Review: Pixar's Latest Sequel 'Toy Story 4' Plays With Your Emotions
by Adam Frazier
June 21, 2019
Pixar's original Toy Story (1995) movie was a major milestone in filmmaking. It was nominated for three Oscars (Best Original Screenplay; Best Original Song; Best Original Score), and two Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical; Best Original Song). Director John Lasseter won a special achievement award from The Academy "for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film." Made by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures, Toy Story was a massive commercial success, launching toys (of course), video games, theme park attractions, spin-offs, and two fantastic sequels — Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Now, after creating the perfect animated trilogy, Pixar & Disney are extending – and perhaps concluding – the franchise with Toy Story 4, a very weird, melancholic epilogue to the series and to childhood itself.
Written by Stephany Folsom (of Star Wars Resistance) and Andrew Stanton (of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E), Toy Story 4 picks up two years after the events of the last film. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and the rest of the gang are all enjoying their new life with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a precocious preschooler whose new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (Arrested Development's Tony Hale), is getting all the attention. Woody, feeling lost and without purpose, takes it upon himself to show the sentient spork a thing or two about being a toy. But when Bonnie takes the gang along on her family's road trip excursion, Forky and Woody end up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (Annie Potts of Ghostbusters and Pretty in Pink) and a terrifying encounter at an antique store with a creepy doll named Gabby Gabby (Mad Men's Christina Hendricks) and her numerous ventriloquist dummy henchmen.
Directed by Josh Cooley (screenwriter of Pixar's Inside Out), Toy Story 4 looks stunning. While previous entries in the series used a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Toy Story 4 has switched over to 2.39:1, an anamorphic widescreen format that provides for a more cinematic experience. At times, the animation is almost photo-realistic – there's just such incredible detail and texture to the toys and their surroundings. The character animation — body movements, facial expressions — is equally impressive. Here, technology isn't a crutch – it's a tool – and when combined with the work of talented actors like Hanks, Potts, and Hendricks, the result is pure movie magic. There is so much emotional depth to Woody, Bo Peep, and Gabby that they feel real; imbued with souls and grappling with existential dread, which is where the animated movie starts to lose me. Forky, an assemblage of popsicle sticks, glitter glue, pipe cleaners, plastic cutlery, and googly eyes, has so much anxiety about his own existence that he's suicidal. Forky declares himself as "trash" and keeps trying to throw himself in the garbage, forcing Woody to intervene and assure him that he isn't disposable.
The other new characters like Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), and Combat Carl (Carl Weathers) are relatively worry-free and provide some much-needed levity to the proceedings. Bo Peep's transformation from damsel in distress to bad-ass female warrior is fun, too. She's a sassy scavenger with a staff – she's Rey from Star Wars, essentially. The only problem with introducing so many new toys is that there's less room for the classic characters. Beloved playthings like Buzz, Hamm, Rex, Slinky Dog and the rest of Andy's old toys have limited screen time. It's really more about Bonnie growing up and transitioning into kindergarten, and how that transition mirrors Woody's own journey from Andy's favorite toy to Bonnie's most neglected.
Toy Story 4 is a risky, unpredictable movie that explores mature topics and ideas. I appreciate the writers' willingness to take chances and challenge audiences to contemplate their own existence, but Cooley's film feels less like a family-friendly summer popcorn movie and more like an educational film a psychiatrist might use to talk about sensitive subjects – like abandonment, depression, and suicide – with a child. Sure, there are funny moments, eye-popping visuals, and clever action set pieces throughout, but there's little joy to be had. Maybe I'm just at a stage in my life where I don't want to be challenged by a children's animated feature – maybe I just want a 100-minute reprieve from the existential anxiety I'm experiencing in real life. Unfortunately I was laid off from my full-time job back in January. The past few months have been tough – applying and interviewing for jobs, walking dogs – and filled with rejection. Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do next. And like Woody, I'm lost – a relic of the past searching for purpose.
I realize this probably isn't what you were expecting to read in a review of another new Pixar movie, but it's honestly all I can think about at the moment. Toy Story 4 is, like its predecessors, a poignant love letter to childhood, but it isn't driven by nostalgia this time. Instead, it seems motivated by heartbreak and trauma and growing up. All I can think about are all the toys I owned as a kid that were lost, carelessly broken, or given away. At the time, I didn't realize what I was giving away – what I was destroying. Now, I know it's something I'll never get back, no matter how many of my old toys I re-buy. When we grow up, we give away a part of ourselves, a part of our parents, and our innocence. Like Andy and Bonnie, we are destined to give our childhood away piece by piece and spend the rest of our adulthood trying to recapture it.
Adam's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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