The Toy Story franchise is something I unashamedly hold close to my heart; I grew up with Andy and his living, breathing playthings. After 2010’s blissful and apparent curtain closer, knowing a fourth was to happen certainly made me skeptical, but did Pixar Studios make this a sublime tetralogy?
As new owner Bonnie begins kindergarten, Woody (Tom Hanks) seeks to make her first day more comfortable, which leads her to make a new toy called Forky (Tony Hale). A subsequent road-trip sees the cowboy desperately trying to get the spork-toy back to their kid, but he may require assistance from returning Bo Peep (Annie Potts) to see the full picture.
The first three movies are a firm love of mine and what with the perfect ending 9 years ago, it would take a lot for me to see this new outing as anything more than a needless cash grab and though it isn’t an out and out marvel from Pixar, there is joy to be had within, even if it cannot quite shake the notion that it’s solely there to grab all the dollars.
What triumphs more than anything with Toy Story 4, is the confidence and ease in which Pixar have created such rich and colorful characters. Thanks to the creative team who know their plastic folk inside and out, we still gain heart and humor from the likes of Rex, Buzz, Woody and new fluff-balls Ducky and Bunny (dynamic duo Jordan Peele & Keegan-Michael Key). Also, with the return of Bo, there is touching commentary on what happens to the forgotten and lost toys. She strikes the film with action, a nod to the more progressive roles women in film rightly deserve. Gone are her by-standing days in pink replaced with a resourceful lass brimming with skill.
The story on display here is the weakest of the series though. Previously the films strode out with a more engrossing pull-string thanks the comradery and villainy to be tackled. This time around a new bunch of comrades do take shape but the lack of a villain is noticeable. Not having a nemesis isn’t necessarily a problem but you can feel that something is missing in the narrative. Instead, what you get is time and circumstance standing in as the progressive foe.
Woody is a loyal figure and his attachment to Andy is put under the microscope, but all he mostly does is go back and forth in a yo-yo plot of a carnival and antiques centre, which is repetitive and slightly dull. It doesn’t help if you aren’t a fan of Bonnie either, the movie focuses a lot on her emotions and a family RV trip. Obviously the filmmakers are honing in on the younger audiences to grow up with Bonnie as I did with Andy, and perhaps my attachment to Andy, like with Woody is a feeling I cannot shake off. Maybe I am a lost toy, too old for the new world and too young at heart to admit otherwise.
On top of the less than inspiring or original story, is Forky; a walking talking utensil with complex internal issues that breath an interesting existential crisis into a family film. Forky is very close to being the annoying sidekick you hate to love – luckily he never crosses over to Minion level of irritation. However cynical we are about sequel culture, a big part of me was hopeful that the story would conjure the fuzzy feeling of magic as it did thrice before, which it only does in glimpses. But, just when you think the Toy Story train has run out of steam and hasn’t ripped you with the same sad dazzle it’s prone to; the ending of this movie grabs you right in the feels and I’ll honestly say that tears flowed down my face.
In terms of animation, every detail from huge to teeny is incredible, so even if the story does not quite reach spectacular heights, the visuals help in a large part to make this film a wonder. You do feel like you’re in a safe and friendly world with these films, the notion of toys coming alive is a lovely return trip into nostalgia-land for the original fans in the audience. One breathtaking example of stellar design, is in a glowing spectacle of light at the antique store; truthfully the textures and twinkle on show are captivating and it is one of the best cinematic shots I’ve seen. Full stop.
Toy Story 4 doesn’t have a brilliant story but there’s no denying that seeing these faces on screen is like a warm blanket that’s been in your home for years, wrapping you in a familiar coziness, only slightly frayed around the edges.
Toy Story 4 is now in theaters worldwide.