If you are certain Toy Story should have remained a trilogy, this will probably not change your mind.
Nine years ago, Bo Peep was taken away after Andy’s sister decided she didn’t need her anymore. Now Woody and the gang are with Bonnie, their new child, and Woody finds new purpose in caring for Forky, a toy Bonnie created. But when Forky escapes and Woody pursues, Woody finds his true purpose under debate…
In 1995 Pixar animation studios created the first fully 3D animated feature film with Toy Story, a delightful look into the secret world of toys and the existential wonder of what a toy’s purpose is. The film had two hugely successful sequels, in 1999 and 2010, with the third part acting very much like a final chapter, with our heroes moving on as Andy grows up. It was immensely emotional and strikes every single child and adult with relatable feelings. It is possible one of Pixar’s best films.
Now we have Toy Story 4, which upon its conception drew some criticism; how can you continue the story? What more than be told? The main plot thread is Bo Peep. A side character from the first two movies who was made an example of in the third film: the passage of time saw her gone, Andy was growing up. Now we get to reunite with her, as Woody goes on an adventure to protect Bonnie’s favourite toy: a spork she had turned into a toy in kindergarten class.
First of all, and most obviously, the visuals are absolutely gorgeous here. There is an early scene with Woody and the gang in the rain, and it is absolutely stunning what the animators are capable of now, as well as lighting effects (true enough, this was shown in Coco, but it is still incredible to see) throughout the film. The returning voice performances are all top notch, the film is sure to entertain audiences both young and old with ease.
But… Now we will have potential spoilers.
The film is divided into two stories: Forky and Bonnie, and Woody and Bo. With a couple of side stories as well. Forky, for as bizarre as he is, is a compelling concept for the franchise and honestly could have been the entire premise. Often a child will create a toy that is just as important to them as store-bought ones, if not more so. But the conflict comes from Forky still believing he is “trash” and not even remotely a toy, and collides with Woody’s resolve that a child’s love is what matters. Woody wrestles with Forky a lot, reminding us of his initial battles with Buzz Lightyear. This works: Woody cares about Bonnie’s happiness, and has to convince Forky of the same.
But the adventure waylays them; and Woody finds himself spork-less and lost in an amusement park. Here we meet Bo Peep, who has ditched the floral, wide-rimmed dress and bonnet for an attitude and a whooshy cloak. She is all about being free now; a lost toy’s life isn’t so bad, and you don’t need a child to have purpose. Obviously, this is more conflict for Woody.
So while we are rescuing Forky from a creepy doll who wants Woody’s voice box for herself, there is a battle of what a toy’s purpose is. Somewhat similar to Toy Story 2, only here we see Woody very much sticking to his metaphorical guns and being noble to the end.
Well… almost to the end.
The film has one excellent use of subversive storytelling, which was extremely impressive and was easily the most emotional moment in the film. It ties directly into the themes we have enjoyed in the film’s so far and probably catches everyone off guard. But it also has one of the worst subversive elements, right at the end. A character we know, and know how they behave, completely betrays their morality and motivations for reasons they have already overcome in previous films. It felt unjustified and, for a kids’ film (and a Toy Story film) it actually felt unfair. Thematically it goes against the entire franchise.
Another element that was frustrating, was the overabundance of characters. We are introduced to at least half a dozen new characters, on top of the originals and all the others in Bonnie’s possession who we barely met in Toy Story 3. The original characters barely get any time on screen. What do the writers have against Jessie? She never gets to do anything in these films, and now she’s been outclassed by a supercharged Bo Peep. Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom was certainly fun, and probably got the other good laugh, although his personality isn’t far from what Buzz used to be. The two plushie toys from the fairground are not funny.
Ultimately, it would seem the film is disappointing in contrast to the brilliant Toy Story trilogy. You can’t even say: “Well, for a fourth part, I couldn’t see it any other way”. There was plenty of options, without upsetting the core themes of the franchise like it did.
For all the good elements, and not just meaning the visuals, Toy Story 4 feels slightly unnecessary; the trilogy is all you need.
Additional Marshmallows: You’ve got a friend in me (except when you don’t).