Film Review: “Toy Story 4”

Film Review: Toy Story 4

Despite being an unnecessary sequel, “Toy Story 4” is a promising addition to the esteemed animated franchise.

Nine years after the tear-jerking “Toy Story 3” in 2010, Pixar reanimates the franchise with “Toy Story 4,” letting us revisit the swash-buckling cowboy, acrobatic space ranger, and colorful assortment of old and new friends with another tender and light-hearted animation. Of course, a Pixar movie always delivers plenty of top-notch CG animation, a layered plotline, and emotional impact, but this fourth installment can be seen as a knot within the perfectly wrapped and neatly tied-off trilogy. After saying a heartfelt, dewy-eyed, and satisfying farewell to our favorite toys, what other adventures could be in store for them?

Residing with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and his posse have adapted to a new home, different from their beloved and former owner’s, Andy’s. This time around, Woody isn’t Bonnie’s best-loved or first pick for play-time. Instead, that special star is designated to a tacky craft that the shy kindergartener creates: a plastic spork glued to some flimsy pipe-cleaners, mismatched googly eyes, and popsicle sticks named Forky (Tony Hale). Once Forky breathes into life, it refuses to acknowledge that it is a “toy” and instead repeatedly refers to itself as “trash,” which becomes humorously self-deprecating. Typical heroic Woody swoops in as a parental figure, making it his mission to enthuse the existential newborn on the wonders of being a toy. At the same time, he realizes his place in being Bonnie’s unwanted, hand-me-down plaything.

Among Forky, the movie introduces other eclectic characters that are voiced by some big names. The inseparable and bickering carnival plush-prizes, Ducky and Bunny, are played by the hilarious Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Action-star Keanu Reeves loans his voice to the daredevil dynamo, Duke Caboom. Performed by the talented Christina Hendricks, Gabby Gabby is a cunning ‘50s doll-baby, who brings eeriness and depth into her sinister role. While the sparkling entourage adds mirthful action to the franchise, they don’t leave enough spotlight for the remaining cast of old-timers.

Ultimately, this chapter of “Toy Story” centers on Woody’s character arc. It is his journey about moving forward and finding change, which becomes a sentimental metaphor for leaving childhood traditions behind. But, his long-time pals like Buzz, Jessie, and Slinky also become leftovers, for the movie barely features and brushes the old gang off to the sidelines. The iconic buddy-buddy dynamic between Woody and Buzz takes a backseat too, as Woody explores and befriends a flashy world of fresh faces.

Though, there is one reunion with a familiar face, as the rag-doll cowboy rekindles an old flame with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) — from the first two films. Making a comeback, she is recharacterized as a resolute action heroine and tough pack leader, shepherding lost toys and her three-headed porcelain sheep. Spending time with his past sweetheart and new companions, Woody consequently transitions into a phase of growing up and seeking untried adventures, much like his collegiate Andy.

“Toy Story 4” is once again a fun and touching finale, but didn’t that ending happen nine years ago? One issue is that this fourth episode of the series feels more like a postscript or afterthought to the well-contained trilogy. It feels better to have just stopped at “Toy Story 3,” leaving the unseen antics of our childhood animated characters to the audience’s imagination. Instead, the movie nostalgia-baits, to capitalize on the throngs of people that inevitably return to see a doubtlessly caliber story and familiar personalities on screen again. Perhaps “3” is no longer the magic number for the conventional sequel-making venture. Though it isn’t essential, the fourth volume still manages to have touching life lessons, amusing laughs, and vibrant visuals; and there’s no denying that it will live on as an impressive follow-up for all ages to enjoy.

In a golden age of blockbusters that continuously stretches sequels to infinity and beyond, the “Toy Story” series is no exception. But, this fourth entry is nevertheless rich and soul-stirring, presenting mature themes, like breaking from the status quo and overcoming fear of stagnancy and obsoleteness. So, as “Toy Story 4” notably etches its mark in this quadruple cinematic set, we can hopefully and finally make peace with this cherished Pixar franchise and universe.

Grade: A
Director: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale
Release Date: June 21, 2019

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