Once More With Feeling
Toy Story 4 is an unnecessary but highly enjoyable sequel. While better than the first film, Toy Story 4 fails to ascend to the lofty heights achieved by Toy Story 2 and 3. It’s certainly a lot of fun, backed up by some gorgeous animation and the story itself is perfectly paced throughout its 90 minute run time. Unfortunately, some of the fan favourites are reduced to one-liners and the new characters just don’t have the same charisma as the old ones to back this decision up. Having said all that, Toy Story 4 is a surprisingly deep film, touching on ideas around belonging and inner turmoil, ending with a pretty emotional final act that’s close to matching that of the third film.
After a beautiful montage at the beginning where we see Woody grow up with Andy through the years, we cut to Bonnie’s house on the eve of her starting Kindergarten. Woody has been reduced to the closet in favour of Jessie and the others but, determined to make sure Bonnie does okay at school, sneaks into her backpack. Here, Bonnie creates Forky and it’s up to Woody to show him the ropes and what it means to be a toy when they return home. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done and after becoming separated from the group, Woody and the others formulate a plan to bring Forky back to Bonnie.
While the plot itself sticks to the same narrative we’ve seen play out several times before in these films, the added dramatic weight for the characters helps to really sell the story again this time. Forky’s naivety toward the world works surprisingly well opposite Woody as he begins to doubt his place and his loyalty to Bonnie. The returning Bo Beep is a nice inclusion too, even if it does nod toward the usual feminist trends in mainstream cinema. With the exception of Forky and Duke Caboom, the new characters don’t really stand out. To make matters worse, Buzz is reduced to comic relief here and lacks any real character growth, especially given the journey we’ve seen him have over the previous films.
Without spoiling too much, the closest Toy Story 4 gets to an antagonist comes is Gabby Gabby, an antique doll with a broken voice-box, with an army of ventriloquist dummies at her disposal. The film really subverts expectations with this storyline and at the end I’m still not sure whether this was a good or bad thing. The film intentionally zigs when you expect it to zag and the inner turmoil from the characters, especially Woody, is really what drives the film forward. In a way, this part feels somewhat distracting but there’s no denying that Gabby Gabby’s ending is satisfying and makes sense narratively as it ties into the ideas Toy Story 4 portrays.
I stand by what I’ve said before and to me, Toy Story 3 had the perfect ending. It was a heartbreaking, emotional and perfect farewell to a trilogy of films that peaked with 2, but came close to matching that with 3. When it comes to Toy Story 4, the final act feels a little haphazard and sloppy but does manage to overshadow some of its problems with another emotional ending. I just wish it went on for a bit longer to really revel in these feelings.
I have no doubt that people will love Toy Story 4. Kids will be enthralled that their favourites toys are back on the big screen and adults, having grown up with these characters, will be grateful that Toy Story 4 doesn’t feel like a complete cash-in. It’s not perfect, and it does pale in comparison to Toy Story 2 and 3, but there’s enough here to make it one of the best films of 2019 and another great achievement in the field of animation.