REVIEW: Toy Story 4 (Spoiler Free)

This isn’t falling – this IS flying, with style.

With the creation of a new toy from a spork surging discourse in Bonnie’s toy box, Woody embarks on a quest to ensure Bonnie’s new best friend, Forky, understands the value of making his child happy.

Its so extremely rare to get a perfect trilogy of films; somehow though, the Toy Story trilogy managed just that. With no where near a shred of negativity to spawn from any of the past three instalments, I do not think I have ever been more in fear of a film sequel since the announcement of Toy Story 4 … and for good reason. Outside the fact that Pixar had pulled off the impossible and made a flawless trilogy but, in recent years, the once highly celebrated animation studio really have done nothing but bank on some rather lacklustre franchising attempts of their greatest hits. Despite movies like Finding Dory or Incredibles 2 being genuinely fine films, the everlasting problem I continue to have with them is purely the fact they’re good – but not Pixar good. Since Toy Story 3 in 2010, Pixar have only really blown me away twice with Inside Out and Coco; although, for a studio which used to roll out hit after hit, the past few years just honestly haven’t been good enough. So, I’ll say it again, in a current era of lacklustre Pixar productions and following on after the perfect conclusion to the perfect series, I was sh*t scared of if Toy Story 4 would be good or not … honestly, my expectations were so high, Toy Story 4 needed to be perfect and I wouldn’t take “good” for an answer.

So what did I think?

Toy Story 4 was pretty flawless.

I’m happy I waited a few days to review this film rather than just immediately jump right into it, or else my thoughts may have been too scattered and caught up in passion to extrapolate in detail what I clearly thought about Toy Story 4. I think the big question is: did I think this film was necessary? No, not really. Then again, was Toy Story 2 necessary? Thing is, if you were to ask the question whether most art is necessary, the answer would usually be no. However, the pure fact that art exists – the fact that Toy Story 4 exists – means something more. Its very… intriguing.

From the outset, Toy Story 4 was really like any other Toy Story film; it was singular in its narrative. The special thing about the Toy Story films is how separate they can all be between one another; you don’t necessarily need to watch one to understand the other, they all, more-or-less, stand on their own. Toy Story 4 could be perceived as just another episodic adventure in the series, but, then again, aren’t they all? Toy Story 3 may have closed one chapter of the story, but evidently there was more story to tell, in places one may have not considered to once look. Toy Story 4 was almost like the extra bonus material that, yeah, is bonus material for a reason, but, damn, are we lucky to have it.

The reason I say bonus material is because Toy Story 4 took the story of Woody and the gang further than the bounds we thought capable for the story to go; appropriately, this film almost went beyond infinity to tell its story … and here’s why.

The Toy Story films have always been about an amalgamation of themes; delving into concepts surrounding the human condition, so profoundly, that no child animation should have the right to. Delving into ideas of friendship, the fear of abandonment, coming-of-age, immortality and, even, finding the meaning of life, the Toy Story films have managed to use these themes to compliment one another and grow them with each installment. If you ask me, the primary theme or, at the very least, metaphor I believe these films to undertake is that of parenting. As seen in the first Toy Story, the audience are subtly introduced to a fatherless Andy who’s relationship with his toys almost stand in as a substitute for his absent father. Debatable what may have happened to Andy’s father, whether he died or got remarried, but considering the films deal with abandonment issues so deeply through the paranoia and angst of the toys, it would not surprise me if Andy’s father abandoned his family, leaving his son no choice but to turn to the most manly toy he had to fill that void … that toy being Woody. To quote Andy, “the thing that makes Woody special is he’ll never give up on you… ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what” – sounds a lot like a kid with daddy issues if you ask me. And yeah, we have the Woody and Buzz rivalry, that could be determined as a parent’s jealousness over their child’s admiration for a possible idol in the media (especially if that idol is more manly than the father). Yet, if we were to follow the character of Woody further and highlight him as the protagonist of these films, then the sequels only build on this idea involving parenthood much stronger.

You see, in Toy Story 2, Woody is first faced with the prospect that his relationship with Andy has an expiry date, much like a child will eventually grow away from their parents. Although, Woody decides to accept this inevitable fate and continues to help Andy grow anyway, like any parent would. Toy Story 3 is then almost explanatory; Woody finally comes to terms with the fact his job raising Andy is done and, like a son, Woody is forced to watch Andy drive out of his life. In Toy Story 3, Woody learns to let go like the natural progression of a real-life parent, satisfyingly concluding the arc that most films will usually end at when dealing with a theme like parenthood … but then, what does Toy Story 4 do if the story is kind of over? Well, that’s what’s interesting about it – the story technically isn’t over.

Toy Story 4 goes beyond infinity by questioning; what does a person do when their life purpose has been fulfilled? Parents spend the better half of two decades raising, caring and nurturing a new identity for a new human being that their purpose almost entirely becomes fulfilling the needs of that other human being. So then after that person moves on, an almost cathartic experience can happen to said parent – their purpose suddenly disappears. Having spent so much time building another’s identity, the parent finds themselves almost absent of their own identity – neither are they the person they were when they had the child or the person they were before they had the child. There’s a genuine period of time where a human being can fill lost which then, of course, calls back into question concepts involving Toy Story classic themes, as previously noted: friendships, abandonment, coming-of-age, immortality and the meaning of life.

In Toy Story 4, the audience watches as the narrative chronicles Woody’s fear and confusion of the unknown – a new world absent of Andy and his purpose. The film sees Woody rely on friends to attempt to re-establish his identity. Woody also continues to fear abandonment as he wrestles with the idea of being a lost toy or, more appropriately, a human being lost in translation. Woody does indeed face a journey of coming-of-age in this film; but instead of the transition from childhood to adulthood, Woody moves between the grey area of parenthood to, well I guess, whatever lies beyond that. Returning to immortality, Woody attempts to make peace with the fact he is ageing and nothing will change the inevitability of the end. And when it comes to the meaning of life, well, Woody spends the entire film searching for a new purpose post-Andy.

So, when I return to the question whether Toy Story 4 was necessary, I would still have to say no … but as “art” this film was as necessary as some of Pixar’s greatest work.

(Pixar 2019)

Pixar were once (and occasionally still) known for breaking new ground, not just in animation, but in storytelling and theme work as well. Pixar films were never just entertaining flicks but real stories with real messages and, as a result, real power. Toy Story 4 was as groundbreaking in storytelling and themes as any of the studio’s Golden Age work and, for that, I consider this fourth entry a highpoint in Pixar’s recent slouch in quality, alongside modern classics like Inside Out and Coco. Then again with the team behind Inside Out working on Toy Story 4, I had an inkling Pixar had made sure they hired the best of the best to deliver a satisfying sequel.

Beyond the impressive work of the writing though, Toy Story 4 ticked a lot of boxes in the fields of animation, voice work and just genuine, good natured humour. Firstly, the animation for this film was gorgeous. Almost photorealistic at times, specifically with the featuring of an opening sequence set in the rain and a later confrontation with a cat making Toy Story 4 ridiculously intuitive with its visuals. Being as though the first Toy Story was also the first ever entirely CG animated feature in existence, it was great to see such love and respect go into the animation for the fourth installment, to not only show the growth of the artform but also the series in its general look and appeal. Also, Josh Cooley, who used Toy Story 4 as a directorial debut, was absolutely amazing. From his sweeping, transitioning opening credit shots alone, Cooley really proved exactly how well he worked behind the camera in making Toy Story 4 superb from a visual standpoint.

Going hand in hand was most of the voice work along with the humour and characterisations of new and old toys. To start, I loved the inclusions of the film’s resident goofy side characters like Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom (who was kind of like first film Buzz Lightyear in his characterisation) and also Key & Peele’s Bunny and Ducky. All three characters offered some well earned levity to the film’s proceedings with some genuine laugh out loud moments firing at a rapid rate over the course of the film. Toy Story 4 also introduced Tony Hale’s Forky, who realistically was used as a bit of a plot device, but at the very least did produce some good gags and a surprisingly deep introspective on life and finding one’s meaning.

Two characters I was kind of flawed by in Toy Story 4 though was Annie Potts’ Bo Peep and Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby. Usually in a narrative there are two types of characters: the ones that change and develop naturally and the ones who don’t develop but rather stay the same in order to service a change in individuals around them. The character of Bo Peep certainly took the latter of two said character types. Not only did she receive a brilliant upgrade and makeover from her one-dimensional role in previous Toy Story films but she also gave reason to a lot of the growth Woody was forced to go through over the course of the film. On the other hand, Gabby Gabby worked as the best antagonist the series has probably ever had. Maybe not as threatening as Lot-So or even Stinky Pete, Gabby Gabby was more written in creative and sympathetic ways to the point she almost anchored the film entirely when it came to raw emotion. And, like the rest of the cast, Hendricks nailed the voicework for the character – Gabby Gabby felt realer than ever.

Disappointingly though, a lot of the Toy Story legacy characters did take a backseat for the duration of the movie. Of course there was the death of Don Rickles, who voiced Mr Potato Head, which forced the character to be shunted to the background, taking others like Slinky, Rex and Mrs Potato Head with him. Apart from a final few scenes, Joan Cusack’s Jesse also felt rather detached from the story. Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear though – although given bulk screen time – did feel a little dumbed down in the film. Granted the character was cheapened a bit in Toy Story 3 as well, but, like Jesse, Buzz really only got his best moments towards the end of Toy Story 4. There was truthfully a moment (well two) between Woody and Buzz right towards the end of the film which nearly made me tear up… to be honest, if I watched this film a second time (which I will) I’ll probably cry at said scene.

Along with being humorous and tear-worthy at the same time, Toy Story 4 was also kind of horrifying with its use of ventriloquist dolls. In many ways, Toy Story 4 just refused to play it safe – and for good reason. From an animation series of this calibre with such amazing pedigree, you don’t want a film like this to be safe. Toy Story 4 needed to be daring and broad thinking. The film needed to be strong and… yeah, it managed to be. It damn sure managed to be!

Sure, Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the trilogy, but Toy Story 4 was the perfect opening of a new chapter. And if life is about anything, its about new chapters. I genuinely think I may love this film to the point I wouldn’t think it too crude to say I loved it to infinity and beyond.

Toy Story 4 is, in fact… LOST ART


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