Review: Toy Story 4

Now it’s actually been a couple of days since I went to see the new Toy Story movie in theatres, but I’m still in recovery mode from surgery and haven’t quite wanted to jump on and write until now. Regarding the movie, I didn’t want it. I thought it was completely unnecessary. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Toy Story 3 was a perfect ending. One of the most perfect endings in all of cinema history if you ask me. But then here comes the true end of the Toy Story saga, or so says Disney. And boy am I glad that they kept going πŸ™‚ It took a while for me to really understand why I enjoyed this film, but apart from it being simply fantastic and delightful, the arc given our friend Sheriff Woody is stunningly beautiful and fitting. This movie belongs in the franchise, pulling just as much weight and giving us all the feels too.
The movie picks up 2 years after college-bound Andy donates his remaining toys to Bonnie, a little girl now starting Kindergarten. Woody and Buzz and most of the gang are back in addition to a few new friends including “Forky”, a toy created from trash by Bonnie at her Kindergarten orientation. The spork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner arms, and popsicle stick legs is an instantly lovable character, but being made of trash he feels most comfortable not in the arms of the little girl who treasures him, but rather in whatever pile of garbage is closest to him at the moment. This way of thinking leads Forky to abandon Bonnie on a road trip by jumping out of a window, thereby prompting none other than Sheriff Woody to do the same in an effort to bring him back. After convincing Forky of Bonnie’s love for him, the pair run into old friends and a new nemesis, a Gabby Gabby doll, who captures Forky. This means that once more, our hero Woody must enlist the help of his best pal Buzz Lightyear and several new toys (this time he finds them at a nearby carnival) in his daring attempt to rescue Forky and return him to Bonnie before it’s too late. (None of this is actual spoilers if you have seen the movie trailers)
At it’s core, this one follows a typical Toy Story plot: One (or several) of the toys are taken and the others must try to rescue them. In the first movie it was Buzz held captive by Sid, the second movie had Woody held captive by Stinky Pete (or even himself), and the third movie had several toys held captive by Lotso. Pixar makes these movies easy to understand for kids while also incredibly profound for adults, and they’re damn good at it. The best description I’ve heard for the reason behind a fourth film (other than Disney making more of that sweet, sweet dough) is that while the last movie brought a close to Andy’s story, this one brings a close to Woody’s story. But a final franchise movie is more than just closing a story, it also has to have continuity and meaning and the ability to stand on its own, and that’s where this movie is truly a success.
The first three Toy Story films taught us that the truest meaning of a toy’s life is to bring joy to their child and in doing so find fulfillment, as we watch Woody and the gang time and time again trying to find their way back to Andy (and Molly) and rescue other toys in the process. So then the problem I initially had with Toy Story 4 is that they seemingly attempted to introduce a new, truer-er meaning for the life of a toy: to find fulfillment in life after an owner too. And I was just so stuck on thinking “That’s just not the cake I’ve been served for 24 years. Don’t serve me that cake Pixar.” But these movies, especially now the fourth, are to be understood from Woody’s perspective, not Andy’s or anyone else’s. The humans are side-plots. Yes, their perspectives are important (in all four films), but it’s Woody who we have been following and listening to from the beginning to find wisdom on what it means to be a toy. In the first film, he screams at Buzz, “You are a child’s plaything!” In the second film, Buzz tells Woody, “[You] taught me that life is only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.” And finally, in the third film Andy tells Bonnie as he is giving her the box of his oldest and dearest friends, “The thing that makes Woody special, is he’ll never give up on you…ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what” (I’m not crying, you’re crying). So then now in the (hopefully) final film, Woody’s arc draws to a conclusion as he begins to realize that Bonnie doesn’t need him anymore. He hasn’t given up on her, and he’s lived his life as a child’s plaything, loved by Andy and Bonnie. This film is Woody’s realization that maybe there is more to being a toy. And now that is something special, because it’s really not Pixar changing directions, but rather pulling down the beautiful illusion of an end to the road to find an even more exquisite diner and rest area just ahead. So I hope that explosion of thinking all makes sense πŸ™‚
There are still likes and dislikes I have for this movie, but I only contribute them to the quality of this film as an individual, because separate from them are the reasons why I enjoy this movie as part of the franchise. What I liked about this film: 1) Keanu Reeves voices Duke Caboom. This guy is just a great human being and it’s great to see that he’s having quite the year. 2) Ducky and Bunny are voiced by Key and Peele, and their humor fits this movie so perfectly. There was a lot of organic laughter. I’m glad they weren’t introduced sooner because it could have been a little distracting, but it’s exactly what this one needed. 3) The villain, Gabby Gabby, and her henchman were not the typical bad guy from these films, but were instead used in a big service of Woody’s existential crisis that even he was unaware of at the time. However, they still presented the threat during the movie and ultimately were given a pretty big role that was much appreciated. 4) The setting is once again big, yet contained. They get this right every time, because the world that the toys get to explore feels so big but in reality the majority of the story is very contained to certain locations (a neighborhood, a building downtown, a day care center, a carnival). 5) The ending was once again, perfect.
What I didn’t like about this film is much less: 1) There was virtually no screen time for the old toys. They balanced this better in the second and third movies, the idea of introducing new toys yet maintaining a story with the older ones too. Not this time. Rex, Ham, Mr. Potato Head, and Slinky are virtually non-existent. 2) If you remember, Bo Peep is not in the third movie as a way of showing that things change as kids grow up, and I think that everyone understood and was okay with that. But then she’s brought back in this film, and although it’s done in a way that allows room for a story I feel like the first sequence in the movie (describing how she left) was quite unnecessary and muted the happy feeling I had to see her again.
Toy Story 4 reminds us that life will always carry on and we should remember to help as many people as we can. If you have seen all four Toy Story films, how would you rank them? (tough question, I know!) My order is: 1, 3, 4, 2. Toy Story was my very first movie I saw in theatres so it will always hold a special place in my heart, and although they are all very close to each other in rank, I also place the second movie last because Jessie bothers me a little and I feel like that is the only movie that doesn’t take a step forward in the story, other than acquiring new characters. They end up where they started, as Woody is reminded of his worth and joy in being Andy’s toy (but not a bad thing to be reminded of by any account). He is the true anchor to this franchise, and the final movie does a great job in taking him further in his character growth. It truly belongs as a part of this great set of animated films. I really enjoyed it, and I hope that you will too. Thanks for reading, cheers!

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