Directed by: Josh Cooley
Written by: Andrew Stanton & Stephany Folsom
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
The rise of Pixar began with 1995’s Toy Story and they have continued to make art that entertains children and explores themes that resonate with adults. This has led to them creating some of the most adored films in popular culture and they have solidified their brand as the types of movies guaranteed to make the audience cry. Additionally, except for the Cars trilogy, Pixar has been able to create effective sequels that at times supersede the originals. While this fourth entry to the Toy Story saga does not measure up to the first three, it still carries incredible emotional weight.
After being donated to Bonnie by Andy at the end of Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang need to adjust to the whims of their new owner. Woody, who relished being Andy’s favorite, doesn’t really work for Bonnie and she prefers to play with other toys, even giving the sheriff badge over to Jesse (Joan Cusack). With Bonnie starting kindergarten, Woody becomes worrisome about her adjustment and follows her to the classroom where in order to protect her, he creates a toy out of different crafts named Forky (Tony Hale). This new toy is unaware of what it means to be a toy and only sees itself as trash but quickly becomes Bonnie’s new toy.
Admittedly, when I first heard of the creation of this fourth installment of the franchise, I became very cynical about why it was even being made. The first three films crafted a perfect trilogy with thematic throughlines that came to their perfect conclusion. Toy Story 4 still has a great story, because the creators behind all of these films know these characters and how to further challenge them, but it feels like an unnecessary addition to an overall narrative that did not need another adventure. Despite my disappointment with its creation, Toy Story 4 still has plenty to love, especially the animation.
With Toy Story in 1995, the use of computer animation was introduced and it changed the way those types of films could look. This latest installment demonstrates graphics that look better than ever. The animation appears so profound and detailed that it even looks live-action at some points during the film. Everything looks so crisp and the design of the characters has never looked more beautiful on screen. It shows how far Pixar has come and how they continue to improve the way they present their stories.
Through this story, it continues the arc of Woody and pretty much sidelines everyone else. Woody learns that he will not always be the favorite toy and the introduction of Forky and the reunification with Bo Peep allows him to reflect on his true value. That character arc certainly works and this existential battle has been on this franchise’s mind from the very beginning. As a whole, all of these movies start with a premise that we just accept as audience members, which revolves around believing toys are their own sentient beings that arise when humans look away. It raises plenty of questions that could be asked about their existence and the morality of owning them but because these stories gear towards children, it’s easy to look past it. This film doubles down on the existential crises these toys have to endure through the character of Forky.
Constructed by a bunch of items and trash, Forky believes his purpose and meaning belong in a dumpster. Woody continually has to fight him off from jumping back into the various trash cans they pass by. The creation of this character raises questions about how exactly any toy becomes sentient. Woody just put together a bunch of craft items and once he put some semblance of arms, legs, and googly eyes on a spork, it then becomes something that can think and feel? It’s quite something to think about and I could not help but go down that rabbit hole about what or who can create life in this universe.
Once again, I will move past all of that because the film’s philosophical ideas are sound and Woody reflecting on what he wants to be in the next portion of his undefined toy life allows him to think of a toy’s value. In his journey, he runs into a group of toys that have been abandoned and have a different view of what it means to have an owner. Woody has always been very loyal and spends much of the film trying to get Forky back to Bonnie, while the other toys have a jaded view towards humanity and want to live for themselves. It creates a clash of ideas that drive the thematic elements of the film.
All of the other toys exist in the film for the hijinks of it all as they get wrapped up in some silly subplot just to have them doing something in the story. However, the addition of one new toy was very welcomed and that was Duke Caboom voiced by Keanu Reeves. 2019 will be known as the year of Keanu and I love every second of it. He voices a Canadian daredevil toy and has all the energy one could need from this type of character. Every time he appeared on screen, I would start laughing, which also adds to the point that Toy Story 4 quickly became the funniest installment of the franchise. With the addition of Keanu along with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as Bunny and Ducky, they add so much humor and I found myself laughing much more than I did with the first three.
In the end, while I wish the film did not exist, it’s undeniable that Toy Story 4 is a well-constructed and funny film that has some interesting philosophical ideas on its mind. It serves as a good conclusion for Woody and his character arc going back to 1995. The ending will certainly cause some tears as commonplace for Pixar films as they deliver another success in their filmography.