Toy Story 4 (2019) Review

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND ONCE AGAIN.

UNECESSARY, YET STILL HEARTWARMING


 

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios released their first full length feature film titled Toy Story, which (taking place in a world where anthropomorphic toys come to life when humans are not present), the focused on the relationship between an old-fashioned pull-string cowboy doll named Woody and an astronaut action figure named Buzz Lightyear, as they evolve from rivals competing for the affections of their owner Andy Davis, to friends who work together to be reunited with him after being separated. The success of Toy Story paved the way for Pixar to flourish as dominant powerhouse, establishing itself as the first major animation studio to fully utilize 3D animation renderings for its motion pictures. Pixar did eventually return to Toy Story world with two sequels (1999’s Toy Story 2 and 2010’s Toy Story 3); evolving the various characters (old ones and new ones) and crafting a very entertaining and well-mannered (sometimes very emotional) charge energy within its narratives. The end of Toy Story 3 clearly seemed to end the franchise on a high note; closing off the proud and popular animated cinematic story the same way that its character had to so goodbye to their kid Andy….in a heartfelt goodbye. Now, roughly nine years since the end of Toy Story 3, Pixar Animation Studios (as well as Disney Studios) and director Josh Cooley return to the world of childhood toys of Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang in the movie Toy Story 4. Is this fourth entry to the Pixar beloved franchise worth a glance or is it a completely unnecessary installment from start to finish?

THE STORY


Two years have passed since the Toy Story gang said goodbye to Andy as their new kid Bonne (Madeline McGraw) is about to start kindergarten, and she doesn’t have much interest in playing with Woody (Tom Hanks) anymore, making Jessie (Joan Cusack) the new sheriff deputy. Determined to his protect his kid, Woody secretly joins Bonnie for her orientation day at kindergarten, where she builds a plaything character out of a spork, calling the creation Forky (Tony Hale). Falling in love with the new toy, Bonnie tries to keep Forky close, but the plastic being just wants to remain the trash; finding Woody’s job of managing the simple-minded utensil creation to be a handful. During a road trip with Bonnie’s family, Forky gets lost, forcing Woody to bring him back home, but the pair soon find themselves inside an antique shop, with the doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) determined to steal Woody’s voice-box, making her a precious toy once again. Coming to Woody’s rescue is Bo Peep (Annie Potts), with the former children’s lamp decoration now in charge of a rescue team to help lost toys. In meantime, while Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) plans to find and rescue Woody and Forky before Bonne and her family leave without them, Woody warms back up to Bo Peep and begins to unburden the secret he has buried deep within.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Like many of my generation, I literally (and figuratively) grew up watching the Toy Story movies. I remember I saw the first movie (in theaters) when I was ten and absolutely loved it. To me, the story was great and the characters were memorable (including the voices behind them), but I really was blown away by the 3D animation style of the movie, which was revolutionary for its time against hand drawn 2D animation. As mentioned above, Toy Story launched Pixar into being a major animation studio in both its visual style and signature touches heartwarming nuances with lighthearted fun in children’s entertainment. The two Toy Story sequel were also great (even slightly better than the original) and pushed the boundaries of animation and storytelling to new heights….at least in my opinion. Much the character of Andy Davis in these movies, I grew up watching these characters and felt the thematic beats in the two sequels were extremely palpable to my own life of childhood, growing up, and moving on / saying goodbye to such things. It’s definitely a fundamental aspect that we all go through and it’s something that truly resonates with me. I mean…. honestly…. who didn’t cry / tear up at Jessie’s flashback montage scene in Toy Story 2 or that final scene in Toy Story 3? I know I surely did. On top of that, the continued improvements of visual animation at Pixar and the incredible voice selections deliver in spades in these sequels. Plus, Toy Story 3 clearly ended on such a great and deeply satisfying note by closing out the story in a trilogy farewell send-off. In the end, the Toy Story franchise stands as a pinnacle of both Pixar and children’s entertainment.

This, of course, brings me around to talking about Toy Story 4, the fourth installment in the Toy Story franchise. Like I said above, Toy Story 3 really did a great job in closing out the franchise (as a trilogy) and gave a definitive ending to the beloved Pixar series. However, I was kind of surprised when Disney / Pixar announced that they were gonna ahead with a fourth Toy Story movie. I was thinking “what could they do with property now?” as I’m sure a lot of people out there were thinking the same thing, but the idea of “reopening” the franchise did come with some intrigue. Of course, this meant that Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Hamm, Rex, and the rest of the gang were gonna be back on the big screen once again (plenty of childhood nostalgia) as well as the voice talents behind them all announced that they were too gonna be back for the newest entry. So, despite having some mixed feelings about the film, Toy Story 4 was definitely on my radar to see this summer, especially since the movie’s marketing campaign (movie trailers, TV spots, and other promos) was heavily utilized and could be seeing everywhere. So, I went to see it during it’s opening night….and what did I think of it? Well, despite being an unnecessary installment, Toy Story 4 is still another win for Pixar and displays a wholesome value in its characters, animation, and storytelling. It’s probably the weakest entry in the franchise, but it could definitely beat out some other animated features that are currently out there.

Toy Story 4 is directed by Josh Cooley, who makes his directorial feature film debut with the movie. With his background steeped in Pixar animation past projects as a storyboard artist (Cars, Ratatouille, and Up) and a writer (Toy Story Toons: Small Fry, Riley’s First Date, and Inside Out), Cooley seems like a practically choice to direct this particular film; understanding the ins and outs of the company’s signature and how to capture the essence of the beloved Toy Story franchise. To that regard, Cooley succeeds. There are plenty of first-time directors that fail / fumble int their first attempt of directing a feature film, especially one that is considered a “high profile” theatrical release endeavor, but Cooley approaches Toy Story 4 with a sense of respect and admiration for the franchise (as a whole) and makes this fourth installment enjoyable. For the most part, Cooley makes Toy Story 4 feel very much like the past Toy Story entries by displaying various elements of the past (i.e. drama, comedy, heart, etc.) into the feature and blending it all together in a very well-mannered / meaningful way. Additionally, like the other previous films, Cooley makes the movie accessible to all ages….be it longtime fans or new ones, which keeps the feature interesting, humorous, and heartfelt throughout. In the end, Cooley’s directorial debut with Toy Story 4 is an ultimate win for him and proudly joins the other Toy Story directors (i.e. John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich).

Toy Story 4’s story / script is handled by a great host of contributors, including Cooley as well as John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Valerie LaPointe, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, and Rashida Jones. The thematic messages in the Toy Story movies have always been profound and emotional driven by capturing the essence of childhood, wanting to be loved by another, the changing of times (i.e. growing up). The story in this movie, while not as strong as its predecessors (more on that below) is still palpable and moving, especially in examining Woody’s journey. In a nutshell, the themes of “moving on” after losing someone is heavily utilized in his character build (i.e. Bo Peep and Andy) as well as the personal notion of “finding yourself” in that certain circumstances. Additionally, the film discusses the “freedom” that Bo Peep feels on being a “lost toy” as well as the “longing” to be loved by a kid from Gabby Gabby’s backstory. Pixar’s themes and signature heartwarming nuances have always been universal to all (regardless of race, gender, nationality, or creed) and it’s certainly on full display here. Again, it’s not as “heavy hitting” as the past Toy Story films, but it is still quite compelling.

Another really big positive for the film is in the technical visual presentation, which many Pixar animated feature films strive for “excellence” in that regard. To be quite sure, Toy Story 4 doesn’t disappoint in this particular aspect as its presentation looks simply spectacular for animated endeavor. Colors are vibrant and bright, the details of everything are quite intricate and almost life-like (i.e. cobwebs, dust, and spiderwebs), and all the characters (be it human or toy) are brought to life with realism and a polish (or dull) looking within their respect physical nuances. So, the entire visual animation staff that worked on Toy Story 4 should be highly praised for their efforts. Plus, like the other Toy Story movies, composer Randy Newman returns to score the music for the film and certainly doesn’t miss a melodic beat his composition pieces. Plus, it’s always great to hear the classic Toy Story song “You Got a Friend in Me” in the movie’s opening sequence.

Unfortunately, Toy Story 4, despite a lot of positive remarks and solid foundation to stand upon, does fall short in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the most prevalent one (that immediately comes to mind) is the simply fact of Toy Story 4 itself was made. I mentioned above, Toy Story 3 was a great way to end the franchise in a highly emotional and deeply satisfying way; showcasing that Pixar was gonna “close out” the beloved Toy Story saga as a trilogy and say goodbye to Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang. Thus, Toy Story 4 is just another way to “reopen” the warm nostalgia of the past of Pixar’s legacy and to capitalize upon its lucrative money-making wealth as Pixar returns to the best franchise in its arsenal. Again, I just personally feel that the movie feels unnecessary as the Toy Story franchise, despite its popularity with all ages, doesn’t warrant another feature installment. It’s like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which is also owned by Disney. Despite what people might think of them, the first three Pirates movies told a story and concluded its tale within the third installment. However, Disney (capitalizing its success) produced a fourth and fifth Pirates movie, which were subpar to the original three. I know it’s kind of hard to compare “apples to apples” between the Toy Story franchise and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but you know what I mean. Thus, Toy Story 4 just feels unnecessary and represents another “cash and grab” ploy from Disney / Pixar.

Of course, the movie is still a very well-structured animated film (especially coming from Pixar Animation Studios), but it feels like the weakest installment of the now four feature films in the franchise. This is most apparent when making the comparisons to the visually groundbreaking first film, the highly enjoyable charged second movie, and the highly emotional and perfect sendoff third installment to cap off the Toy Story trilogy altogether. So, what does Toy Story 4 bring to the table? Well, it’s all the base formulas of the past entries (i.e. likeable characters, strong voice talents, meaningful themes / messages, funny humor, etc.), but it doesn’t really push the boundaries in breaking new ground into the franchise. As mentioned earlier, the film’s script is wholesome and certainly feels like a continuation to where the last film ended, but the movie struggles in trying to being strong enough to compete with its predecessors. That’s the main problem with the movie as neither Cooley or the plethora of people who worked on the story / script for the film have a way to bring Toy Story 4 to the same level as the previous installments. Maybe the whole “too many cooks in the kitchen” catchphrase plays an instrumental part in this criticism, but the movie just doesn’t feel strong enough to the other Toy Story features. There’s also an unbalanced of its roster of characters, but I’ll mention that one below. Thus, Toy Story 4 just feels like an epilogue extension to the end of Toy Story 3 rather than providing a strong reason to revisit this franchise within a fourth installment.

Much like the previous films, Toy Story 4 boast an incredible roster of actors and actresses to provide the voiceover work for the various character throughout the feature. The result is something fantastic with a lot of voice talents being “veterans” of the Toy Story franchise, while new ones (debuting the movie) are welcomed additions. As to be expected, the character of Woody takes centerstage once again in this fourth installment of the Toy Story franchise, who is once again played by actor Tom Hanks. Known for his roles in Apollo 13, Big, and Forest Gump, Hanks definitely knows this character inside and out since he first made his debut back in 1995. Thus, Hanks’s voicework (knowing the highs and lows of Woody’s voice range in various scenes) is quite impeccable and definitely imbues the character’s personality threw his voices. Like I mentioned above, Woody’s journey in the movie is also quite interesting and showcases a different side to everyone’s “favorite deputy”. Likewise, actor Tim Allen, known for his roles in Home Improvement, The Last Man Standing, and The Santa Clause, returns to reprise his role as headstrong space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Of course, much like Hanks, Allen definitely knows the mindset of this character and easily slides back into the role and provides to a compliment companion to the character of Woody. The only problem is that the character of Buzz Lightyear isn’t as quite as important as he was in the previous Toy Story movies. He’s seeing throughout the film, but feels, more or less, a side-character. Of course, Woody has always been the “true star” of the franchise, with Buzz being the second main character. Unfortunately, due to how the story plays out, Buzz’s role in the film isn’t as important to the main storyline thread as in the previous installments. Toy Story 4 also makes the character of Bo Peep a central figure in its narrative, with actress Annie Potts (Young Sheldon and Designing Women) returning to the role since she provided the voice for the character in Toy Story 2. Potts certainly makes Bo Peep feel more like a gunslinger architype, showcasing how much the character has changed since she became a “lost toy”, with her reconnecting with Woody playing an instrumental part of the film.

Of the newcomers that make their appearance in Toy Story 4, perhaps the best one (or rather best ones) are actually the characters of Duck and Bunny, who are played by actor Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu and Pitch Perfect 2) and actor / director Jordan Peele (Get Out and Us). With duo behind Key and Peele together again, they’re genuine rapport with each other is definitely fit with their involvement in the movie; making Duck and Bunny’s witty back and forth banter truly memorable in Toy Story 4. And yes…the whole “Plush Rush” scene definitely got me laughing out loud. Behind those two, the other memorable new character is Forky, the simple-minded / yet loveable creation by Bonnie. Played by actor Tony Hale (Veep and Love, Simon), the character of Forky definitely acts as a sort of “catalyst” for much of the main events in the feature (a sort of McGuffin), but definitely comes into his own, with Hale’s comedic timing and voicework perfectly matching the inherit neurotic goofiness / dimwittedness that makes Forky so endearing to watch throughout the feature. Next, in a somewhat surprising role actor Keanu Reeves (John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and The Matrix trilogy) is actually in Toy Story 4….playing the character of Duke Kaboom, a Canadian motorcycle daredevil toy. Though the character doesn’t amount to nothing more than a side supporting character the feature, it’s really quite amusing to have Reeves doing a voice in a Toy Story. Just hearing him say “Gabby Gabby” or “Duke Kaboom” made me chuckle in fun. Other newcomers like actress Christina Hendricks (Mad Men and The Neon Demon) as Gabby Gabby and actress Ally Maki (Wrecked and Cloak and Dagger) as Giggles McDimples provide great voicework in their respective characters in the movie. Additional voiceover for several other minor characters includes young actress Madeline McGraw (Outcast and American Sniper) as Bonnie (Emily Hahn provided the voice of Bonnie in Toy Story 3), actress Lori Alan (Family Guy and SpongeBob SquarePants) and actor Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad and Bad Moms) as Bonnie’s mom and dad.

With a lot of focus on Woody’s journey with Forky and Bo Peep and their dealings with Gabby Gabby (as well as several new additions mentioned above), the remainder of the Toy Story gang, including actress Joan Cusack (Working Girl and School of Rock) as Jessie, actor Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride and The Incredibles) as Rex, actor John Ratzenberger (Cheers and Legit) as Hamm, actor Blake Clark (50 First Dates and Boy Meets World) as Slinky Dog, the late actor Don Rickles (Kelley’s Heroes and Casino) as Mr. Potato Head, actress Estelle Harris (Seinfeld and Greetings from Home) as Ms. Potato Head, actress Bonnie Hunt (Jumanji and Life with Bonnie) as Dolly, actress Kristen Schaal (Gravity Falls and The Last Man on Earth), actor Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Goldbergs) as Buttercup, and actor Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights and Flash Gordon) as Mr. Pricklepants, play more minor secondary roles in Toy Story 4. Given the story structure of the film, this seemed like obvious choice. However, the sacrifice screen time of these beloved characters of the franchise is definitely felt in the movie.

Lastly, in a somewhat of a departure from the “norm” of Pixar movie releases, Toy Story 4 does not feature a Pixar animated short before the feature. While some might like this notion (considering the backlash of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure short proceeding Coco), I was a little bit disappointed that there was no animated short. I’ve always loved Pixar’s short, which definitely capture the studio’s signature and usually are accompanied by some great animation and a meaningful store.

FINAL THOGUHTS


On the road of life, there are old friends, new friends, and stories that change you as Woody, Buzz, and the whole Toy Story gang find out in the film Toy Story 4. Director Josh Cooley’s directorial debut sees the return to the beloved Pixar franchise, offering up a sincere animated endeavor that plays the franchise’s strengths in its humor and heart. While the movie does feel like a quick “cash grab” from the studio (being an unnecessary installment) and can’t quite measure up to its predecessor, the film still definitely succeeds in being a solid Pixar endeavor within its comedic angst, dazzling animation, heartfelt story, meaningful characters, and solid voice acting. To me, I liked this movie. Much like what I said in my review, I thought that the movie was good, but definitely feels like the weakest entry in the franchise and really didn’t need to be made. I still believe that the franchise should’ve ended at Toy Story 3 and not this movie. Even so, Toy Story 4 is a well-made animated feature with good intentions and could easily beat out a plethora of other animated feature film endeavors of late. Thus, my recommendation for the film is easy “highly recommended” as it will most assuredly please a wide-range of fans / moviegoers out there (from the young to the old). It’s almost a forgone conclusion that Toy Story 4 will be successful film, which may prompt Pixar to return for a Toy Story 5. However, I hope not as it is best to end the franchise here and now instead of “milking it” the Toy Story branded any further. Regardless if future installment materializes on the horizon, Toy Story 4 is a familiar yet heartwarming entry of catching up with childhood nostalgia friends and taking us (the viewers) to infinity…. (you guys know what comes next) and beyond once again.

4.0 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: June 21st, 2019
Reviewed On: June 24th, 2019

Toy Story 4  is 100 minutes and is rated G

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