While the necessity of this sequel is a debatable issue, Woody and Buzz's latest adventure proves irresistibly appealing.
Watching Toy Story 3’s tearful ending and seeing Woody part ways with long-time owner Andy as he drove off to college, it felt as though this particular story had come to a satisfying conclusion. There appeared to be no ground left to cover without tarnishing the integrity of the original trilogy. Only this wasn’t the case thanks to the two terrific (if forgettable) shorts Toy Story of Terror! and Toy Story That Time Forgot that acted as brief interludes between Pixar releases. Now, a fully-fledged sequel (fourquel??) has been met with a mixture of excitement but trepidation as to whether it will hold up with the previous three. Thankfully, after all the delays and production issues, Toy Story 4 is somehow another delightful instalment in Pixar’s most beloved franchise, sure to satisfy generations of fans who grew up with these films, yet also an addition to the canon with a somewhat self-contained feel.
After the events of Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang are with their new owner Bonnie, who is about to start kindergarten despite her fears of fitting in. During her orientation, she literally makes a new friend out of a spork and some pipe cleaners named Forky (Tony Hale), who, like the other toys, comes alive when the kids aren’t looking – but believes he is trash, in spite of Woody’s many objections. This conflict reaches its boiling point during a road trip with Bonnie’s family when both Woody and Forky are separated from the group. Soon enough, another adventure begins involving new toys but some old ones too.
From the outset, on a visual scale there is no denying that Pixar are complete masters of their craft. Their style of 3D computer-graphic animation is immediately noticeable. Rewatching the first Toy Story beforehand and realising how revolutionary that was over 20 years ago, and then comparing it to this, it’s abundantly clear as to how far the art form has progressed since John Lasseter first introduced the world to Andy’s bedroom toys all those years back.
In that time Pixar have also proven that they are masters of storytelling and, quite miraculously, after three-quarters of the script was rewritten during production, the studio has showcased that again. Credited screenwriters Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton have formed a narrative that is exciting, wholeheartedly entertaining and manages to justify why this film exists. Pixar, unlike many other animation houses, always has an emotional resonance underpinning their films that groups of all ages can connect with in some capacity. Toy Story 4 is no exception, especially impressive considering it’s the fourth of these movies. During the film, Woody is reunited with his earlier sweetheart Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and there is a romantic subplot between them that runs throughout. Normally this would seem pretty cliché in a family animated movie, but, at times when their relationship is really put to the test, you want these two to succeed. Not only because of their history together, as the nature of their personalities mean you can emotionally engage with their dilemma on a human level.
Even though audiences will have plenty of fun seeing familiar faces once more, it’s fair to say that the new additions have a tough task to live up to. Luckily, they don’t disappoint. A plush toy duo called Ducky and Bunny, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), are fabulous comic relief, featuring in a sequence that produces one of the biggest laughs of the entire film. On the other end of the scale, Christina Hendricks as ’50s doll Gabby Gabby, along with her ventriloquist dummy henchmen, might evoke a few creepy scares. Man of the moment Keanu Reeves is smart casting as Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil toy suffering from low self-esteem. There is a wonderful moment involving Duke where the film slips into self-parody that was both daring and hilarious.
Even though Toy Story 4 is able to evolve the characters and provide an abundance of laughter, some viewers may find a nagging sense that the reset button has been pressed slightly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s why this story can stand on its own separate from the original trilogy. Now Andy is in college, it seems to act in its very own bubble. Given that the location has moved from the leafy suburbs to an outdoor carnival with a handful of new toys joining the fun, it could be interpreted as the beginning of a new era rather than the end of an old one.
Nevertheless, Toy Story 4 was incredibly enjoyable from beginning to end. If Toy Story 3 was the completion of the main arc, this can be seen as the resulting epilogue. Without spoiling anything, Pixar seem to have reached a definite sense of finality with a grandstanding emotional punch. If this is to be it for everyone’s favourite toys, Pixar have sent them out on an immensely satisfying high.
Toy Story 4 (2019), directed by Josh Cooley, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK, certificate U.