When a new toy called "Forky" joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy. (from IMDb)
Up until 1995, animated films were typically hand-drawn, hand-painted cels painstakingly created by skilled artists who had to draw each frame of an animated film by hand. Computers had just begun to aid in the creation of more difficult shots (like the ballroom dance in 1991's Beauty and the Beast), but there had yet to be a whole film made entirely by computer animation... until Toy Story. Twenty-four years ago, Toy Story changed the way we view animation forever. Not only was it this incredible tale about how kids' toys come to life when no one is watching, but it was truly an animation marvel--and the introductory project for a new little animation studio called Pixar. Its success spawned a sequel four years later that was easily better than the original in every way. And eleven more years later, we were given Toy Story 3, which took the series to new, emotional heights. And with each film, it was exciting to see these characters really come to life with more detailed and more breathtaking animation. If any characters deserved to benefit from the growth of computer animation, it was easily these toys. Now, another nine years later, we have the unexpected (but oft-talked-about) Toy Story 4, a hilarious and emotional possible conclusion to a series that has lasted for nearly a quarter of a century.
At the end of Toy Story 3, Andy--the young boy who we met playing with Woody and receiving Buzz Lightyear in the 1995 original film--was now grown and going off to college. He ends up donating his toys to a little preschooler named Bonnie, and our favorite Toy Story characters soon joined with a new group of Bonnie's own toys. In between the 2010 Toy Story 3 and this entry, fans were treated to Toy Story Toons, little animated shorts starring our favorite characters that continued the adventures of these characters after being given to Bonnie. Starting with Hawaiian Vacation and the absolutely brilliant Small Fry (where Buzz meets kids meal toy rejects) in 2011, the series was a great way to extend the lives of these characters. Partysaurus Rex followed in 2012, and then 2013 gave us the first 22-minute special, Toy Story of Terror, which served as a Halloween special of sorts. The last one came the following year, serving as a Christmas special, titled Toy Story That Time Forgot, where Bonnie takes her toys to a friend's house who had received gladiator dinosaur toys (called Battlesaurs) for Christmas, and the beasts terrorize Woody and Buzz, not realizing they're all just toys (it's fantastic!). So, really, it's only been five years since we last saw our Toy Story friends, even though it's been a full nine since we've had a feature film entry. (And I loved seeing the little Easter egg references to the shorts sprinkled throughout Toy Story 4--especially the Battlesaurs lunch box!)
From the opening minutes of Toy Story 4, where we see a flashback to the night Bo Peep gets donated, it's immediately evident just how far computer animation technology has come. As the toys scramble to rescue a toy that fell out the window during a rain storm, you can just tell Pixar is testing the limits of what can be done with a computer, while also celebrating the franchise that started it all for them. I also rewatched all three films (as well as a few of the shorts and Toy Story That Time Forgot) just before seeing Toy Story 4, which made it even easier to feel invested in these characters. But, in some ways like Andy, I've grown up with these characters for the better part of my life, and it's thrilling to see them all together once more. The film's title moments--set to "You've Got a Friend In Me," of course, brilliantly recaps the relationship these toys--and especially Woody--had with Andy and now with Bonnie, and it beautifully sets up where things will be going from here. But as we get reintroduced to Bonnie's life with Andy's toys (and her own, of course), we also see the all-too real and familiar scenario where the child is starting to outgrow some of her toys (which also fantastically leads to some voice cameos from TV star old-timer talents like Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett and Carl Reiner). Right off the bat, Pixar is hitting us with emotional two-by-fours again, and before we know it, Woody is stowing himself away in Bonnie's backpack so he can help her through her first day of school. The viewer is quickly reminded as to why we love these characters so dang much. We all can think of a toy or stuffed animal that was there for us through tough times in our childhood, and here we see an animated cinematic hero going out of his way to be that for "his kid."
Even if this is the conclusion of the main Toy Story series, it's a pretty satisfying--if not bittersweet--conclusion. In some ways, I probably prefer the Toy Story 3 ending to this one, but I just might have enjoyed Toy Story 4 more than its predecessor overall (which surprised me). To be fair, it's tough to rank one film over the other on just one viewing, but Toy Story 4 is probably laugh-out-loud funnier and more fun than 3. The script is sharp and funny, the characters are as lovable as ever, and the introduction of Forky--a spork Bonnie made into a toy in class at school--is an endearing addition to the series. Toy Story 4 brings back a character we haven't seen since 1999, Bo Peep, who always had a romantic tie to Woody. Annie Potts returns to voice the character, too, and it's heartwarming to see Woody get to reunite with his long lost love. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to such a focus being put on Bo Peep and Forky, is that Buzz Lightyear takes more of a backseat to the main storyline. He certainly gets moments to shine throughout the whole movie's duration, but he's not nearly as central as he usually is, making Toy Story 4 out to be mostly Woody's movie. Still, it's wonderful to see how much Woody and Buzz have grown as friends through the years--from the jealous fighting in the first film to the admiration they display for each other in this fourth one. Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the addition of Keanu Reeves' Canada-loving Duke Kaboom character. Reeves is perfectly cast and contributes to some of the film's most memorable moments (he also helps fill the void that the absence of Michael Keaton's Ken from Toy Story 3 creates here). Key & Peele were also fun additions as Ducky & Bunny, but their humor didn't always land as well as they seem to think it should (although they DO contribute to some of the funniest gags.)
The content of the film is similar to the other Toy Story entries. If you thought Sid's misfit toys were creepy at all, Gabby Gabby and her minion ventriloquist dummies--which look like they're lifted straight out of The Twilight Zone--should make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. (My 8 year old son frequently cowered at the sight of the dummies.) I don't think they needed to make those characters quite so scary, but the antique store sequences definitely felt appropriate for a Toy Story movie. There is no profanity or sexual content to speak off, but Disney and Hollywood continue to push the equality message--albeit subtly here--by showing a pair of moms as a couple at the kindergarten orientation for Bonnie (and possibly some couples at the carnival). Other than that, there's quite a bit of action involving the toys, but nothing gruesome or inappropriate. Still, our heroes are often seen battling the dummies or scrambling to get away from other toys throughout the film.
While we never needed a Toy Story 4--even if we secretly (or less than secretly) wanted one--Disney and Pixar have made a good case for it by giving us one of the year's best films. It's so good to see these characters on the big screen again, and Toy Story 4 is a delightful and touching romp that fans won't want to miss. And, if you do see it, not only should you bring tissues, but stay till the very end of the credits for a delightful new Toy Story 4-inspired take on the Pixar animated logo and a satisfying payoff to a gag that had been setup earlier in the film.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/22/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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