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Review: Toy Story 4

June 20, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

I spent the better part of this decade thinking that I didn’t need a fourth Toy Story. The Pixar series that began in 1995 received a heartbreaking and almost unexpectedly perfect conclusion with Toy Story 3 in 2010, so the natural assumption was that the story was done being told, save for a handful of TV specials and short films along the way to show us how the toys were doing.

But sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong, and now we have Toy Story 4 to do just that. Director Josh Cooley, one of the main screenwriters of Pixar’s 2015 masterpiece Inside Out, has crafted a funny and moving continuation of cowboy Woody’s (Tom Hanks) journey that explores powerful themes about finding purpose in your life and what it means to be a toy, with a bittersweet and at times sombre tone that makes it resonate.

At the heart of Toy Story 4 is also the existential crisis of a plastic spork named Forky (Tony Hale), a craft project that Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) makes on her first day of kindergarten who gains sentience when she glues eyes on him but considers himself to be trash, and the geniuses at Pixar have somehow made it all work beautifully in ways that are both delightfully odd and deeply touching. Forky becomes Bonnie’s new favourite toy, and is quite possibly the only thing that will help get her through kindergarten. But he insists that he is “trash” and doesn’t want to be a toy, and simply wants to live out his destiny as a piece of disposable cutlery.

Forky spends the first part of the movie trying to throw himself into every garbage bin he can find, and Woody takes it upon himself to save Forky from the trash, and ensure that he stays with Bonnie. Forky doesn’t want to be alive, this much is clear, but it’s up to Woody to teach him that his life matters, simply because he matters to Bonnie. These are profound philosophical ideas, and like the first three films, Toy Story 4 asks deep, fundamental questions about existence and what it means to be alive.

The first three films questioned what it means to be a toy, where this one asks what happens when a toy is no longer needed. Not only does Forky provide a great comic foil for Woody, but he also gives him a reason to ponder his own existence. By explaining to Forky what it means to be a toy, Woody is able to reflect upon his own purpose as a play thing. The film finds Woody reminiscing about his “glory days” as the favourite toy of his first kid Andy, and struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer the most played with toy in his new kid Bonnie’s room.

When Bonnie’s parents (Jay Hernandez and Lori Alan) decide to pack up the RV and head out on a family road trip, Woody ends up getting separated from his friends Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) and the rest of the gang, when Forky throws himself out the window of the moving vehicle and he jumps out after him. Bonnie is devastated to find her new toy gone, and Woody embarks upon a journey to bring Forky back to her. A carnival and an antique shop provide the settings for much of the action, and along the way, Woody also reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), a lamp decoration that once belonged to Andy’s little sister Molly, who now lives her life as a free-spirited “lost toy.”

We are also introduced to a selection of new characters, including the antique pull-string doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who has several ventriloquist dummies as her henchmen; the tiny “pet patrol” officer Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki); the motorcycle-riding action figure Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a French-Canadian stuntman who is self-conscious about not being able to complete his famous jump as advertised; as well as the adorable plush toys Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), a pair of inseparable carnival prizes who spend their lives waiting to be won.

I grew up with the original characters, so the idea of getting to spend more time with them is one of the main appeals of Toy Story 4, and Cooley has managed to deliver a fourth instalment that actually feels justified. The screenplay, which was written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom with a bunch of others sharing story credits, offers a beautiful and heartfelt epilogue to the finale of the third film. The new characters are well developed alongside the old ones, and the entire voice cast does stellar work in bringing them to life. Hanks once again brings warmth and emotion to his role as Woody, and Hale does a brilliant job of voicing Forky, bringing a great deal of both humour and pathos to the role.

The film also looks incredible. Because there has been such a gap in time between these films, each one also represents a leap forward in terms of technology. Many new advancements in computer animation have obviously taken place since the first one, which carried the distinction of being the first feature length computer generated film, and in Toy Story 4 we can really see the technical advances that have been made even since the third film. The animation and use of lighting here is absolutely stunning, with certain shots appearing almost photorealistic.

The emotional journey of Toy Story 4 has to do with Woody coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer a favourite toy, and Bo’s newfound independence leads him to reevaluate his own life choices. It’s very much a culmination of Woody’s character arc that was built up throughout the course of the first three films, and this film asks what a toy is supposed to do when they realize that they are no longer the one that is needed to make a child happy. Do they stick around in their kid’s room, collecting dust while waiting in the desperate hope that they will get played with again, or should they prioritize their own happiness and go out into the world?

These are deep questions that the film is pondering, but then again this series has always been about exploring some pretty profound ideas about humanity through the guise of sentient toys. The first film was about Woody trying to convince Buzz that he was a toy and not an actual space ranger, and this one finds Woody trying to convince Forky that he is a toy and not trash. Woody knows that Forky is taking his place as Bonnie’s favourite toy, but he dedicates himself to protecting him because his main goal is to make sure his kid stays happy, not unlike the character of Joy in Inside Out.

This idea of coming to terms with the fact that you are no longer needed in the way you once were, either as a friend or caregiver, is a natural progression for the series. While there are similarities to the original film’s story arc, Toy Story 4 manages to feel fresh and inspired in its own unique ways, and compliments the first three films quite nicely. It’s tightly paced at 100 minutes and has the feel of an adventure movie at times, taking us on another incredibly entertaining journey alongside these beloved characters, while also being filled with little moments along the way that made me tear up.

Randy Newman also contributes another memorable musical score to the film, along with a couple of new songs. It’s understandable that many people will be skeptical going in to Toy Story 4, as the third film did such a beautiful job of wrapping up the trilogy, but it works as a bittersweet coda to the series, taking it in some new and surprisingly deep directions. It’s a wonderful film, that proves Pixar still has an almost unparalleled track record when it comes to crafting emotionally perceptive blockbusters that entertain us while also tugging at our heartstrings.

Toy Story 4 opens tonight in theatres across Canada.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2019 8:56 am

    One of the many great things about Pixar is that they talk openly about issues regarding mental health. They discussed depression profoundly in Inside Out, and it seems like they do so here too.

    Like

  2. June 21, 2019 1:37 pm

    I’m so excited to see this tonight!!!! I hope it’s as good, or if not better, than Toy Story 3!!!

    Like

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