When it premiered back in 1995 via Disney, Pixar’s “Toy Story” was hailed as a triumph, the first feature-length computer-animated motion picture. People tended to view it less for its premise (the secret world of toys that come to life when no people are around) and more to look at the sweet visuals. The first sequel, 1999’s “Toy Story 2,” was what established the franchise as having superb storytelling power for kids and all ages too. This came to a peak with 2010’s “Toy Story 3,” as it showed what felt to be the end of an epic multi-part saga; or so we thought then.
Enter 2019 and Disney-Pixar has surprised the “Toy Story” fandom with a fourth movie. But what else could still be left after the events of what was supposed to be a perfect animated film trilogy? “Toy Story 3” ended with the toys’ original owner passing them on to his young next-door neighbor before he leaves for college. True, a storyline could easily be crafted from there, by showing the new “lives” of the toys with Bonnie and her own toys. Of course that might sound like a recycled plot. But leave it to Pixar to give us that plus more.
“Toy Story 4” also dabbles with the concept of the whole franchise’s in-universe lore? Why do toys come to life? What does it take for any physical object to be considered a toy, and therefore potentially animated? The Pixar team really has some fun with this question by introducing a new character: a plastic spork that was turned into a crude doll by Bonnie in her kindergarten art class. Forky (Tony Hale) is a rather flimsy approximation of a doll, but he comes to life all the same. Unfortunately, his being created from stuff in a trash can make him think he is just garbage.
Now running herd over the newcomer is the franchise face Sheriff Woody, still voiced by the very awesome Tom Hanks. It was Woody that engineered the chain of events that led to his previous owner Andy to give him and the rest of his toys to Bonnie. But now Bonnie has been gradually losing interest in him while gravitating to his female counterpart Jessie (Joan Cusack). Woody does not mind at first. In his animated mind, as long as he can help Bonnie with life (such as looking after her new favorite Forky), it matters not if he is ignored.
The story comes to a head when, while being taken along by Bonnie’s family on a road trip, Forky throws himself out, again. Woody leaves the family’s rental RV to retrieve him and convince him that there is merit to being a toy. In doing so they run into a town’s antique store, where Woody is reunited with his old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), given away in-between the events of the second and third films. Add to that the potentially sinister interest of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) in Woody’s voice box, and there is trouble brewing for all involved.
But in a larger sense, the fourth movie in this near quarter-century-old franchise is more cheery and upbeat compared to the third with its somber message of growing up and moving on. There is however a lot of feels to be experience here. While “3” can be framed as the end of the boy Andy’s character arc with his favored toys, “4” can be considered as the conclusion for Woody himself. With his new owner Bonnie having quickly forgotten him, he faces an existential crisis about what he really wants to do with his existence.
While the general story gist of the movie is simply magnificent, the same cannot be quite said about the character usage. About a handful of the cast are actually relevant, with the rest of the old regulars from past films relegated to background speaking noise. Even Woody’s best friend Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) cannot quite elevate his own B-plot (looking for Woody) to equal importance. Still the other characters old and new are able to shine for brief moments, like Bo Peep returning from the first two films as a fully-rounded character and not just as Woody’s supposed love interest.
Among the new toys, special mention must be given to newcomer Duke Caboom, a Canada-made daredevil motorcycle stuntman toy voiced by actual Canadian Keanu Reeves. He only figures for a couple of scenes, but his backstory and characterization could easily see him starring in a spinoff. That is pretty much it. The soundtrack is crisp and appropriate as led by the franchise anthem “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and the computer animation is now light-years away from how it looked in 1995. But by this day and age it really is not much to talk about at any length.
Saying anything more will be spoilers aplenty at this point. But for anyone who has followed the “Toy Story” films, spinoffs and more, for the better part of 24 years, it can be confirmed that this movie makes for yet another beautiful ending to the whole saga. About the only way it could be better would be if Disney-Pixar followed the theme of this and the third, and finally realize that a “Toy Story 5” will come really close to beating a dead horse at this point. Hopefully we can say “so long, partner” to Woody, Buzz and friends, and this time actually mean it.
Image courtesy of Disney UK