If this blog had existed in 2010, you would have no doubt come along to read how I thought Toy Story 3 was the perfect end to a pretty much perfect trilogy of Pixar movies that felt like they were specifically made with my generation in mind. Six years old with the first, ten years old with the second and twenty-one years old with the third, it really felt like this franchise was something that neatly and perfectly bookmarked not only my early life but also my blossoming love for high quality cinema. You can imagine my apprehension, then, at the release of a fourth instalment. Was Toy Story 4 about to ruin something beautiful, or expertly add to it?
On the whole, I think I’d have to say it does a little bit of both. After being heart wrenchingly handed over to Bonnie at the end of Toy Story 3, the film picks up with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and co. preparing to help their new owner get through her first days at kindergarten. During a celebratory pre-school start RV road trip with the family, the toys find themselves in all sorts of bother, with old friends like long lost Bo Peep and new friends like the homemade Forky bringing lots of action to the party.
The first thing to say about the film is that it is almost unbelievably beautiful. You have no doubt seen some of the comparisons of the CG animation between the original and today, and the difference is quite astounding. Films like this honestly make me wonder where the hell animation is going next, and I’m incredibly excited about it.
On a story and narrative level, there are some things that I really liked about Toy Story 4, and then there are some things that didn’t really grab me at all. It’s fair to say that Andy’s story was beautifully wrapped up in the first trilogy, and in many ways this film feels a lot like a tacked on goodbye specifically for Woody at the expense of most of the other beloved characters in the franchise. Without wanting to give too much away, it’s safe to say that many of Toy Story’s classic themes are front and centre, albeit becoming more and more complex as the series and its original audience mature.
We have Woody reckoning with the appeal of living another life with a child ending in inevitable donation, we have new character Forky touching on what the nature of the toy’s sentience even is in the first place, and we have other side tangents involving the concepts of lost toys, broken toys and antique toys that aren’t supposed to be played with. It sounds like a lot, and that’s because it is. Compared to the narratives and statements of its predecessors, Toy Story 4 feels like a great movie that is downgraded to good because it tries to do a little too much and suffers overall because of it.
This isn’t to say, of course, that I didn’t enjoy myself and feel the nostalgic pull in all of the right places. I was tearing up within the first five minutes, and I was full on crying at the film’s conclusion, but a lot of the stuff that made up the middle fell flat for me. Perhaps tellingly, these emotional highs and detached lows can be very neatly divided in to the parts of the movie that most strongly harken to the past, and then the parts of the movie that are very much grounded in Bonnie’s side of the story. At the end of the day, perhaps I’m just more of an Andy kind of girl.
I alluded to it above, but this really does feel like more of a ‘Woody movie’ than any of the other previous instalments. Tom Hanks still brings as much life to the character as he did almost a quarter of a century ago, there is no faulting his voice performance just as there is no faulting the performances of any of the ensemble cast.
It’s a shame, then, that people like Tim Allen, Wallace Shawn, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles and Blake Clark don’t get to do half as much as a final goodbye to the franchise should afford them. Buzz, Jessie, Hamm, Rex, Mr. Potato Head and others are very much passengers in this last outing, but it’s no surprise to me that some of the moments I loved the most were those involving all of the old gang.
Tony Hale as the new kid on the block Forky is destined to steal a lot of the limelight, and there’s no doubting the he’s a cute creation, but the message of Forky’s existence is something that isn’t fully realised or ironed out within the film. They get half of the way there without ever really getting deep enough to really say something. I wanted the film to go a little bit more Inside Out style intellectual at points, but it never really got there.
Fans will be pleased to see the return of Annie Potts as Bo Peep. She was done real dirty in Toy Story 3 and her inclusion in the plot provides the most interesting and rewarding of the side tangents, even if ultimately it does feel like the character is only back to help fully complete Woody’s arc.
Overall, Toy Story 4 is another fantastic addition to the Pixar catalogue. It might not be a film that I was hankering for, and it might not even be a film that I absolutely loved, but it still gave me a quintessential, emotional charged and visually stunning Pixar experience. Do I still think that Toy Story 3 was the perfect way to sign off on the series? Yes. Am I mad that this exists? Nah. There’s way too many other things to be mad about these days.