“On The Road Of Life, There Are Old Friends, New Friends, And Stories That Change You.”
Directed by Josh Cooley
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan and Joan Cusack
1995’s Toy Story was a game changer, the first fully CG animated feature and the film that put Pixar on the map. It told the story of Woody (Hanks), a cowboy doll and the leader of a playroom full of animate toys belonging to a boy named Andy, whose position as ‘favourite toy’ was challenged by a newcomer, astronaut toy Buzz Lightyear (Allen). Through a series of adventures after being lost, Woody and Buzz bonded, and across two sequels and a series of trips outside the playroom their friendship grew, until at last they were passed on by the now-teenaged Andy to a young girl called Bonnie (McGraw). Toy Story 3 brought the story to a fairly natural close, so the creation of a fourth movie became a bit of a running joke in the industry, even making it into the opening number of The Muppets Most Wanted.
And then they made it.
The Late Sequel
After a brief flashback to the departure of his former love interest, Bo (Potts), Woody is in a slightly uncomfortable situation, no longer favourite toy, with his Sheriff’s badge often given to his line-mate Jessie (Cusack) and control of the playroom in the hands of Bonnie’s long-time ‘head toy’ Dolly (Bonny Hunt). When he goes against protocol to accompany Bonnie to her first day at kindergarten, he ends up escorting a new toy home: Forky (Hale), a craft project made from a spork, who feels a natural impulse to become trash.
As Woody and the other toys work to keep Forky with Bonnie, her parents (Hernandez and Alan) take Bonnie on a road trip. Forky manages to bail out of a moving RV, and when Woody pursues he comes across Bo’s lamp, before falling into the hands of Gabby Gabby (Hendricks), a talking doll who wants to take his voice box to replace her own broken model. Gabby captures Forky, while Buzz falls in with Bo, now a lost toy who coordinates other toys to find kids to play with.
With the help of Bo, her sheep, pocket cop Giggle McDimples (Maki), Buzz, Canadian stunt jump toy Duke Kaboom (Reeves) and aggro partner toys Ducky (Key) and Bunny (Peele), Woody sets out to rescue Forky and return him to Bonnie, but in the course of this latest adventure he comes to wonder if his destiny might not lie elsewhere.
What’s wrong with it?
Not just a sequel that no-one needed, this is a sequel that became a byword for shameless cash-grabs. Toy Story 3 was such a perfect bookend to the franchise that the idea of any further entry felt ridiculous… except, apparently, to the makers. Following directly from The Incredibles 2, it could be thought that Pixar used up the last of its original ideas with Coco.
The idea of toys finding purpose in being ‘lost’ just raises way more questions about the true nature, sentience and rights of toys in this world.
What’s right with it?
From that unprepossessing start, Toy Story 4 manages to be a fun adventure, and to develop the franchise arc in a new way by essentially reversing the principles of previous entries. Being a child’s toy is still held to be a noble service, but Buzz comes to accept that there is also honour in connecting other toys to kids, while remaining ‘lost’ himself.
Bo is a welcome addition to the limited role of strong female characters in the Toy Story films. The contrast of her fragile, porcelain body and indomitable spirit makes for an impressive character, and I was glad to see that her fragility never left her in need of rescue.
Woody’s existential struggle is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Gabby Gabby is a genuinely tragic character, and the film earns her character arc in grownup tears.
The Internet’s Boyfriend, Keanu Reeves, is having huge fun with the character of Duke Kaboom, investing his tragic backstory with genuine pathos.
How bad is it really?
Toy Story 4 is a remarkable achievement, but for all the astonishing art invested in making it more than just a cash grab, I just can’t escape the feeling that it wasn’t necessary. It’s a fun tag with a lot of beautiful moments, and I can not help but love Bo, but I don’t think it will ever not feel like an add-on, and that’s a shame.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Ducky and Bunny’s imagined acts of plush-on-meat violence are hilarious, but the moment with the greatest emotional punch comes when Woody has given Gabby what she wants, and she faces her moment of destiny. It’s what takes her all the way from villainy to tragedy, and for all that you’ll probably see it coming, it’s so at odds with the prevailing mood of the franchise that it hits hard.
What’s up with…?
- This whole damn world? I’d ask has no one ever seen toys move, but one has, and apparently this has never gone any further. Apparently Sid never felt motivated to try to film the living toys who scarred his psyche as a child.
- Forky? What witchcraft is it that gives life to that which is defined as toy, and what is the limit of that definition?
Production values – Pixar do not cheap out on their flagship franchise. 0
Dialogue and performances – Excellent additions to a veteran cast give life to a bubbly, emotionally resonant script. Sadly, apart from Woody – and, to a more limited degree, Buzz – the old hands are given little to do. 5
Plot and execution – The story is somewhat hampered by being the fourth installment of a trilogy. It’s perfectly fine as it is, but can’t quite escape that feeling that it is somehow extraneous. 7
Randomness – Man, Forky adds so many questions to this world. 7
Waste of potential – So, as much as I feel that it wasn’t needed, this is so much better than it could have been. It manages to avoid being a shameless cash-in, and that in itself is impressive. 4