Toy Story 4 Review

Not necessary, but brilliant nonetheless. That’s the scoop on “Toy Story 4,” the fourth installment in Pixar’s banner franchise that nobody was asking for. The conclusion of the waterworks-inducing “Toy Story 3” served viewers well, especially those who, like Andy, grew up but still felt affinity for their childhood toys. So it stunk of another Pixar cash-grab when the studio dipped back into this world, a stench masked by their cleverness and a few calculated tugs at the heartstrings.

Whereas the catharsis of “Toy Story 3” was designed to be about the viewer seeing themselves as Andy, “Toy Story 4” focuses its catharsis on our feelings for and attachment to the toys/characters we’ve been on this journey with for 24 years. Central to this particular story is Woody (Tom Hanks), now in the care of almost-kindergartener Bonnie, trying desperately to serve her even though she prefers other toys. Woody finds that renewed purpose when he sees a nervous Bonnie at orientation create a toy from a spork and become deeply attached to it. When Forky (Tony Hale) refuses to accept that he’s a toy, however, Woody steps up to the plate to keep Forky safe and Bonnie happy.

Like all “Toy Story” films, “4” has amusing new characters, detailed new locales, a daring rescue mission, a complex antagonist and plenty of lessons about a toy’s purpose. Undeniably, that formula has been key to this franchise’s greatness, but for some (adults), the recycling of these constructs a fourth time will feel tedious. That’s where the brilliant animators at Pixar step in to deliver a new aesthetic experience, and the massive list of storytellers (eight of them) come up with the clever wrinkles within the traditional framework to keep the film fresh and unique.

Taking place mostly at an antique shop that happens to be adjacent to a carnival, there’s a lot happening visually in “4.” We meet characters ranging from the aforementioned Forky to old school doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her band of ventriloquist dummies to carnival prize stuffed animals in Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele). That variance allows the animators to do a lot more with texture than we’ve seen previously in these movies, and adults will appreciate that nuance and how it factors into the way these characters come alive on screen.

Sadly, the one real miss of “Toy Story 4” is that for almost the entire runtime, it relegates beloved friends like Rex, Hamm, the Potato Heads, Slinky Dog and others (even Joan Cusack’s Jessie) to an RV, where they are relatively useless to the story. The desire to introduce more novelty to the “Toy Story” world has its drawbacks, and clearly the toy chest has gotten a little too full with this installment.

The choice to bring back Bo Peep (Annie Potts), however, holds major weight, and to the film’s benefit. At one time just the “girlfriend” that Woody got to kiss when he came back from his other adventures, she reemerges as a major boon to audiences looking for and expecting stronger female characters than have previously been seen in this world. The film reimagines her as fiercely independent self-sufficient, disproving Woody’s long-held belief that the worst thing a toy could be is lost.

From autonomous Bo Peep, to Forky’s denial, to Gabby Gabby’s desperation to be loved, “Toy Story 4” highlights that there’s no one way to be a toy, and therefore no wrong way to be in the world whether you’re made of skin and bones or plastic. Although the movie is more thematically fixated on Woody, it positions him so that he can contemplate these questions for himself, and we can see ourselves instead in his freedom.

4/5 Stars

Toy Story 4
Directed by Josh Cooley
Written by Andrew Stanton & Stephany Folsom
Starring: (voices) Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tim Allen, Christina Hendricks, Tony Hale


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