Not as fresh as the first three films, but still a great time.
On paper, we don’t necessarily need a Toy Story 4. The first three films in Pixar’s longest running franchise are all established animation classics. They garnered almost universal acclaim from adult and kids alike, and the third instalment was the highest grossing film of that year as well as obtaining a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars (a rare feat for an animated film). But with 3, there was a feeling of finality to it all, with Woody and Co. being moved on to another kid, so when 4 was announced, there was a lot of warranted scepticism around it. However, Toy Story 4 feeling like an unnecessary sequel actually works to its advantage.
Set after the events of 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), now owned by Bonnie, finds himself in a predicament. He wants to help Bonnie, who is struggling as she’s about to begin pre-school, but she seems a lot less attached to Woody than his previous owner was. But Woody finds his purpose with Bonnie again after she makes a makeshift toy, Forky (Tony Hale), a toy spork obsessed with flinging himself into the trash, the place he was from, despite being Bonnie’s favourite.
Before Bonnie starts pre-school, her family decides to take her on a road trip, in which she brings her toys with her. But Forky, determined not to be a toy, escapes from the family and Woody comes along with him to try and bring him back to Bonnie. They then stumble upon toys at an antique store, who want to find a home, including an old defunct doll Gabby Gabby (chillingly voiced by Christina Hendricks) and Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom (a scene-stealing Keanu Reeves) as well as toys who are happy that they don’t belong to anyone, including Woody’s old and thought to be “lost” love interest Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
This set-up already gives an indication on the film’s main theme on how one perceives their own purpose and how it changes throughout time. Specifically, the character of Woody, being a toy who has “lost” his purpose now that he has a new owner, sort of feels fitting with the film being another instalment to what many perceived to be a near-perfect trilogy of films. Most people didn’t leave Toy Story 3, a film released 11 years after the previous instalment, thinking of a fourth one.
Thankfully, Pixar rolling the dice once again worked. It might not be quite as good as the previous three films, but to be as good as those films is an unfair expectation and 4 is good enough and a bit more.
One thing the film does have over the previous films, though, is that it’s quite easily the most hilarious of the bunch. Every character almost perfectly plays off one another and with the majority of the time being spent with mostly new characters (aside from Woody and Bo Peep), the new characters are all clever and well-balanced. Forky is an ingenious comedic creation, despite potentially being a one-joke character, Hale completely gives the character’s humour seemingly never-ending legs as well as believability, by somehow giving a performance even more naïvely pathetic than his breakout role as Buster Bluth on Arrested Development.
Keanu Reeves as the Canadian daredevil who was once owned by a very Canadian kid with overly high expectations of him, gets the biggest belly laughs of the film, with Keanu giving the character with a tragic past, enough melodramatic delivery to be utterly hilarious. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny, two violent-minded stuffed animals from the carnival, bring their signature natural charisma and comedic energy to the film effectively, even if their characters can sometimes feel like they’re just there to give scenes some comedic asides.
Aside from the humour, the drama of the film is meticulously guided and balanced, even if it could sometimes benefit from letting scenes breathe a little longer. The film navigates its character’s intentions and beliefs in an effective and clear enough way, building to an effective and well-earned tear-jerking final ten minutes (it’s a Pixar film, so of course it does.)
While you could still just watch the first three Toy Story films and find a more than satisfying conclusion to the series, 4 warrants its own existence by being a taut, well-rounded dramedy which doesn’t hold up on the laughs or tears. In a decade of cinema almost defined by unnecessary and disappointing sequels/reboots, this is not something I can say for most films.
Words by Jacob Brinkworth