I am probably one of many who thought another Toy Story film following the masterful third installment was a mistake. The ending of the third film concluded the chapter of both Andy and Woody’s life that encapsulated the franchise; plus it was the perfect ending to a trilogy that shouldn’t be exploited until the end of time. But then again, Pixar is still behind the fourth installment and they always seem to produce quality work. I have doubted the quality of a Pixar film before watching it in the past, and Toy Story 4 tells me that doubting them again would be a mistake. The fourth chapter not only delivers a fun adventure in the world audiences have come to cherish, but justifies its existence past the third film from a thematic standpoint.
The film opens by tying up one of the loose ends that Toy Story 3 establishes: the disappearance of Bo Peep from the franchise. From the very first shot the animation proves to be spectacular–somehow making sentient toys look photorealistic. With each new Toy Story film technology has improved, and at this point the viewer can get all the way through Toy Story 4 without even thinking about it as animation. The amount of time and effort that goes into a film like this is unparalleled. If the upcoming The Lion King reboot looks real enough to be called life action, I don’t see how this can’t be classified the same way despite its absurdity.
After the opening titles, the film picks up right where Toy Story 3 left off with Woody and crew in the home of a new kid named Bonnie who is having a tough time adjusting to Kindergarten. In her class she crafts a toy made out of a spork called Forky, who becomes sentient and causes problems for the other toys owned by Bonnie. This character could have easily been annoying or overdone, but the voicework by Tony Hale and the animation surrounding Forky is so well done that it’s never a problem. In fact, Forky becomes one of the funniest characters in the movie and provides slapstick humor that will make kids and adults roll over with laughter.
While the other toys are attempting to calm down Forky, who is having a tough time believing he is indeed a toy, Bonnie’s family goes on a vacation in their RV, which is when the main adventure starts up. This journey is classic Toy Story material, and maintains the best qualities of adventures like the Pizza Parlor mission in the first one while also including much more new characters and hijinks. As voice work goes, the clear standout is Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as two carnival game prize toys who are quite literally attached to each other. They provide the single funniest scene in the entire Toy Story franchise when providing ideas for a plan around halfway through. I can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard in a movie theater, to the point where I started to miss the following scene because I was trying so hard not to completely lose it.
Tom Hanks also does a typically superior job as Woody and makes commanding the plot for the majority of the runtime seem effortless. However, given this is a Pixar movie, the real discussion to be had with Toy Story 4 involves the ending and the overall message. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the team of writers who worked on the film do a great job justifying the existence of the story following the conclusion of Toy Story 3. Thinking back on it, it seems that the story and overall message of the franchise wouldn’t have been fully complete without the conclusion of this film, and that is what makes Toy Story 4 another truly special entry.
The creators of the franchise manage to deliver truly profound messages about parenting while working in the confines of a children’s animation film. To me, Toy Story 3 is about letting one’s child leave to find their own way in the world and saying goodbye to that stage of life. Toy Story 4 explores the inability to let go of that child after they leave the parent alone with no purpose. Woody was almost like a parent to Andy: he took care of him and made sure he was happy until Andy didn’t need him anymore. But after Andy leaves, Woody feels empty and as if he doesn’t have a purpose in life so he never quite lets go of Andy and the responsibility of making him happy.
Director Josh Cooley and the animation do a fantastic job with the transitions and with making the message clear to the audience by the end of the film. One complaint I have is that the decision to focus on the new characters causes some older important characters to be shoved off to the side for the majority of the film. While the new characters are exceptional, it would serve the story better if characters like Jessie, Rex or even Buzz had more screen time.
The filmmaking on display in any Pixar film is always exceptional, and first-time director Cooley crafted another great addition to the collection. While Toy Story 3 hit me harder emotionally and the original film revolutionized the genre, Toy Story 4 is the funniest out of all four films and still packs a large emotional punch. The viewer will be rewarded by watching it multiple times because of the quantity of jokes and the many hints that end up revealing the final themes. Disney has done a great job yet again and they continue to dodge all of the doubt thrown their way by making quality products.
I give Toy Story 4 an A.