Homeward Bound?: A review of Toy Story 4

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Image owned by Pixar and Disney and from Vanyaland (The gang grows larger whether the new inductee likes it or not.)

Pixar could’ve,and for many, should’ve stuck with an acclaimed trilogy. Why risk soiling their flagship franchise’s reputation with a seemingly needless fourth entry?

How the third film resolved the story of Andy’s toys as they are accepted into a new loving owner seemed the best way to cap things off. Of course, there was always the possibility that new cinematic tales for Woody, Buzz, Jesse, Rex, Hamm, Slinky, the potato heads and others were possible.

In the nine year interim period, a series of shorts involving the toy’s post-TS3 lives were done perhaps to test the waters. Many didn’t seriously expect Pixar to up and actually do a fourth movie. That didn’t seem like a Pixar thing to do. Then again, this is a post-Cars 2 and 3 world.

By some miracle, Toy Story 4 manages not to be the inevitable misfire and rather a heartfelt, meaningful extended epilogue of sorts to its predecessor. There was still a bit more to explore in the honestly harrowing themes and ideas the G-rated series has perpetuated since 1995.

Impressive, considering Toy Story 1 is probably the first movie I consciously ever saw. Nice to start my cinematic lifespan on a cerebral note, not that I could really tell back then.

It all seemed so perfect for Woody and Buzz’s clan of toys, now joining up with a preschool girl’s own collection, which have the voices of Bonnie Hunt and Timothy Dalton among their numbers. The toys are well taken care of and played by their new loving owner, except for Tom Hanks’ Woody. In what really should’ve been less surprising for myself, Bonnie the girl prefers the girl cowboy Jesse( Joan Cusack) to the male. Imagine that!

During a stowaway trip to Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten, Woody helps create a new toy friend for Bonnie covertly, ultimately leading to the birth of Forky( Tony Hale). Forky, absolutely rudimentary as he is, being some basic craft material and a plastic spork with wooden ice cream sticks for legs, does bring up the question of how exactly are these toys alive? The movie and its denizens are just in the dark as we are.

Eventually, the internally conflicted Forky manages to escape both Woody and Bonnie’s presence during a family road trip. Woody goes in pursuit and the rest of the toys try to do what they can from the RV.

Yet again, Toy Story leans on an adventure of living toys out in the huge wide world. It is basically a prerequisite for the series because how interesting would a full movie be with the toys staying in the house? I can’t really blame Pixar for falling for this provably flexible formula, as Toy Story 4 fortunately shows off. Unlike the last three movies about the toys trying to get back to the house and their owner, 4 deals with the concept that perhaps there is a worthwhile life outside of the expected arrangement of a toy and his child.

Bo Peep (Annie Potts), whose absence from 3 is explained in detail, embodies this alternative to Woody as the latter struggles to convince the rogue Forky that Bonnie truly needs him.

Pixar films, like most movies meant for a general audience, isn’t really complex in the base tacks of what the plot is trying to do. It is the thematic undertones where Toy Story 4 proves justifiably complex. At times, as in the past, it is psychologically daunting to account fully for after one viewing. It’s not just the sentient living nature of the toys that come into play.

4 possibly leans into the subtext more than ever. Considering the majority of the series’ long term viewers are old enough to at least vote, perhaps it was to be expected that this all-ages film would be more explicit yet thankfully not blunt about its existential angst.

Calling these movies angsty sounds like a negative, but it is a well thought angst that will, in most cases, plague us all. Considerations of choice, obsolescence, free will, desire, belonging, purpose and love, be it intimate, familial and fraternal are showcased for a feature in which plenty of children that were easily under seven were at my showing.

It felt rather weird for such an artistically beautiful, polished film in every sense of the word to be attended as if this is meant for only audiences consisting of preschoolers, kindergartners and their parents, ever insistent on them telling them not to talk over the movie. Like I was so long ago.

Only one trailer before the film started had any promise in being appealing outside the lowest common denominator audience member or young children who would likely not remember ever having watched it: Frozen II. The rest was junk that seems ill-suited to preview the gold standard of not just family entertainment but entertainment that comes in the form of animation full stop.

Toy Story 4, like most Pixar films and a good number of Dreamworks’ output can be enjoyed without internal embarrassment by yourself as a grown man. The number of Oscars’ won by Pixar, if that really matters that much anymore, can attest to that.

What more I can say without spilling too much of the beans, is that it is not the best of the Toy Story films. It’s not the worst either. If anything, it calls into question how one can rank these movies.

Each film will have subjective ups and downs, things that contain in plot, character and overall presentation that make it for one person or the next the best or least best. It’s easy to say that the first Toy Story, after three great followups is the weakest because it’s been improved upon, not just in the quality of the computer graphic animation.

Yet the first film is still an internally consistent, quality tale of two toys with two very different outlooks on life learning to become one of the most well-known pals in cinematic history. You’re the judge, not me.

It’s not a case of how to rank them, it’s whether Pixar managed to make a fourth movie not only of the outward qualities like animation, line delivery and plot coherency, but of fidelity to its overarching story and series legacy. If you can’t tell by now, they did succeed in hitting all the right notes.

It’s funny, but not being overbearing in its attempt to make you laugh. It actually takes its time in setting up for the hilarity that will come. It does overlook or put to the side a considerable number of the toy cast, which may disappoint those who enjoyed the more ensemble-like journeys of the second and third films.

Even Buzz, while important, is sidelined by what is understandably, the story of Woody, Bo and Forky most of all, as well as an antagonist who is very much different in motivation and arc than anything that the series, perhaps Pixar itself, has done.

Make no mistake: for all the elements that will ring familiar to the prior three films, 4 has some new stuff or at least some new twists on the old that feel as new as they can be.

In the end, Toy Story 4 makes sense in existing more than it seemed when announced, which is exactly what should’ve been striven for. Pixar has become more uneven in the past decade, but this is not an off year. Imagine the response of a Toy Story film being a true letdown.

In a time when Hollywood seems to be drowning in pointless save-for-the-money sequels, remakes and soft reboots that lead nowhere, Toy Story 4 is the exception that may prove the rule.



Originally posted 2019-06-25 01:17:11.

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