Review: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Nine years ago, in 2010, Disney Pixar released Toy Story 3, the highly anticipated then-conclusion to the critically and commercially beloved Toy Story franchise. The third instalment gave us updated, fresher animation, with a poignant look at some of the franchise’s most resonant themes: childhood, growing up, and friendship. Andy was leaving for college, and ended up giving his toys away to Bonnie in one of the series’ most emotionally scenes. I, quite frankly, cry every single time Andy introduces the toys to her. You can see how much they’ve meant to Andy, and how much they’re going to mean to Bonnie. It was quite possibly the perfect ending to one of the best trilogies ever made. 

Toy Story 3 (2010)

And then on November 6th 2014, Disney officially announced Toy Story 4. Now it’s a huge deal for everyone whenever Pixar announces any new movies, but another sequel to one of the most beloved franchises ever to exist, that some thought concluded perfectly four years prior? All bets we’re off. I remember the reception being largely warm, but there was still some trepidation about whether or not it was warranted or just a simple cash-grab. Just eight months prior, Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO had officially announced Incredibles 2, the very long-awaited follow-up to The Incredibles, which seemed to gain a far more unanimous anticipation. 

Personally, I was hesitant about Toy Story 4 following the announcement. I loved the trilogy a lot and I was perfectly satisfied with the way it ended. But, as with everything, if the filmmakers and studios have an idea they think is worth pursuing, I’ll just see what they’ve got in store. As the years passed and the release date was pushed back 2 years, from its original release in 2017 (which was then replaced with Cars 3) and then 2018 (which was then replaced with Incredibles 2), I began to go back and forth on my opinion of what they had planned. It went from excitement to caution to excitement to “Oh no, they’re really going to ruin the franchise with another film aren’t they?” Needless to say, I was always planning on seeing it, and I was prepared to love it. 

Toy Story 4, directed by Josh Cooley, explores the toys as they live life with Bonnie, the implications of an new toy being introduced to the fold, and a several mission to rescue several different toys. It sounds vague, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers. We see new toys, and the return of some old toys, and a brand new adventure.

I don’t think I can quite say that I loved this film with the enthusiasm I do the other three. I think Toy Story 2 is one of three perfect Pixar films (the others being WALL-E and Inside Out) and I have great love and adoration for the other two as well. I did a binge of them yesterday, and I still love them a lot. So it pains me more than anyone to say that I just really liked the fourth movie, and I didn’t love it. I will probably do a rewatch at some point to confirm this, but that’s where I stand now. 

Despite it being my personal weakest film in the quadrilogy, there is a great deal to love about Toy Story 4

The animation is better than ever, definitely up there with Pixar’s best achievements. There’s a sequence involving rain and I have never seen anything so photorealistic in an animated film before, it’s just beautiful to look at. The toys themselves seem to move more fluidly, and their expressions are very well done. The human characters are also well designed. What’s impressive too is the use of light and shadow in this movie, it’s not a huge factor of the plot but it’s so noticeable and looks breathtaking in a lot of places. Though since the first film, they’ve never really had any problems in that department. 

The voice acting is also as consistent as ever. Tom Hanks does a wonderful job once again as Woody, he really nails the emotional moments and the comedic moments with equal aplomb. Regulars Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, and especially Annie Potts all impress too. But for me, it’s the newcomers that deserve the bulk of the praise. Tony Hale as Forky, Bonnie’s new favourite toy, delivers such a hilarious vocal performance, channeling all of his nervous energy from Veep and using it here. His hedging and fillers really work with the characters and it’s a top notch piece of casting. Never has the word “trash” been so hilarious. Keanu Reeves threatens to steal the entire movie in a lot of places, with a character that’s as bizarre and outrageously funny as the man himself, Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil toy with self-esteem issues. Though, I absolutely adored Christina Hendricks’ turn as Gabby Gabby, a 1950s doll living in an antique store with a broken voicebox. Her layers of emotional, strength, and vulnerability all wrap into one really great character. Her voice is soothing, which really works during the character’s arc. It seems the woman can do no wrong. 

The action sequences in these movies are always so inventively choreographed and never fail to impress. This newest instalment is no exception to that rule. There are several standout sequences, most of them involving Bo Peep. There’s not a lot I can say about them specifically without getting into spoiler territory because the dynamism of these sequences is a big part of the fun of the movie itself. But they’re all up to the usual standard, trust me. 

As mentioned when talking about the voice acting, the new characters are a very strong addition to the movie. Forky is an obviously incredible addition to this movie. He’s cute in an odd kind of way and his naive sensibility provides great comedy in the opening third of the film. Disney had one described this movie as a romantic comedy, and I would agree that it’s a romantic comedy, the leads being Forky and The Trash, which has become a character in itself somehow. But the best Forky moment comes in a dramatic tone, in a conversation with Woody that also serves as one of my favourite scenes in the film, perhaps even the franchise. Again, no spoilers, but it’s seriously great. Gabby Gabby is also a personal highlight in this film. She has the same sort of premise as another character in the series, but it’s excellently pulled off, and there’s a point where you’re really questioning your feelings towards her and that’s one example of a fantastic character arc. One which you go back and forth on, realising that there’s more to a character that you’re being told. It was a surprising addition to the film that I wasn’t expecting. 

To talk about a Toy Story film is talk about its ending, but I’m not going to go into detail. It’s very emotional, up there with the conclusion to the previous film, and as literally breath-taking as anything Pixar have ever done. I’m serious, I literally gasped and had to remember to breathe. I was in a cinema packed full of excited kids and their parents, and I don’t think the children quite understood the magnitude of what was happening. It was one of the few moments I’ve had in a cinema where the tears came before I could stop them. There’s one line that does it, and I’m not sure I’m ever going to quite ready for it. And the ending line, forget about it, I’m a goner. 

All of that being said, it does have a few points that don’t quite click with me. 

Despite its fresh animation and all-new story, I couldn’t help but feel like it had recycled quite a bit from the older movies. Because let’s be real, there’s not that much you can do with toys that are alive, in terms of story. So like all the other movies, there’s a rescue mission, dilemmas about their places in the world, and a peanut gallery during these hijinks that actually do waste some of the talented cast and funny character we’ve come to love. Poor Bullseye gets the barest minimum to do. The franchise now has too many characters to keep track off, and with the new additions, it sacrificed further development of characters we love to tell their stories. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just would’ve loved to see Hamm or Bullseye or Slinky get some actual material rather than just jokes. Some of the plot points run the risk of getting a bit stale, but it’s lucky that there’s talent behind the animation of the voiceovers to save it from that end. 

Speaking of retouching the old movies, most of the themes in this movie have been sufficiently explored in the past, with the ideas of a toy’s true purpose and the children having a favourite toy only to throw it away when they get bored of it. I’ve seen that a few times in this universe and it started to feel a little rote, especially because it happens several times in this movie. It becomes an obvious motif because it works, but I would’ve liked to see something a little fresher, perhaps? 

I also noticed that it wasn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the rest of them, nor did it contain that subtly weaved in adult humour like “Laser envy” from the first movie. That’s not necessarily a problem when the movie is as engaging as it is, but it’s just something I noticed in comparison with the other three. 

Obviously, there are more positives than negatives, but I don’t think this is a perfect movie or close to it. It has some missteps, but I can ignore them mostly because it’s a genuinely fun, emotional, good time at the movies. 

But was it worth it? 

That’s the question I keep coming back to. And after two hours to think about it, I still don’t know. Because I genuinely do really like this movie, but I can’t help but look back on the days when the trilogy existed on its own and was pretty damn perfect. I think if I was really pressed, I would have stopped talks of a fourth movie before they even began and just keep it as three. But then Forky wouldn’t exist and that’s a crime against cinema. It’s a problem that I don’t think I’ll ever solve. Does a genuinely great movie cancel out ruining (for me at least) its status of being up there with the best cinema trilogies of all time? I’m not quite sure. 

But that’s okay. Because Toy Story 4 is a very good movie, perhaps even a great one, one that I’ll have fun revisiting in the future. It’s action-packed, has a brilliant ending, and satisfies both my inner child and my inner cinephile. 

But please for the love of Forky, do not make Toy Story 5!

I’d love to know what you thought of it! Love it, hate it, think it was unnecessary? Let me know either in the comments section or on Twitter as always @Jamie_Carrick_

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