Toy Story 4
Pixar is one of the few studios that has chosen quality over quantity; yet their recent foray into sequel territory has many worried that their creative zenith was behind them. With the announcement of Toy Story 4 (2019) and after a perfect ending in Toy Story 3 (2010), I was extremely skeptical that any justice could be done to such a beloved and close franchise that kick started the existence of Pixar itself.
Toy Story 4 finds Woody (Tom Hanks) in the care of Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) after being given up by his old owner Andy (Jack McGraw). After Bonnie’s orientation day in Kindergarten she makes a new beloved toy out of a spork, glue, and pipe-cleaners called Forky (Tony Hale). Forky has an identity crisis, thinking himself a trash instead of a toy, and attempting to return to trash bins. Woody, therefore, takes upon the job of making sure Forky is safe, even if it means jumping out of a truck to save him.
The story flows through all of our favorite characters, with a significant return from Bo Peep (Annie Potts) as a Mad Max-type of survivor after living years without an owner. The fan favorites Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) appear in smaller roles, but the film is lit up by the reuniting of Woody and Bo Peep; as well as the additions of a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a stunt-man toy Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and plush-toys Ducky (Keegan Michael-Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele). The balance and loyalty to the character arcs from previous films is made apparent, with the Pixar signature of witty and simple humor effective throughout.
The film itself brings about the question of what truly is the end of Toy Story. In the third installment, it seemed to be the toys’ journey with their owner Andy, but this new installment seeks to continue Woody’s journey and explore and finalize his purpose as a toy. This exploration made the film not seem like a blunt cash-grab, instead indicating that there was plenty of content and story left to explore.
There is a continuing renovation of perspectives for classical characters, specifically regarding female empowerment. Jessie might have been ahead of her time, but one of the reasons why Bo Peep had been left out of Toy Story 3 might have been the unabashed portrayal of a “useless” and delicate female, waiting for the hero to come home. Toy Story 4 is brave enough to take her story arc again and show her in a light that doesn’t seem political or pandering at all, but very matter-of-factly; making her message all the more important and effective on young viewers. She is the action star as well as the brains behind the survival in the harsh world without owners. She’ll brush off a broken limb and even pick up the male hero if he’s being too slow or reckless.
But given the perfection and balance of the previous three films, it would be hard to replicate such a delicacy a fourth time. Toy Story 4 stumbles at times at keeping a healthy pace, some scenes and arcs seem to take an extra loop of redundancy for the sake of lengthening the film’s runtime a bit. It seemed as if there was a good story to tell, but perhaps not enough of it to have made the perfect epics that the first trilogy were.
That’s not to say that Toy Story 4 blunts its effects on viewers, I for one am not ashamed to confess that I was crying (very loudly) for nearly half the film. The simple visit of these beloved characters is enough to sweep you away from your theater seat and make you feel young and joyful again.
Pixar handled these characters with care and the loyalty, so that this entry feels justified and worthy. The emotional and humorous strong points from previous Pixar entries are at full strength here. If you’re a fan of this franchise, don’t just go see Toy Story 4, bring some tissues for everyone.