DIR: Josh Cooley • WRI: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom • ED: Axel Geddes • PRO: Mark Nielsen, Jonas Rivera • DES: Bob Pauley • MUS: Randy Newman • CAST: Tom Hanks, Patricia Arquette, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks,
It’s hard to review Toy Story 4 without taking the entire franchise into consideration. The original was a true phenomenon, the first feature-length computer animation, it ranks up there with Snow White as a groundbreaking moment in film history; yeah I know Snow White wasn’t the first animated feature, that’s not the point. Both films knocked the naysayers for six and helped form an inspiring legacy within the film industry. Its sequels, 2 and 3, managed to keep up the quality in story telling and cinematic thrills, some would argue, even surpassing the one that started it all. Not to be a purist but I think the one that started it will always be the true gem of the franchise, it’s stating the obvious but without it the others would have nothing to build from. Of course they were quite brilliant and Toy Story 3 seemed to be the perfect ending to the trilogy.
Now some 24 years on and nine years after Toy Story 3 a fourth, some might say unnecessary, sequel has arrived. The original film, as most of you know, was about jealousy and fear of obsolescence in the form of Woody’s old-school cowboy being rankled by the new toy in town the deluded astronaut Buzz Lightyear, the toy who didn’t know he was a toy. This has been a constant thematic source throughout the franchise albeit in different forms and has evolved as the films have unveiled more and more aspects of the magical world of talking toys. Now Woody faces the possibility in a whole new way, as his fate in his duty conflicts with his fear of not being needed anymore.
Toy Story 4 opens with a prologue explaining how Bo Peep was moved on from the lives of the other toys. A poignant sequence that reaffirms Woody’s feelings for Bo Peep and his loyalty to Andy. Skip forward nine years to life with new owner Bonnie and the gang are in the familiar mode of waiting for that moment that makes a toys life worthwhile, being played with. Woody, as ever the organiser and consoler of worried toys, is not doing so well in these stakes but hey, his is not to reason why, he’s a toy and his job is to make sure Bonnie gets through childhood as best as a toy can do that kind of job.
In a delusional moment of overzealous worry for Bonnie he sneaks into her bag and goes with her to her first day at school; in his own mind he think’s he might be useful. It’s not said explicitly but our Woody seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The pressures of doing the best for Bonnie and the fear of being left in the cupboard are getting to him. Despite his odd choice, Woody returns home successfully and introduces the gang to Bonnie’s new toy, one she has made at school. Part plastic fork, glued eyes, blu tack, lollipop sticks for feet and baring the name Forky, as one does when named by a five-year old. Unfortunately Forky, played by Tony Hale with the same quirky quality he brought to Buster in Arrested Development, is having a full-on existential crisis and would rather be in the in the trash basket than be Bonnie’s toy.
Woody now has a new mission and reason to be; he is determined to get Forky to take on this new responsibility no matter what it takes. The job mostly involves keeping Forky out of the trash. Finally, Forky jumps from the family RV during a road trip in what can only be seen as a toy/trash suicide attempt. After a contrived bit of banter about how he can meet the gang at an RV rest stop further down the road and Woody goes off on the requisite rescue mission.
That’s only the beginning; coincidences and contrivances come at an alarming rate even for an animated film as Bo Peep is met and further rescues and high suspense follow as well as the meeting of a whole slew of new toys that, for the most part, are as entertaining and endearing as expected from this franchise.
This round is a Woody-heavy affair, relegating most of the other old co-stars to the background in favour of the sheriff and some new characters; only Buzz really figures strongly in the tale and even he feels like just a supporting character with a pointless subplot involving his ‘inner voice’, which attempts to play off the deluded Buzz persona of the past.
Some fun new characters are on board though; Polly Pocket and, the stunt bike toy inspired by Evel Knievel are given homage and a boost in toy sales, in the form of Officer Giggle McDimples, Bo Peep’s sidekick and Duke Caboom, a Canadian motorbike stunt toy who couldn’t live up to the television advertising, losing his disappointed kid after only one Christmas day. Also on hand are two cheap Funfair prizes, Bunny and Ducky who have a run-in with Buzz and provide creepy advice at the worst moments.
The tragic villain of the piece is Gabby Gabby, a doll from Woody’s era who has never known the love of a child, who adds some interesting dimensions to the proceedings; her minions, a trio of ventriloquist dummies, bring an extra element of horror to the mix which might have the smaller audience members dragging their parents to the cinema exits. Ventriloquist dummies are up there with clowns on a lot of people’s heebie jeebie lists.
Though the film seems like an unnecessary addition to the franchise (Toy Story 3 was also a hard act to follow) there is no doubting its ability to entertain. The franchise is starting to creak under the logic of its own world building but at least this one has a worthwhile ending or at least an end to this particular era at the very least, that just manages to survive the shenanigans. It is certainly the oddest of the bunch and has a few more than usual philosophical questions amidst the mayhem and ends on a final musing from Forky that will certainly keep some of the brighter children awake at night.
G (see IFCO for details)
Toy Story 4 is released 21st June 2019