By Marty Mulrooney
Toy Story 4 is a computer-animated comedy produced for Walt Disney Pictures by Pixar Animation Studios. The sequel to Toy Story 3 (2010), this fourth instalment of the critically-acclaimed series once again follows Sheriff Woody and his friends as they try to keep their child happy.
It’s hard to believe it has been nearly a decade since Toy Story 3 came out and Andy went to college, donating his toys to a little girl named Bonnie. There has never been a bad Toy Story film and putting them in any kind of order is simply a matter of personal preference. The third film – itself arriving 11 years after Toy Story 2 – managed to perfectly cap off a trilogy of films that many viewers had grown up with. It felt like a definitive ending, making the arrival of Toy Story 4 somewhat worrisome despite the pedigree of its predecessors.
Thankfully, Toy Story 4 doesn’t ever feel like a cash-in, despite breaking global box office records for an animated movie. The opening scene, set between Toy Story 2 and 3 during Andy’s childhood, is jaw-droppingly beautiful and utterly heartbreaking. During a violent thunderstorm, Woody leads a rescue operation to save R.C. from being washed down a storm drain. Meanwhile, several old belongings inside the house are being boxed up to be given away, including Woody’s sweetheart Bo Peep, a porcelain figure from a bedside lamp.
Woody tries to save Bo Peep too, but she has resigned herself to her fate; all toys must eventually be taken away. The moment where Woody says goodbye to Bo Peep, sheltered from the relentless rain beneath a car, is surely one of the most beautifully composed shots – animated or otherwise – of all time. Unable to join her, Woody becomes inanimate on the driveway as Andy comes to retrieve him, his deeply unhappy face quickly replaced by his default toy smile. It’s a hard scene to watch, but jumping forward to the present Woody seems mostly happy with his new owner.
He’s still with his friends and he’ll always be there for Bonnie if she needs him. Woody’s problem is that he can never take a back seat, even when he has been relegated to the closet during playtime (Bonnie transfers his sheriff’s badge to Jessie). Despite being neglected, Woody convinces himself that Bonnie needs to take a toy to her first day at kindergarten and sneaks into her backpack. One thing leads to another – all as a direct result of Woody’s well-intentioned interfering – and soon, Bonnie has “made a new friend.”
That new friend is a handmade toy named ‘Forky’, a spork-bodied bundle of nerves with pipe cleaner arms and popsicle stick feet (voiced with lovable bewilderment by actor and comedian Tony Hale) that wants nothing more than to return to the nearest source of trash. Forky’s existential crisis – as well as being extremely funny, especially when paired with Randy Newman singing I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away – is the driving force of Toy Story 4. Woody makes it his mission to look after Forky and teach him what it means to be a toy.
Then, after getting separated from the rest of the gang during a family road trip, Woody recognises a familiar lamp in an antique store window… Bo Peep’s return is no surprise – she’s on the film poster, after all – but it is inspired. Woody has spent his entire life trying to be the best toy possible for his current owner. Bo (voiced once again by Annie Potts, who last appeared as the character 20 years ago in 1999’s Toy Story 2) represents the happiness he once felt when Andy was young and the entire gang was accounted for and safe. What’s more, despite Bo now being a ‘lost toy’ – a concept that has always terrified Woody – she’s thriving.
Toy Story 4 wisely side-steps the idea of having a bona fide villain like Stinky Pete or Lotso. Instead, the real conflict is within Woody himself, much like in the original film (Sid was undoubtedly a bad kid, but he had no idea the toys he was torturing had feelings until they scared the living daylights out of him). Still, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks is both charming and chilling as 1950s pull string doll Gabby Gabby, whose broken voice box has left her childless for many years.
Gabby Gabby’s kidnapping of Forky raises the stakes nicely; she has several ventriloquist’s dummies at her disposal and Woody must enlist the help of Bo – along with some new toys, including Canadian motorcycle-riding daredevil Duke Caboom (voiced with laid back cool by Keanu Reeves) and joined-at-the-wing-and-paw plush double act Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele both on top form, respectively) – to retrieve him safely. The only downside to focusing so much on Woody’s adventure with Forky and Bo is that the other toys from previous films – including Buzz Lightyear – don’t have as much to do, but they’re certainly there for Woody when he needs them.
In fact, that’s precisely why Toy Story 4 works: it’s Woody’s story. After years of putting everyone else first, Toy Story 4 allows him to be a little bit selfish for once. In the first film, he tried to get rid of Buzz after realising he was at risk of losing his place on the bed as Andy’s favourite toy, but ended up becoming his best friend. In Toy Story 4, Woody is no longer being played with by Bonnie, but it doesn’t matter; Forky is her favourite toy, so he’ll protect him at all costs.
The arrival of Toy Story 4 transforms one of the best trilogies of all time into the best quadrilogy ever made. This fourth entry in the series could have been a disaster; instead, it is genuinely heartfelt, contemplative and poignant without ever losing its sense of fun. Kids will love the action and adults will enjoy Woody’s gradual realisation that there is life beyond the toybox. The final scene between Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) is downplayed perfection. Against all odds, Toy Story 4 isn’t even really an ending; it’s a new beginning. To infinity… and beyond!
10 OUT OF 10
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