Toy Story 4 - Review

The most painfully realistic Toy Story is likely to be the last.

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Toy Story 4 isn’t the sequel its title implies. The number on the end of the film is the most confusing aspect of a well-written, beautifully designed film, slightly complicating a series many thought was finished in 2010.

For those looking for more closure following the events of Toy Story 3, TS4 will likely leave you wanting. With a speedy re-introduction to the cast via a search-and-rescue prologue, we’re told that Bo Peep left with Molly, Andy’s younger sister, nine years prior to now. Woody had the chance to go with her, but chose to stay loyal, and is now facing the consequences through his new child, Bonnie. No longer the favorite, Woody plays assistant to Bonnie as she tackles preschool, road trips, and a new friend in the form of a spork with pipe cleaners and googly eyes dubbed “Forky.” It may sound a little convoluted, and compared to the previous entries, it is. Toy Story 4 is wider in scope and themes than its predecessors, allowing it to exist with and without the established personalities Toy Story 3 gave closure to.

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For long time fans and young adults who grew up with the franchise, Toy Story 4 is not designed for you. Billed by the creators as the final entry in the series, it actually feels like the start of a new trilogy. So many new characters are introduced, and with such expertise, it’s hard to see young kids not instantly latching on. Woody remains the central figure, but practically every other member of the main cast, including Buzz, play support roles for the film’s modest 100 minute runtime. While there is a glut of new, somewhat uninspired toys, the script (based off a story from Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones) doesn’t forget its past. Bo Peep makes a welcome return, now a lost toy; code for liberated, or without a child and free to act on one’s own wishes. This presents the essential dilemma for Woody: What is a toy if not for a child? In his conversation with the film’s pseudo-villain, he claims that serving a kid is the “most noble thing a toy can do”; then what is Bo Peep?

Even with three film’s worth of development, it’s nice to see Pixar hasn’t lost their taste for improvement. The transition from Toy Story 2 to 3 was a bit jarring, considering the 11 year gap, but Toy Story 4 fares better. With the toys finally free from a central location, animators are given grass, fields, theme parks, and antique stores, designed with specific attention to detail. Lighting is the most striking, showing best in the antique store Forky is trapped in by the emotionally-neglected Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). With a focus on realistic backdrops, the fantastic elements of Toy Story shine, propping up characters like Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves) and Ducky and Bunny (Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele) who threaten to be one-trick ponies.

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The realism injected through Toy Story 4’s animation and narrative is felt most in the depiction of children. A young Bonnie sitting alone at her preschool orientation is unexpectedly heartbreaking, giving context to the lost child Gabby Gabby is able to comfort at the end of the film. Woody is a helper, but not an ignorant one; understanding his value and Bo Peep’s, the film ends with Woody leaving Bonnie behind and staying with Bo. Gabby is taught that her worth doesn’t lie in any one child, and Woody turns a cheek: It’s both earned and self-contained.

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As a fan of every film in the Toy Story series, it feels out of left field that Woody would break and leave without the input of Buzz, or Jessie or any of the other toys that have been with him since the beginning; but as a new film, standing on its own and aware of its themes, Toy Story 4 works excellently as a last hurrah for its central character, while simultaneously elevating a love-interest into a fully-functioning protagonist. It’s a bit unnecessary in terms of the series, but as a reminder that self-worth doesn’t lie in anyone but your own hands, it’s a roaring success. Also I can’t stop staring at it.