Toy Story 4 Review: Diminishes all doubt through great humor, emotional moments, and satisfying closure
Out of all the films on Disney’s 2019 line-up, the one film that worried me the most had to be Toy Story 4. Toy Story has always been one of the most highly regarded franchises in film and after the series ended so perfectly with Toy Story 3; I hated hearing that another film was being made just to be another conclusion. Frankly, I had felt that I had gotten all of the closure I needed and that the film couldn’t live up to the high standards set by the other films and deliver an ending on par with the previous film to justify its existence. Throw in the fact that film went through immense writing changes with ten writers having taken part in crafting this new story and that Josh Cooley was taking his first stab at directing a big feature and there are plenty of reasons to worry for the first time.
However, as humongous fan of the franchise and Pixar, I wanted to believe as much as I could that Pixar could deliver another excellent addition to the Toy Story franchise. So going in, I was cautiously optimistic and crossing my fingers that Pixar could not only spark some magic in the series again, but also bring the series to a true close. Thankfully, Pixar delivers on that promise perfectly and offers a story that’s reinvigorating, emotional, and incredibly unique as well as closure I didn’t even know I needed.
Personally, Toy Story 4 is less of a sequel or another chapter in the adventures Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang, but rather an epilogue to Toy Story 3. We’re still following everyone as they are now with their new child, Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw), but the main focus is on Woody as he struggles to connect with Bonnie. However, when Bonnie creates a new toy out of some arts and crafts supplies and a Spork, calling it Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), Woody does everything in his power to keep Forky safe and to keep Bonnie happy. Although, when Woody runs into Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) and other lost toys, he begins to question what his future holds for him and what his purpose truly is.
Toy Story 4 is really Woody’s story as it mostly focuses on Woody finding closure after not being with Andy anymore and struggling to decipher what his purpose is. Honestly, most of the other characters we’ve seen for the last couple of films don’t play much of a part in Toy Story 4’s story and the film basically focuses on Woody, Bo Peep, and new characters. I actually think that this is a perfect decision as many of the characters got closure from leaving Andy, except for Woody. Woody’s still struggling with not being with Andy and the fact that Bonnie isn’t playing with makes him feel as if he isn’t fulfilling his purpose. He actually goes through a similar kind of growth that Buzz went through in the original, and his relationships with Bo Peep, Forky, and the other new characters that are built throughout the film create this full-circle arc for him that’s just pleasant to see.
When it was revealed that Bo Peep was returning to the franchise since the 1995 original, I was a little skeptical with what she could offer to the film. Thankfully, I was dead wrong to be skeptical as Bo Peep, as well as the new characters, is a breath of fresh air to the franchise. Not only do they build on Woody’s arc, but they do an excellent job making a strong impression because of the strong writing and voice work behind them.
Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key come together to voice the hilarious duo of Bunny and Ducky, a pair of carnival prizes sewn together, and they create some of the funniest moments of the film and unsurprisingly bounce off one-another perfectly. Keanu Reeves voices Duke Caboom, a Canadian stuntman action figure that has a tragically hilarious backstory, and brings a confidently funny performance that’s will have audiences fall even more in love with him. Even Forky, a character that I thought would get annoying, had me hooked as Hale gives an incredibly fun performance and he’s given a story that mirrors Woody’s desire for purpose. All of the new additions bring such a unique energy that’s wonderful to see and they make a great impression without being around too much.
Even Toy Story 4’s central antagonist, Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), is incredibly unique for the franchise and has a motivation that’s both heartbreaking and intriguing. It’s almost not right to call Gabby a villain because while her delivery is initially evil, viewers will come to realize that her plight is much more complex. She’s not like Lotso or Stinky Pete, where they’re goals and motivations are simple, and viewers will find themselves actually connecting to her story and getting emotional towards the film’s final moments with her. Bo Peep is also astoundingly approved and is pretty much a new character with how the film represents her. She’s strong, smart, and full of heart and I loved how the film fully fleshes her out. I will say that I wasn’t fully a fan of the film opening with why she was separated from the group as it’s not really necessary and just gets retreaded when she and Woody reunite. However, it’s still an enjoyable sequence in itself and Potts brings enough charisma to the character that I actually wish she was more a part of the series from the start.
Now, I need to give credit where credit is truly due to as Cooley shows he is no amateur at directing here. The animation is absolutely stunning here and unlike anything Pixar has brought with Toy Story or any of their other films. The setting is very atmospheric and captures an older look. The score is well-executed and captures the more mature mentality the film succeeds in having. Throughout the film, I was constantly impressed with how the film reminded of the original with more aspects of horror and the tone of the film being more adult. Honestly, the film is definitely a little better suited for its older fans and the humor has some dark moments, especially with Bunny and Duck’s plans, that older viewers will appreciate. The only time the humor didn’t work with me was with a running gag that Buzz has throughout the film. The idea of Buzz figuring out his “inner conscience” is funny the first few times, but becomes overdone quickly and I started to realize that the only reason that this gag exists is so that Buzz has something to do.
Where Toy Story 4 really differentiates itself, though, is with how real it captures its characters, their feelings, and situations that make for some touching closure. While Bonnie or any other kid can’t replace Andy, I did really like how the film actually makes the kids more realistic. In the past, Andy was sort of just the owner of the toys and didn’t play much of a part in the films, but that’s not the case with the kids here. Bonnie struggles with going to kindergarten in a very endearing way and the other kids in the film had more realistic reactions to tough situations, like being alone or not wanting a toy. It’s really great to see this new approach with the kids and it really benefits the film’s desire to have more realistic feelings that will resonate well with viewers. Even the ending captures a more realistic tone and while it may not have the emotional punch that Toy Story 3’s ending had, but there’s something about it that’s more personal and genuine. It wraps up the story in a way that will leave viewers with a smile on their face and is a great way to truly conclude the series (hopefully).
Toy Story 4 is another great addition to a flawless series and is immensely better than it had any right to be. Though I definitely casted doubt on what Cooley and company had to offer, they’ve easily proved me wrong and I’m eager to see what Cooley will bring in the future. If it’s truly better to end on a high note, than Toy Story 4 is the best place for the series to end as it takes everything that fans love about it and propels them to infinity and beyond.