Review - 'Toy Story 4'
I was only five years old when the first Toy Story came out, which was the perfect age to view that film. It taught simple, easy-to-understand life lessons that worked on multiple levels and introduced audiences to memorable, now-timeless characters. What’s great about that film and its sequels is that Pixar ensured that they were not just for the five-year-olds, but for everyone. Somehow, the studio has been able to create these masterful Toy Story films that mature with the viewers who have been with the series since its inception and, quite miraculously, still be just as accessible to today’s kids. Josh Cooley’s Toy Story 4 continues that trend by telling a story that is, on paper, simple and easy to grasp for just about anyone, while also operating on a deeper level that speaks to even the most jaded of movie-goers.
Bonnie, the young girl that came into possession of Andy’s toys at the end of Toy Story 3, has a new favorite toy: Forky. When Forky, who has a death wish, jumps out of the camper when Bonnie’s family is on on vacation, Woody takes it upon himself to track him down and bring him back. When Woody runs into Bo Peep, who has been leading a nomadic lifestyle, he starts to re-evaluate his purpose.
While Toy Story 4 has an abundance of exciting sequences and heart-felt moments, it isn’t as emotionally gut-wrenching as Toy Story 3 was, and I admire that about it. There is a general tendency with sequels to go bigger in order to be better, and this one doesn’t ever give in to that false impulse. While Toy Story 3 is indeed great, I found that it lost a bit of the magic that 1 & 2 had. I haven’t seen 3 since the theaters so perhaps I just need to revisit that film, but Toy Story 4 brings things back down to earth and scales back the more intense sequences that populated the third film. What’s here instead is a much more relaxed film that lives in the moment, which as far as pacing is concerned, can be to its detriment, but mostly it gave me a chance to breathe a little and get to know all of these characters on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Toy Story 4 is also less of an ensemble film than the previous ones were, with the focus honed in on Woody, played once again by the one-and-only Tom Hanks. Woody has always been, more-or-less, the main character of these films, but this movie really breaks down who he is and for once asks the question: “What is best for Woody?” rather than: “What is best for all Andy/Bonnie?”. Woody has spent so much time worrying about the children who play with them that he never has had the time to look into himself and find out what he needs. Bo Peep (Annie Potts) serves as the catalyst for Woody’s change, and the expanded role for her character is one of the best aspects of this film.
The film also juggles a multitude of themes and character arcs, and occasionally cracks under the weight, failing to give a satisfying resolution to a few of its characters. One new character I’m slightly conflicted about is Forky (Tony Hale), who is a new toy constructed from trash by Bonnie. Forky is constantly trying to throw himself into the garbage even though Bonnie embraces him as her new favorite toy. A character with these traits poses some very interesting questions that, in my estimation, could be interpreted in many different ways. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really answer any of the burning questions I had, and Forky sort of devolves into being a bit of a McGuffin for Woody and co. to chase after for the majority of the run-time.
All that said, Toy Story 4 succeeds in giving satisfying resolutions to its most important characters, those being the aforementioned Woody and Bo Peep whose relationship provides the solid backbone of the story, along with another batch of new-comers: Duke Kaboom voiced by Keanu Reeves, and Gabby Gabby voiced by Christina Hendricks. These two characters are both damaged in different ways and have developed complexes around their past feelings of neglect. Both characters have redemption arcs that manifest in contrasting but altogether satisfying ways.
Now let’s talk about the animation. Watching this movie is like putting on glasses for the first time and finally seeing details you knew were there all along. This is one of the most beautifully-animated movies I have ever seen. The visuals here are on another level, and this is definitively the best-looking computer-animated film to date, surpassing recent heavy-hitters like How to Train Your Dragon 3, Moana and Coco. Many computer generated movies lack that hand-crafted feel, this one does not. I got the sense that everything in the foreground and background of every frame was filled with detail and life, and while the visuals are starting to look more and more photo-realistic, the characters that I’ve grown to know for so long remain intact and feel like they still belong in the world surrounding them, which is no small feat.
Along with the magnificent visuals, Randy Newman is back composing the score for this film, and it’s very consistent with what we’ve come to expect from these films. I didn’t really pick up on any new musical queues or themes, I’m sure they were there, but nothing stood out to me that I didn’t already have in my head from previous films. While the score fits the film like a glove, I don’t think it provided much more beyond that and it probably won’t be joining my Spotify playlist.
Toy Story 4 stumbles a bit when it fails to deliver on certain plot-points in a satisfying way, but more than makes up for it in just about every other area. The slower, more methodical pacing of the film gave me a chance to get to know its new characters and dig deeper into some of its veterans with satisfying results. The conclusion to this film is moving, bold, joyous and melancholy all at once, and if Pixar can keep generating Toy Story sequels that are this good, I don’t see why anyone would object to yet another one.