It is difficult not to get teary-eyed when I think about the Toy Story franchise. It is a movie franchise that I quite literally grew up on, with the first movie coming out in 1995 right when I was a young pre-schooler. And, while I may not be the biggest fan of sequels to animated films, the Toy Story franchise has managed to improve and build on its universe, touching upon subjects that its original audience may be dealing with within their own personal lives. After Toy Story 3 came out in theaters, many of us thought that this would be the end of the franchise. Then came the announcement for Toy Story 4, which personally left me concerned. I wasn’t sure where else Disney•Pixar could go story-wise within the universe. However, Toy Story 4 ended up being a pleasant surprise, with a story that explores what it’s like to feel lost and searching for meaning in life and the adventures and self-discovery that happens on such a journey.
The movie focuses on Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) trying to find his place in a world where his importance in Bonnie’s life is lessening as she ages. However, this is not stopping him from making sure that Bonnie succeeds, especially as she enters the life-changing time that is Kindergarten classes. After Bonnie has a successful Kindergarten orientation thanks to Woody’s interference and the creation of Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), a brand new, beloved craft project that is seen as a toy in Bonnie’s eyes, Woody has taken it upon himself to ensure that Forky doesn’t disappear from Bonnie’s life. Why? Because Forky’s presence is too important and, without Forky in her life, Woody is sure that Bonnie will no longer have the confidence to tackle Kindergarten without her new buddy. However, Forky makes it pretty dang hard for Woody as he stumbly insists that he is not a toy. In fact, Forky is “trash”.
While Woody has taken it upon himself to teach Forky about why he should embrace his identity as a toy rather than the “trash” he thinks he is, Bonnie and her family uproot the toys to embark on a much-needed family vacation before school really comes into session. Chaos ensues due to Forky’s stubborn determination, which leads to unexpected reunions for Woody when he runs into his long-lost friend Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts). Audiences learn at the beginning of the movie how the two were separated, which helps make the reunion more meaningful when they reunited. While the reunion is a happy time for them, Woody soon learns that Bo Peep’s life since they were separated has taken many twists and turns. She’s developed a sense of adventure and independence away from the gang. Her experience away from the gang as well as the internal dilemma he’s been grappling with makes Woody realize that there is so much that has separated them outside of distance. However, more important conflicts arise when he realizes that not only is Bonnie’s happiness in jeopardy, but his existence as a child owned toy may be soon compromised.
Director Josh Cooley had a lot of pressure going into Toy Story 4 as his first feature-length film and he absolutely knocks it out of the park. However, given his background working on films like Disney•Pixar’s Up and having worked on the screenplay on Inside Out, Cooley more than knows how to handle the balance between the light-hearted fun that Disney•Pixar films contain while also maintaining that delicate balance with the more serious, oftentimes poignant themes interwoven in the script. The shots that he has framed definitely showcase not only how far Disney•Pixar has come in terms of their animation skills since the original 1995 Toy Story came out, but also shows to great effect the settings that have been designed for our favorite toy characters to maneuver around on their journey. In particular, the framing of the Antique Store was really something special because it truly felt like this unintended prison despite the fun and excitement that discovering antiques can bring.
Another standout was, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, the animation design on the film. It’s been 24 years since the first Toy Story came out, so there have definitely been massive improvements across the board since then in terms of the detailing and care of the designs featured in this latest sequel. Each time the Disney•Pixar comes to the board to tackle a new film, it’s always fun to see what lessons they’ve taken from the previous films and how they apply it to their upcoming features. In the case of Toy Story 4, the most obvious lesson that they’ve applied to this film is how to light up the characters and setting to produce more fully realized images. One particular scene that comes to mind is when Bo and Woody are in the Antique Store and the sun is at the mid-day point. At that certain point in time, the light is streaming into the store and lights up a variety of chandeliers and glass, spreading the light in beautiful patterns all throughout the store. It’s such a small scene in comparison to the rest of what the film features, but that alone really highlights the lessons the animation team learned with regards to lighting from their previous films.
What I think really helped to keep the film fresh was the cast of new characters for audiences to fall in love with. For all of us who have followed the Toy Story franchise, there was only so much that could be done to build upon what we knew regarding the original gang. By introducing characters like the ever derpy Forky, the amazingly hilarious, stuffed duo, Bunny and Ducky (voiced by the hilarious Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key), the no-nonsense, police officer Giggles McDimples (voiced by Ally Maki), and the charismatic Canadian stunt driver, Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), we were able to see new characters interact with our old favorites while also tackling their own story arcs within the realm of Toy Story 4. In particular, I thought that Bunny and Ducky were arguably the best new additions to the franchise and I implore everyone to stay seated during the credits because these two will steal your hearts again and again with their violent plush antics.
The one factor of the film that I wish had been more well-rounded was the villain. I love me some female villains. But I have to say that Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks) was not as strong as a villain as I would have liked her to be. While the character motivation was there and her story very heartfelt and tragic, I found her ventriloquist goons to be far more menacing and memorable. However, that being said, it is hard not to root for her character in finding her own child to be with after spending decades without a child. So, this is really just a slight ding against a well thought out film.
Overall, Toy Story 4 feels like a great point to end the franchise as everything feels like it has been wrapped up into a satisfying conclusion. There is more than enough to keep both parents and kids happy, with a variety of fun action sequences and plenty of humor sprinkled in to soften the more serious moments with Woody. The one note that I’ll make is that there are quite a handful of scary moments in this film that will make kids cry. Heck, I myself cried and hid in my friend’s arms due to my fear of ventriloquist dummies. So, this is just a heads up that there is some spooky action in the film. I highly recommend this as the must-see film for families this summer.
TOY STORY 4 REVIEW RATING: 9/10
Toy Story 4 rides its way into theaters on June 21, 2019. You can check out all of the previous updates about the highly-anticipated sequel by clicking here.