Toy Story 4 is the latest installment in the long-running franchise that helped put animation giant, Pixar, on the map, and, as a result, revolutionized CGI animation. The movie picks up after the events of the third film, in which Woody and friends have now been adopted by Bonnie. When a new “toy”, named Forky, joins the fold, a road trip ensues, where Woody meets friends, old and new, and learns a lot of values along the way. Toy Story 4 is a pleasant surprise in the best sense of the word. This movie is better than I expected. It’s a heartwarming adventure that repeats similar things from the previous films, while also managing to take the franchise into new and fresh territory.
To understand the overall success of Toy Story 4, you have to start at the beginning. The movie opens in a flashback, establishing how Bo Peep was sold off from the third film, and sets the stage for a comeback, which pushes the overall story. Bo Peep is no longer the “female toy” like she was in the first film, or practically non-existent in the second film. Here she becomes a full-fledged “lost toy”, complete with a new design resembling a Disney Princess (the film does a great job of establishing why). Bo becomes one of the real “stars” of the film, especially when paired with Woody. She teaches him a thing or two about learning how to cope with kids letting go of their toys, and he teaches her something important in return.
What I like most about Toy Story 4 is how genuine it feels. The series has been picking up more and more characters with each subsequent film. Instead of focusing on the twenty plus characters, and potentially cluttering the film, this movie wisely focuses on just a few. In this case, it’s primarily, once again, Woody’s film, whose character is more of a protector of Bonnie, so much so he, at times, forgets about his own personality. This is complicated even more with the introduction of Forky, a spork that Bonnie created, who constantly just wants to throw himself into the trash.
The film is not without laughs. In fact, it might just be the funniest of the Toy Story films yet. New characters, including the duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Duck and Bunny. These characters feel like straight-up animated versions of these actors. They are hilarious, complete with riffing, and some of the best gags in the film, including one they dub “Plush Rush” that had me snorting with laughter. There is also a new toy, in the form of Keanu Reeves, as the voice of Canadian stuntman, Duke Kaboom. Reeves is clearly having a ball in the role as a show-off performer, and there’s a hilarious recurring gag involving his previous owner’s disdain for him, that eventually pays off in the end. Out of all the new characters, it is the doll, Gabby Gabby, who impressed me the most. She could have turned into another Lotso/Stinky Pete type antagonist, but instead, she wasn’t a villain at all.
Director Josh Cooley and the animators seemed to understand they shouldn’t try to top Toy Story 3 in terms of raw emotion and success. So, instead of going for sheer spectacle, they made this movie feel even more personal. It’s the best way they could have continued the franchise without ultimately making a disappointing follow-up. If I have any complaint, it’s with Buzz Lightyear, who feels a little shoehorned into the finale, as if they just needed to have Woody and Buzz together again, but the writers don’t seem to know what to do with him.
The movie’s animation, as you might expect from a Pixar release, is spectacular. It’s gotten to the point where things, like rain and the vehicles, look so photorealistic, they might as well be real. This movie is an absolute winner with a new original song written and sung by Randy Newman. The ending also hits the right level of being emotional with a satisfying payoff. I’ll admit, if they decide to make a fifth Toy Story in ten years or so, I wouldn’t be against it.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget Theater, Sunday - Thursday at 1:50, 4:20 (3D), and 6:50 PM, and Friday and Saturday at 1:50, 4:20 (3D), 6:50, and 8:50 PM.