It’s not difficult to think of movie franchises that overstay their welcome. With Hollywood’s perpetual sequelitis still driving the foundation of the blockbuster movie industry, most cinematic franchises operate as if they’ll go on forever, pushing out sequel after sequel, then just rebooting themselves and starting with an all-new canon whenever that stops working. Despite this however, there are some movie properties that only appear to get better with age. Big blockbuster brands like Mission: Impossible, Fast & Furious and Marvel movies in general have all defied humble beginnings to become stronger than anyone could imagine in the modern era! Then there are some franchises that always deliver a gem, and make it look easy, regardless of how many sequels they put out. Pixar’s Toy Story is one of those franchises, and it’s coming out of retirement yet again for the series’ fourth feature entry, Toy Story 4!
Despite 2010’s Toy Story 3 wrapping up the series’ feature film storyline pretty definitively, not to mention excellently, it seems like Pixar had just one more great idea for the classic property that first launched the studio to mainstream acclaim back in the 90’s. Better still is that Toy Story 4 doesn’t ultimately deflate the poignant and beautiful conclusion of Toy Story 3, serving as an expansion to that conclusion with an emotional and bittersweet epilogue that somehow keeps the Toy Story movies’ outstanding momentum going stronger than ever. Toy Story 4 is allegedly the last of Pixar’s planned sequels for the foreseeable future as well, and that’s certainly not a bad thing! Toy Story 4 wonderfully follows on from last year’s similarly excellent Incredibles 2, once again delivering one of the smartest, most entertaining and overall most impressive animated movies, and movies in general, that you’ll see all year!
With the toys now finding their way to new owner, Bonnie after the events of Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4 picks up some time after the familiar toy characters have settled into their new home. Bonnie is just about to enter kindergarten as Toy Story 4 begins, with an increasingly neglected Woody, once again voiced by Tom Hanks, wanting everything to go perfectly on Bonnie’s first real day at school. This is also when Woody bears witness to Bonnie creating an all-new homemade toy, Forky, voiced by Tony Hale, a neurotic spork that doesn’t understand why he’s been given life, and just wants to comfortably make his way to the trash. Woody trying to force Forky to co-exist with the other toys eventually leads to a road trip, whereupon circumstances end up reuniting Woody with his former love interest, Bo Peep, once again voiced by Annie Potts, who was given away many years before Woody and the other toys would end up in Bonnie’s room.
It turns out that there’s a surprising story behind Bo Peep’s previous absence in Toy Story 3, which is apparently the result of Andy’s sister, the actual owner of Bo, wanting to give her away. Bo then soon after ended up becoming a ‘lost toy’, living on her own terms, and not being subject to faking being an object at the whims and presence of some child. Not only is this a brilliant way to re-interpet Bo as a stronger, more independent female toy for the modern era, but one that also fits with Woody facing something of a crisis in Toy Story 4, as Bonnie’s interest in him appears to be diminishing. This merely increases Woody’s devotion to Bonnie’s happiness however, despite Woody’s reunion with Bo also giving way to the provocation of Toy Story 4’s main antagonist, Gabby Gabby, a lost doll voiced by Christina Hendricks, who commands a small army of creepy ventriloquist dummies in an antique store.
Gabby Gabby is another fantastic device to keep exploring Woody’s trying circumstances with Bonnie and the other toys, since she’s the complete opposite of Bo– A character that is obsessed with trying to find an owner. Desperate to get the attention of the antique store owner’s granddaughter, Gabby Gabby will resort to any means to get herself noticed, right down to enacting her own iron-fisted rule in the antique store! As you can imagine though, Gabby Gabby is another Toy Story antagonist that isn’t truly evil, and has a surprisingly sympathetic motivation behind the seemingly terrible things that she does. The progression of Gabby Gabby’s arc takes several hard turns that you wouldn’t initially expect, and the result of her conflict with Woody and the other toys is one that delivers a surprisingly tear-jerking payoff, one that provides a deceptively mature resolution, which will carry tons of emotional weight not just for adults, but probably for many children as well!
There are plenty of other new toy characters that Woody meets along the way too, even if this sometimes means that the established toys are relegated to resorting to increasingly hilarious means of having to keep Bonnie’s family stuck at the RV park wherein most of the storyline unfolds. Buzz Lightyear, once again voiced by Tim Allen, obviously leads the charge with this effort, keeping everyone on task with Woody’s rescue mission, after Woody inevitably becomes trapped in Bo’s new world, and Gabby’s crosshairs. Despite all of the lovable returning faces however, it’s the new toys that will really steal your heart in Toy Story 4, whether it’s the hilarious double act of sketch comedy duo, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as carnival toys, Ducky and Bunny, respectively, the equally hilarious Canadian toy stooge, Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves, or indeed Forky, a perpetually confused and terrified spork brought to accidental life by Bonnie, whom Woody just won’t allow to opt out of existing. As with any Toy Story movie, the toys featured in Toy Story 4 are so incredibly emotional, human and grounded that they even outpace a lot of actual human characters on the big screen, with their antics once again beautifully tickling your funny bone as much as they will tug at your heartstrings!
There are no shortage of surprises in Toy Story 4’s storytelling, so it pays to know little about the story progression before going in. What’s important to note is the aforementioned reunion between Woody and Bo, finally addressing just what happened to Bo after she was mysteriously absent from Toy Story 3, as well as the progression of Bonnie’s development into kindergarten, which results in the birth of Forky, and the changing circumstances for Woody and the other toys. Some may be disappointed that Bonnie’s toys end up having surprisingly little bearing on the plot of Toy Story 4, with original Bonnie toys like Dolly, Mr. Pricklepants and Trixie almost entirely pushed into the background (though Trixie does at least get a couple of standout comedic sequences!), but it’s also tough to argue that Toy Story 4 is Woody’s story most of all.
Even with a heightened emphasis on Woody though, Toy Story 4 remains rich with character, as the other toys make the most of their screentime to accentuate all of the key moments of comedy and drama very nicely. Even Buzz often feels like he’s playing second fiddle to Woody here, creating some irony after the story progression of the original Toy Story movie from 1996, but the plot of Toy Story 4 nonetheless effortlessly satisfies, thanks to its outstanding emotional heft and resolution. Those who found the plot of Toy Story 3 a little too morose may also be relieved to know that Toy Story 4 lightens things up a bit, maintaining the same introspective tone, only now with a more upbeat flavour. Toy Story 4 nonetheless still feels like it’s actually telling a story made more for adults than for children, tackling heavy themes of loss, grief and moving on, but the accessible and light-hearted story presentation will continue to appeal to kids as well, even if they’ll no doubt mainly be coming for the lovable characters and colourful animation.
Although you wouldn’t know it from looking, Toy Story 4 is actually helmed by a first-time feature film director, Josh Cooley. Cooley previously directed a couple of Pixar short films, between the Up-inspired George & A.J., and the Inside Out-inspired Riley’s First Date?, with Toy Story 4 now marking Cooley’s first full-fledged movie project. Fortunately, Cooley is certainly up to the task when it comes to directing Toy Story 4, creating a breezier, yet still emotionally deep Toy Story sequel that beautifully balances a sense of fun and comedy with a sense of adventure and drama.
Cooley also perfectly captures the unique feel and charm of a Toy Story movie to boot, allowing Toy Story 4 to fit beautifully into the world of Toy Story as if there was never a real director change. Even as the toys continue to find themselves in new and changing circumstances, Toy Story 4 offers just the right air of familiarity, to offset the hefty dose of novelty in the franchise’s latest creative storyline. More importantly however is how wonderfully Cooley nails every emotional beat as much as he realizes every funny and/or impressive animation flourish. Toy Story 4 is fantastically put together in every respect, brimming with production value, and providing a little of everything in order to create a well-balanced, highly emotionally satisfying new adventure for the lovable toy characters that audiences have been following for almost twenty-five years now!
Randy Newman once again returns to compose the score for Toy Story 4, after previously putting together the music for all three previous Toy Story movies as well. Newman’s Toy Story 4 score is yet again superb as well, creating a fluffy, yet down-to-earth series of compositions that effectively pull audiences into the adventure at hand, while still always being gentle and strangely affectionate. Naturally, the series’ signature number, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” shows up yet again in Toy Story 4, seeing as no Toy Story movie would be complete without it, but Newman’s latest score also carries with it a number of impressive new compositions, ones that nicely embrace the styles and personalities of the new characters and scenarios throughout this sequel. If you’ve enjoyed Newman’s prior Toy Story scores, you’ll naturally enjoy the Toy Story 4 score just the same, and will likely find it worth owning and listening to at your leisure.
The rest of the audio design in Toy Story 4 is also overall excellent, particularly the scenes that carry a surprising amount of danger, after being presented from the toys’ perspective! In IMAX theatres especially, some of the sound mixing may be a little overwhelming to really young children at times, but adults will find that Toy Story 4 can carry a surprising amount of action-packed punch during its highlight sequences! Even when the audio is geared towards laughs instead of thrills however, it still lands every time, with many fun and classy audio gags realized in cleverly-written and directed scenes, which somehow manage to combine cartoon-ish delight with seemingly real, pressing stakes!
Like every previous Toy Story movie, or Pixar movie in general, Toy Story 4 pushes the technical boundaries of its animation to new and exciting heights! The beautifully-realized, almost photo-realistic environments blend wonderfully with the many recognizable, yet updated toy character designs, which are now more rich than ever in hyper-defined textures and sheen. Effects like fur and plush especially look eerily, impressively lifelike here, and despite still very much residing in the realm of cartoon animation, Toy Story 4 feels like easily the best-looking and most technically impressive Toy Story movie made to date! It’s truly incredible how impeccably Pixar manages to keep up with technology goal posts that persistently move every year, with the studio once again setting the bar for some of the most ambitious and impressive CG animation realized to date with Toy Story 4!
My screening of Toy Story 4 was sadly not available in 3D, so I can’t comment on the movie’s 3D presentation. Knowing Pixar’s history with 3D presentations however, the 3D is likely not at all essential to your enjoyment of Toy Story 4, which remains visually breathtaking even when watched flat in 2D. Fortunately, I was at least able to see Toy Story 4 in an IMAX theatre however, which nicely amps up the detail behind the movie’s outstanding animation and visual design. IMAX theatres not only make the stunning CG visuals even more appealing to look at, but also nicely enhance the thrills and engagement behind Toy Story 4’s action scenes to boot, making the obstacles larger and more imposing, which goes nicely with the further improved IMAX sound design as well. The IMAX upgrade still isn’t essential in Toy Story 4’s case, but if you’re so inclined, it’s probably worth springing for that over the 3D in this case, since Pixar’s beautiful animation obviously deserves to be savoured on the biggest screen possible!
Toy Story 4 may not have been truly necessary for the series’ canon, but I’m very glad that it was made. Toy Story 3 already provided the perfect conclusion for the franchise in 2010, but sometimes, a good sequel is just too promising to not produce. This appears to be the case with Toy Story 4, a movie that finds an inspired, poignant and entertaining way to keep building on the big conclusion of Toy Story 3, in turn providing its own tear-jerking resolution to the toys making their way out of Andy’s room, and into a whole new setting. Sure, those hoping for more actual development from Bonnie’s room and Bonnie’s toys may have to keep seeking out the Toy Story shorts for that, but the emotional tale driving Toy Story 4 is nonetheless outstanding, and demands to be experienced by viewers of all ages!
Despite a bit of a slump in the early-to-mid 2010’s, and their sequel-heavy slate over the past several years, Pixar officially seems to have returned to the top of their game, with Inside Out, Finding Dory, Incredibles 2, Cars 3 (surprisingly!), and now Toy Story 4 all being excellent movies that are once again defining the best of the animated film medium! It also feels especially appropriate that Toy Story 4 caps off Pixar’s current decade as their last planned sequel at this point, paving the way for the 2020’s to once again contain exciting and original new movie projects from the studio. Toy Story 4 marking the last dose of franchise familiarity from Pixar, at least for now, definitely feels uncertain, but also exciting, perfectly going along with Toy Story 4’s timely themes of coping with loss and learning to move on. Toy Story 3 may have already been a virtually flawless finale for the Toy Story movies, but Toy Story 4 being an equally superb slice of comfort food certainly doesn’t go amiss either, reminding us that sometimes we lose things we love, but when we have the courage to keep moving forward, sometimes we also find something better.
- Funny, emotional performances and storytelling
- Exceptional direction that finely balances action, drama and humour
- Gorgeous animation that continues to raise the bar
- Some may be disappointed at the lack of focus on Bonnie's toys