Toy Story 4, 2019.
Directed by Josh Cooley.
Featuring the voice talents of 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.
When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.
Toy Story 4 is, against all odds, a great movie. More shocking, it somehow justifies its own existence following up a perfect ending with yet another emotional stranglehold of closure. One has to imagine that this will be the final entry, and not just because Tom Hanks said so in an interview, but more so that there is literally nothing left for this franchise to accomplish. Let its final achievement be the grand success that it is sure to be (both critically and commercially) in an age where Disney seems to no longer have a creative bone left in its infrastructure as they release live-action remakes of animated masterpieces months apart from one another. Toy Story 4 shuts the cynics up and gives these beloved characters one more beautiful sendoff, one that feels even more definitive than what we got last time around.
Now, the adventure is slightly bumpy, taking its entire first act to build the foundation for a new story worth telling, throwing out a combination of flashbacks, new characters, montages, and reintroducing familiar faces. Directed by Josh Cooley (his second feature-length film following up arguably Pixar’s outstanding and one of the greatest animated films ever made, Inside Out, which should have tipped skeptics off that we had nothing to worry about in the first place and are dumb for breaking a sweat over the possibility of tarnishing three wonderful movies) and written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, Toy Story 4 fills us in on some missing characters, namely the disappearance of Annie Potts’ Bo Peep, while quickly granting some time to fan favorites.
The opening sequence sees the gang attempting to rescue RC, utilizing their collective strength and objects around them to drag him through puddles of mud; it’s a fairly inconsequential setpiece but allows Pixar to show off a level of animation detail that is unreal and will only be surpassed by the next movie from the studio. The artwork is obviously also fantastic, but the renderings here of characters and environments are worth a ticket alone just to admire. There were times I admittedly missed small bits of dialogue from taking in the surroundings and simply being awestruck; at one point I was looking at a garbage bag and if you told me Pixar snuck a real garbage bag into the animation, I would have believed you. It looks that lifelike.
Make no mistake, this filmmaking team is not resting on the laurels of boasting unprecedented visual technology, as Woody (a returning Tom Hanks) is given serious growth as a character; the kind that makes viewers accept that the lives of these talking toys have real dramatic stakes. He’s as loyal as ever and dedicated to his new owner Bonnie, but he’s also an afterthought and rarely ever played with, which is a problem for him that increases once the soon-to-be kindergartener creates a makeshift toy out of a spork named Forky (Tony Hale, superb at playing up the existential crisis of the misfit toy having no understanding of his purpose).
Suffering through a much more subtle existential crisis (it’s very clear that Pixar is telling a story for nostalgic adults and young children at the same time, using the similarities and wildly different personalities of Woody and Forky to assure the film’s messages are conveyed to all ages), Woody encounters old friends and new defective toys (Christina Hendricks’ Gabby is far more than a traditional villain, servicing as a beautiful allegory to disabilities and is one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories with tackling that subject material), all of which further his inner conflict regarding his purpose and the meaning of toys as a whole. It also functions as a sweet love story between the reunited Woody and Bo Peep (the latter of which has been exploring the world and charming children, bound to no child). And aside from the script having some really ingenious one-liners from toys commenting on things happening around them (there’s a brilliant gravity joke), it bucks the trend of animated movies feeling predictable and cliché; you will probably have an idea of how this movie ends, but there are just enough plot diversions to keep you guessing and also smiling happily with subverted expectations.
Again, there are small stumbles within the pacing; the first act feels as if it’s grinding its gears more than necessary to get the story rolling (everything from new toys to scary kindergarten to vacations crops up), eventually splitting up various characters so that everyone has something worthwhile to do. Buzz (a returning Tim Allen, who I’m glad was not recast, because if he can go into the voiceover studio and get along with these other major actors sharing political differences, it’s a sign that maybe we as a country should also give the same thing a shot) is captured at a carnival and becomes a shooting range prize toy. It’s also where he meets Bunny and Ducky (the popular comedic team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele delivering numerous laughs) embarking on his own journey, but one that is also related to the bigger picture. Keanu Reeves also voices a Canadian motorcycle stuntman with a hilariously tragic backstory, which is also worth the price of admission alone.
Something also needs to be said about Pixar’s ability to draw us into caring about characters that we have known for all of 10 seconds. There are at least two occasions of scenes that are disarmingly touching with very little context; chalk it up to incredible collaborations between writers, animators, actors, and musicians. Toy Story 4 expands upon its imaginative world, themes, and own previous conclusion for an admittedly lesser work, but one that still packs soul, humor, and substance. Toy Story 4 begins somewhat unfocused, but it inevitably converges smartly to tug at the heartstrings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com