Nine years ago, Toy Story 3 was released and capped off what is one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. Believed to be the last in the franchise, it was a beautiful ending that didn’t necessarily call for anything further. But now, the 24 year old franchise returns for one last adventure with Andy’s, and now Bonnie’s, favourite toys.
Toy Story 4 takes the toys we’ve come to know and love on a road-trip adventure full of love, danger, and surprises. The toys are accompanied by a new member, hand-made by Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), named Forky (Tony Hale) who proves to be a lot of work for Woody (Tom Hanks) to control. Their adventure sees them come across an old friend, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) who has found a new purpose in life.
Toy Story 4 already has a repertoire of incredible established characters from the last three films, and when this film starts, it’s like they never left the last time we saw them (in a feature film) back in 2010. It’s very easy to get right back into the swing of things and the lead-in to this adventure is very natural, very fast, and just like another day in the life of these toys. The writing team have done a great job to make this feel like a worthy and fitting continuation of the Toy Story franchise whilst also offering something new.
The opening sequence of this film is phenomenal. The Toy Story sequels are known for their opening sequences being something to remember. Toy Story 4 does something different with its opening sequence and it’s quite possibly the best part of the entire movie. It plays into setting up one of the main components of the story and making sure everyone who is watching this is on the same page as far as the timeline of events.
From there, the adventure kicks off and it’s a very fun ride. There’s highs and lows where the story takes some occasional dips, but as a whole it’s thoroughly enjoyable. It’s nowhere near as straightforward of a story that I initially thought it would be. There are a number of pleasant surprises that have to do with directions taken with new characters and also just how they keep the film constantly moving. I was engaged for the majority of the film, however, a lot of it takes place within this antique store which I started to lose a little bit of interest in as time went on. The events in the store were fun and part of the story, I just think the one location grew old more and more as time went on. Had they moved on from that location entirely around half way through it wouldn’t have felt as stagnant.
As far as the humour goes, it’s very much in line with the humour of the previous films. The same mix of quick witty dialogue, visual humour, and physical humour for the younger audiences. It’s that blend that gives the film a sense of character that appeals to all audiences both young and old. There’s even the occasional subtle comedic callback to the previous films that act as a nice little touch for those who remember the others. It will no doubt have you laughing as it’s all very lighthearted family-friendly humour anyone can get into.
Most of the humour hit, but not all of it worked. A lot of the humour from Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key‘s characters Bunny and Ducky didn’t hit anywhere near as well as I thought it would. Even in terms of the story, the two of them weren’t really all that necessary. You could wipe them out and not change the story in the slightest, at most have them be a part of one or two scenes and then move on. They stuck around for way too long and barely contributed to the humour which ironically is the reason they stuck around for so long. It’s a shame considering the comedic talent of that duo.
As far as the time spent on new and old characters, there’s definitely a clear split where a lot of the already introduced characters are limited to a handful of scenes. When it comes to the old cast, there’s a large focus on Woody, Bo Peep, and Buzz (Tim Allen), with Bonnie (Joan Cusack) having a moment here and there. The rest of the screen-time goes to new characters including Forky, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), and Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), all of whom are good characters. This does mean characters such as Slinky (Blake Clark), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) don’t have much to do. They have lines, and are present in the movie but don’t play a part in the main story.
The lack of lines for Mr Potato Head is understandable with the recent passing of comedy legend Don Rickles. As unfortunate as it is for the older cast it is good for the movie as that’s what allows it to go in a new direction different from the previous films. The direction taken with Gabby Gabby is a good one and adds more to the film than just some occasional conflict. Forky’s arc, which is what drives the plot forward, is one that really works and comes full circle in a beautiful way. The dynamic between Woody and Bo Peep is something that had a small role in the first film, but here that’s the core relationship being highlighted the entire time. Their story and their journey through this film is riveting and the most engaging plot-line in here.
From a technical standpoint, Pixar have done it again because the animation here is beyond stunning. There are a number of scenes in here you can’t help but admire because of the beauty of how clean, crisp, and realistic they are. The work that has gone into every intricate detail pays off as it’s one of the most beautiful animations to ever exist. Then you get to Randy Newman‘s music and score which aside from the opening scene is the best thing in the movie. No matter how good the story is, this would not be a Toy Story movie without Randy Newman’s touch. Not only is the new music he’s conducted incredible, but all of the cues he brings back from previous films play to that nostalgia factor which is very strong with some older audiences.
Performance-wise, the regulars are as good as always. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen just jump right back into Woody and Buzz as easy as anything. They’re great but the real standout performance is from Annie Potts who returns to Bo Peep after a long 20-year absence. This is a very different Bo Peep than we remember and Potts does an amazing job bringing her to life. I’d go so far as to say that once she appears in the film she becomes the main character. I know Woody and Forky no doubt get a lot more screen-time but whenever she is on screen she draws all the attention. Tony Hale is more than perfect as Forky and gives him that shy and timid personality that works so well in the context of everything going on.
In the end, Toy Story 4 proves that the franchise did have more to offer after the conclusion of the trilogy with a fun adventure that now, surely, caps off the franchise. It’s emotional, engaging, and just an all-round fun ride from beginning to end. It has its issues and areas of improvement, but the music, animation, and the relationship between Woody and Bo Peep elevate everything to where it’s a great watch for the whole family.