TOY STORY 4

WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead! 

The Toy Story franchise is basically one that’s grown up along with me. I have vague memories of the seeing the original in theaters when I was only 4-years-old and I saw both sequels in theaters. Toy Story 3 came 11 years after the second one and told the story of Andy growing up and saying goodbye to his toys. It seemed like we were saying goodbye to the franchise as well, and it really felt like a perfect ending. Well, money talks and Disney/Pixar clearly wanted to keep the franchise going, but perhaps it wasn’t just money. Perhaps some filmmakers out there had another genuine story to tell involving these characters. 

In Toy Story 4, Woody (Tom Hanks) and his fellow toy companions are enjoying their time with their new owner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw)… well, except for Woody. He’s mostly ignored and he becomes even more ignored when Bonnie literally makes a new friend at school: Forky (Tony Hale), a toy she built out of a spork and other assortment of trash. Having an existential crisis as he knows he’s garbage and not a toy, Woody helps Forky come to terms with his new life as they and the other toys join Bonnie and her family on a road trip. This leads to Woody having a personal crisis of his own when he reunites with his lost love Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and wonders if he should stay with her, or stay with Bonnie and his old friends.

One of the things I’ve always loved about the Toy Story franchise is the endless amount of creativity. The concept of toys coming to life when you’re not around was novel in 1995 and it still feels creative and fresh in 2019. All of the new characters who appear are just as fun and unique as every other toy, especially the carnival plush toys Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Evel Knievel-like toy Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves). These films have always been perfectly cast in the voice department, fully embodying their characters to where they really feel like people and not toys. Funny how the toys feel more human than the actual humans, but it allows for a lot of exploration into the concept, such as how these toys can become sentient, can self-repair, and much more. When you really think about the concept and how far it goes, it doesn’t make a whole lot sense, but hey, these movies would be nowhere near as fun without all of this stuff. 

Since this series is 24-years-old, another fun thing to witness is the advances in computer animation. It’s absolutely astonishing to see what’s on display here. The opening shot is of rain pounding on asphalt, where for a brief moment, I thought I was watching a real-life shot. There’s a cat later on in an antique shop that’s waking up and stretching in the window sunlight, which if it weren’t for the obviously animated movement, would look like it’s really there. It’s kind of scary how good animation is getting, but it makes all of the physical and visual comedy on display here much funnier than before. Watching ventriloquist dummies run around with their limbs and heads bobbing around never gets old. 

While the plot is a little messy and some toys don’t get a lot of screentime, the story it tells and the amount of heart simply can’t be understated. The Toy Story films have always had easy to relate to stories with classic character dynamics and emotionally resonant themes. The best thing about the franchise is that it’s literally for all ages. It doesn’t treat kids like they’re dumb and the jokes are all clever and well timed enough to where both kids and adults can laugh. The main story here is Woody realizing that maybe he doesn’t have to be there for a kid all the time. Bo Peep shows him that being a lost toy is perfectly okay and that no matter what, kids will always have toys to play with. Some of the characterization with Woody is a little repetitive, where all of the conflicts in the film are caused by his stubbornness, but it results in his most emotional resolution yet. The ending here didn’t really open the tear floodgates as much as the last one did, but it was still a very satisfying and emotional conclusion. What makes the payoff even better is that they’re set-up where you think you can predict where the plot will go next, but then totally twists it around. A lot of this stuff we’ve seen before, but there were still plenty of refreshing elements to be had. 

With Toy Story 3 feeling like a such a satisfying conclusion back in 2010, I was very apprehensive about any sort of follow up, especially 9 years later. Color me incredibly satisfied when what I got was another excellent installment in one of the most consistently high quality series ever. I was afraid it would tarnish the ending we got before, but looking back at it, it just felt like a stepping stone to the real ending. Woody has always been the main character of the series, so to see the whole story be about him learning to move onto the next step of his life made for an incredibly heartfelt conclusion. We’ll see if this is the real conclusion, though, as I bet we’ll get Toy Story 5 10 years from now, but hey, if it’s as good as the rest, I guess I’ll take it. 

9/10

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