Before I divulge my opinions on the latest entry of the Toy Story franchise, allow me please a moment of mawkishness.
There are many reasons why we still choose to visit the cinema in this, the age of streaming. The most powerful one for me is that great films leave lasting memories that you can revisit time and time again. The first film I ever remember seeing at the cinema was the first Toy Story back in 1995. Now, given I was a baby at the time, this is not possible. Yet the sight of the cowboy, the spaceman and the evil teenager are still fresh in my memory twenty-four years later. My love of the cinema experience originates in that moment, and because of it, Toy Story will always be special to me.
On to the movie itself. First up we have to acknowledge that the bar was set incredibly high by the previous three movies, and while Toy Story 4 fails to reach these heights, it is a welcome and fulfilling addition to the greater story and if this is to be the last outing of Woody, Buzz and co. then it brings the series to a satisfying conclusion.
The story sees Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang go on a road trip with Bonnie, the little girl who we saw receive the toys from Andy at the end of the Toy Story 3. Unfortunately for Woody he finds himself cast aside by Bonnie in favour of the other toys. For Woody, not to be played with and loved leaves the usually optimistic cowboy feeling anxious and adrift for the first time. While Woody struggles to find his place in this new world the gang gets a new member, Forky, a living KFC spork crafted from trash parts by Bonnie in kindergarten. Unfortunately, Forky doesn’t want to be a kid’s toy and Woody is tasked with looking after Bonnie’s new favourite. With the utensil in tow Woody, Buzz and the gang hit the open road. However, after a pit stop in a small town, the reappearance of old flame Bo-Peep (Potts) forces Woody to confront his past and contemplate his future.
The animation, voiceover work and sound design of this film are stunning. Regulars Hanks, Allan and Cusack are joined by the likes of Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Key and Peele and the wonderful Annie Pots. The amount of emotion and depth these animated toys are able to produce is amazing and the credit must go to both the animation team at Pixar (led by writer/director John Lasseter) and the voice cast. Of all the new editions, the two plush toys voiced by comedy duo Key and Peele in particular generate a lot of laughs and are the comedic highlight of the movie. As well as funny moments, Toy Story 4 features the many instances of heart that make the series unique. As with the other films it presents its young audience with messages of loyalty, friendship and kindness through the moral dilemmas the gang has to face. Like great literature aimed at children, Toy Story allows them to learn about these often difficult and emotional issues in a way that is engaging and fun. For that reason, I think that John Lasseter, the writer of all four Toy Story movies, should be considered one of the most important children’s storytellers of the last few decades.
The film is not without its flaws. Unfortunately, the usually brilliant songs from piano smith Randy Newman that filled the previous movies were lacklustre in this outing. The exception of course being ‘You’ve got a friend in me’ which never fails to raise a smile. The movie is also ‘Woody-heavy’, and while that is understandable given that he is the star of the show, the others, particularly Rex, Mr. Potato Head and Jessie, are pushed to the side-lines a bit. The film’s plot is sound, but much of the narrative feels a bit muddled, with elements and characters brought in without feeling integral to the overall story. This could be due to the fact that eight different people (including the brilliantly talented Rashida Jones) were involved with conceiving the original story and then two more were brought in to write the screenplay. The old adage of ‘too many cooks’ perhaps applicable here.
The ending has come in for criticism from some parts, but for me felt right. In many ways this movie is singularly about Woody and bringing his story to a close, and if you go into the movie with that in mind, I think you will enjoy it more.
Ultimately I do have a few issues with this movie and yes, it is not as engrossing or well written as its three predecessors. However, when compared to the low-quality kids’ movies competition out there at the moment, it is relatively a masterpiece. It feels like the end of an era and I’m afraid to say the future of kids’ movies looks pretty grim. We can only hope that in the years to come Pixar, Disney and the developing animation-departments of studios including Universal, Sony and the like will return to putting some effort into their future animations, so movies that trust kids’ intellectual and emotional abilities like the Toy Story series, Inside Out and Zootopia become the norm rather than the exception.
Last modified: 30th July 2019