Toy Story 4 (2019)
Director: Josh Cooley
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts
Synopsis: When a new toy called "Forky" joins the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
MPAA Rating: G
Runtime: 1 hr 40 min
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Some mild spoilers are below.
It's been 9 years since we said goodbye to Andy's toys in Toy Story 3 in what was largely believed to be the final film in Pixar's original franchise. The film not only served as a more than worthy addition to Pixar's first installments, but a richly emotional and satisfying conclusion that ended with the toys in the hands of another young child, Bonnie, with Andy giving a last goodbye before driving away for college. One really couldn't imagine another sequel, as the over-arching story came full circle, presenting a new life for the toys that called back to the opening of the first Toy Story, with a young Andy excited and playing with his treasured toys.
Nevertheless, almost a decade later we are met with a surprising new adventure for the toys in Toy Story 4. This time around Woody and the toys, still with Bonnie, attempt to retrieve a prized toy created by Bonnie herself, Forky, who she lost after her first day of Kindergarten.
Since its inception in 1995, the Toy Story franchise has revolved around Tom Hanks' Woody, as he was Andy's favorite toy and the leader of the gang as he protected them and looked out for their best interests as they navigated the challenges of living as a small toy in a human world. Toy Story 4 takes this focus on Woody a step further, insomuch as the film could (and probably should) have his name as a subtitle. Indeed, some comparisons can certainly be drawn between this film and Logan (James Mangold, 2017)--yes--the emotionally dark, gritty, character study entry on Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in the X-Men franchise.
The reason is relatively simple--Toy Story 4 showcases an aged Woody who has begun showing the wear and tear of life. Physically he's fine--he looks, walks, and runs the same as he has since the first film. But mentally he's worn out, as he's been passed from Andy to Bonnie and now, as we discover early in this film, Bonnie is already losing interest in him. His actual age even comes up in the film, as he remarks he was probably made in the 1950's, making him at least 60+ years old--assuming the film takes place in the present day. And the fact that his search for Bonnie's toy Forky winds him up in an antique store (named Second Chance Antiques) is certainly no coincidence either, as he walks around amidst other relics sitting on shelves collecting dust--which is jokingly remarked as collecting on Woody himself by the other toys early in the film. Even Woody's relationship to Forky--a brand new toy just hours into his life offers an interesting juxtaposition--especially during a pivotal road scene where Woody tries explaining his (Forky's) role in Bonnie's life and his purpose as a toy, all the while contemplating what purpose he (Woody) has left in life. Other toys certainly have roles in the film, but ultimately this is a Woody film, focused on his character as he wrestles with real issues of self-purpose, worth, and the challenges that arise from the longevity of life.
For all the drama and tackling of real life issues the Toy Story franchise (and other Pixar films) have accomplished, another signature of the studio is delivering clever, well-crafted humor that appeals to the younger and older audiences. I was pleasantly surprised (and happy) the trailers for the film didn't do it justice on the comedic front. Toy Story 4 is funny, and not just in a few moments, either. Some of the humor comes from Forky and his awkward assimilation into his new life (and his obsession with trash) but it also comes from new characters, particularly the plush toys Ducky and Bunny (literally voiced by Key and Peele--comedic duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) as well as Keanu Reeves' Duke Caboom, a constantly posing stuntman motorcycle driver. The humor isn't as clever as we've seen in previous Toy Story entries, but it still generates many laughs, as my theater was thoroughly enjoying themselves all throughout its runtime.
The technical side of Toy Story 4 needs to be addressed here as well. Visually speaking, this is easily the most beautiful Toy Story in the franchise, as director Josh Cooley is able to create some truly striking imagery. The road scene mentioned earlier between Woody and Forky is beautifully lit, with cool blues illuminating the road and white line, along with soft, warm lighting on Woody’s face. The scene also incorporates fog, giving it an ethereal feeling. Other scenes like ones taking place at the RV park and carousel also stand out, with shallow depth of focus utilized with warm lights out of focus in the background. It’s simply beautiful, and startling to see how far the studio has come since the first entry in 1995.
The downside to Toy Story 4 is that, in its effort to focus on Woody, much focus is taken away from the original toys. Most of the others, including Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Ham, Slinky, Jesse, Bullseye, and even Buzz get largely sidelined for much of the film. Part of the joy of the previous entries, particularly Toy Story 3, was that it actively involved all the toys in the storyline, giving them their own jokes and character moments. Unfortunately we don't get much of that here, and while the film still packs an emotional punch, it's nowhere near the heights that Toy Story 3 achieved in 2010. In many ways, Toy Story 4 feels more like a spinoff than a sequel since it focuses so heavily on fewer characters and not the "old gang" as a whole. That's not entirely a bad thing, especially since the rich material we get with Woody wouldn't have been achievable if he was constantly with the original toys. Still, it's a bit of a letdown in an overall sense, since we love these characters so much.
Though it operates more as a spinoff than a sequel, Toy Story 4 is another funny, heartfelt, and thoughtful film from Pixar, and a worthy addition to the Toy Story franchise. It doesn't focus as much on the classic gang, but takes a different direction in focusing on Woody, commenting on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic quote "Not all who wander are lost." The film argues that it's okay and natural to not know your next step in life, and that sometimes you have to listen to "your inner voice"--or whoever's voice that is--to find your way. When you listen, it’ll guide you down the right path.
Written by Anthony Watkins, June 27, 2019