is rather underused his identity crisis also serves as an interesting examination of “why are we alive”. Forky was meant to be trash and he knows it. Almost every part of him was never meant to be more than a tool or temporary item, and yet he has found himself becoming more than the sum of his parts and must learn to understand why he is so important. His journey seems meant to compliment Woody’s arch by giving us a toy that doesn’t know who he is because he’s not what he was meant to be. In contrast, Woody knows what he’s meant to be but he doesn’t know who he really wants to be at this point in his existence so the two must learn from each other how to accept their new roles in life. Another neat side story is the “villain” of the movie Gabby Gabby (shown above) who really isn’t a villain. She’s just a toy seeking to belong. She’s desperate to be loved by a child and the only reason she never was is because she was defective, something she could never control on her own. Gabby Gabby turns out to be nothing more than misunderstood and seems to represent individuals who feel like they are “missing a piece” or imperfect in a way that they could never be loved. Even Buzz Lightyear continues to learn and grow as a character as he acts on his “inner voice” (really the recordings that play when you push his buttons) and finds his inner leader seeing as Woody it taken out of the picture for most of the film on his own adventure. In true Pixar fashion, “Toy Story 4” manages to tackle so many different themes and ideas with tact and yet an uncompromising sincerity that makes the experience both deep and fun at the same time.
Then you have the return of Bo Peep. This is a character who could have EASILY been transformed into an over-the-top female empowerment figure as a form of pandering and thankfully Bo Peep is not just a strong woman. We find Peep in this movie as a “lost toy” who has lived on her own for some time following. While her character design and her adventurous lifestyle, as well as her capabilities, make her a strong female character she’s an equal and partner to Woody and has her own moments to shine where she conflicts with her former love interest before realizing she’s just as flawed as he is. Seeing Woody and Bo reunite is one of the most satisfying aspects of this movie and once again we find a situation where characters learning from each other provide the best aspects of the feature. What could have been a simple love story between two individuals who were driven apart by life becomes so much more than that as old friends help each other realize their flaws and even new ways of looking at the world, especially in a time of great change.
So, as you can tell I loved the story and the themes “Toy Story 4” had to share, but do the performances and visuals hold up? Absolutely! The voice work is incredible, as usual, with many of our favorite toys returning to the screen and even a few new ones to liven up the party. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are still incredible as the iconic voices of Woody and Buzz while the familiar vocal styles of Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, and even the late Don Rickles helping bring past favorites to life once more. Annie Potts also reprises her role as Bo Peep from the first two movies and it feels like she never left. But the new characters shine just as brightly. Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Key and Peele) and Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks) are all incredibly well done and charming in their own way adding to the growing cast of fun and memorable characters that make up the “Toy Story” universe. For some, they sell the drama and emotional context of their words perfectly while others provide great levity. Forky however stands as the most lovable of the new additions. Voiced by Tony Hale, Forky combines comedic timing, a quirky voice design, and a great deal of emotion into one awesome performance that gives us one of the more unique characters this series has ever provided.
Visually the film dazzles and immerses you right into the world as well as more polished character designs and incredibly detailed backdrops and props. Some of the animation is amazingly lifelike. I truly thought the antique shop cat looked real from certain angles and watching Woody and Forky walk down the street I was in awe of the meticulous detailing put into the roadway. There’s always something to look at with this film and, as expected, Pixar animators even put in some neat minuscule detail on the returning favorites to showcase their age and the wear and tear from being constantly played with. This amazing attention to detail is why Pixar continues to shine as a leader in this industry. Everything is taken into consideration to create a perfectly rendered world and characters that look like they could jump right off the screen. This is one of the most beautifully rendered animated pictures I have ever seen and what makes that statement so cool is that you can actually watch the “Toy Story” franchise from start to finish and see first hand a time-lapse of how Pixar’s animation has improved and been perfected. It’s just incredible.
So, I’ve rambled on a lot about this movie, but there’s just so much to praise. When I heard that “Toy Story 4” was being made I was very concerned. I thought the trilogy was perfect and I didn’t know if there was any more story to tell. I was wrong. There was still plenty of ground to cover even if it’s all pretty much based around the personal crises of a pair of characters, one old and one brand new. “Toy Story 4” is not just a wonderfully acted and incredibly well-animated movie, it’s a fun and deep examination of the changing reality of life and the purpose of existence. Seeing old friends and new friends is fun and emotional enough, but seeing Woody undergo such a personal journey in a new stage of his life sends a powerful message to fans young and old that no matter what crossroads life brings you there’s always new adventures to be found along the way. Even if it’s a sequel that some may find unnecessary, it’s a continuation I’m glad I got to experience. I do hope this is the end for “Toy Story” though because, at this point, I really do feel any remaining closure needed is resolved with this film. “Toy Story 4” is another incredible achievement and an excellent addition to one of the greatest animated franchises of all time.