Toy Story 4 movie review: Utterly shattering; Pixar and Tom Hanks’ legendary series adds another masterpiece
Toy Story 4
Director - Josh Cooley
Cast - Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keanu Reeves
Rating - 4.5/5
The very existence of Toy Story 4 is bittersweet. Because of it, Pixar’s magnificent saga can no longer be called the greatest film trilogy of all time, and that’s devastating. But it is an anomaly -- a fourth entry in a franchise that has only produced masterpieces.
Every film Pixar makes, those on the inside have said, is treated like the first and last one. Which is why, until its takeover by Disney in 2006, it had produced only one sequel. There have been operational changes since then, and now, Pixar is like any other animation studio – far too reliant on brand awareness and celebrity voice talents. Since the Disney takeover, half of its 14 films have been follow-ups to pre-existing films.
If you believe Pixar, none of the Toy Story sequels were planned, but organically birthed, after many years of brainstorming and the studios’ typically rigorous production process. This is not true, because the third film, like the second, was supposed to be the last, until it broke box office records and made over $1 billion. Despite all this, Toy Story 4 is different.
Watch the Toy Story 4 trailer here
It is, for instance, the first film in the series to actively seek answers to questions that have baffled better minds. What is the nature of existence? What is the difference between being loyal and free? What does it mean to have a conscience? In several scenes, the brash Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), prompted by Woody (Tom Hanks), seeks solutions to difficult situations by listening to his ‘inner voice’. Woody, meanwhile, operates on nothing but heart, and instinct.
We find him, and the rest of the toys – everyone from the Potato Heads to Rex, from Jessie and Hamm to Slinky Dog – two years after Andy gave them away to Bonnie. The previous three films perfectly captured the life-cycle of a toy – from being discovered by a bright-eyed child, to staying loyal to them through thick and thin, until finally, it is time to move on. Toy Story 4 is not as much a continuation of this story, as it is an epilogue – like the ’19 Years Later’ chapter in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter saga; overwhelming not because of what the future holds, but what has happened in the past.
Woody had no control over his own creation, nor did he choose his ‘kid’. But through some mysterious magic, he had the ability to make a difference in Andy’s life, and then in Bonnie’s. Having served his duties to both, Woody finds himself playing second fiddle to a new toy, created by Bonnie with her own hands – a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, made from a discarded plastic spork, some glue and an ever-reliable piece of string. She calls him Forky.
Sensing Bonnie’s love for her new toy, Woody takes it upon himself to teach Forky the meaning of life, and the importance of the role he has been chosen to play. But Forky is having none of it. He’s like a newborn baby, with no idea of how the world works. He insists on hurling himself into the nearest trashcan every chance he gets, not because he thinks of himself as being worthless, but because he is a spork; it is the only home he knows. Some toys are valuable, some not so much; others, like Toy Story 3’s Lotso-Huggin Bear and this film’s ‘villain’, Gabby Gabby, are abandoned.
Debutante director Josh Cooley – operating, as expected, under the guidance of Pixar’s famed (and all-male) ‘brain trust’ – makes the wise decision to keep Toy Story 4 as narratively lean as the previous films in the series. It is mostly set during an afternoon, when Bonnie misplaces Forky, and Woody takes it upon himself to locate him and return him to her. It is, as he says in one heartbreaking scene towards the end, the only purpose he has anymore.
And heartbreak is what Toy Story 4 ends with. Despite being fully prepared for waterworks – Toy Story 3 is my favourite animated film – I, as always, underestimated the sheer power of Pixar storytelling. The final act – a rescue mission like the ones we’ve seen in previous Toy Storys – feels like getting punched in the gut, repeatedly, until you’re left with no option but to submit.
Once again, were Pixar to call it a day, Toy Story 4 would make for the perfect conclusion to this wonderful series of films – side-splittingly funny, thanks to an excellent Key & Peele cameo, and gut-wrenchingly heartfelt. But so was Toy Story 3. It is at this point that we must ask ourselves, how much of a good thing is too much?