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Toy Story 4 Movie Review

Toy Story 4 (2019) movie poster Toy Story 4

Theatrical Release: June 21, 2019 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Josh Cooley / Writers: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom (screenplay & original story); John Lasseter, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes (original story)

Voice Cast: Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Annie Potts (Bo Peep), Tony Hale (Forky), Keegan-Michael Key (Ducky), Madeleine McGraw (Bonnie), Christina Hendricks (Gabby Gabby), Jordan Peele (Bunny), Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom), Ally Maki (Giggle McDimples), Jay Hernandez (Bonnie's Dad), Lori Alan (Bonnie's Mom), Joan Cusack (Jessie), Bonnie Hunt (Dolly), Kristen Schaal (Trixie), Emily Davis (Billy, Goat & Gruff), Wallace Shawn (Rex), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Blake Clark (Slinky Dog), June Squibb (Margaret the Store Owner), Carl Weathers (Combat Carls), Lila Sage Bromley (Harmony), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), Jef Garlin (Buttercup), Maliah Bargas-Good (Lost Girl), Jack McGraw (Young Andy), Juliana Hansen (Miss Wendy), Estelle Harris (Mrs. Potato Head), Laurie Metcalf (Andy's Mom), Steve Purcell (The Dummies), Mel Brooks (Melephant Brooks), Alan Oppenheimer (Old Timer), Carol Burnett (Chairol Burnett), Betty White (Bitey White), Carl Reiner (Carl Reineroceros), Bill Hader (Axel the Carnie), Patricia Arquette (Harmony's Mom), Timothy Dalton (Mr. Pricklepants), Flea (Caboom TV Announcer), Melissa Villasenor (Karen Beverly), Jeff Pidgeon (Aliens), John Morris (Teenage Andy)

 

Usually when people aren't excited about a sequel, it's because they didn't think the previous movie in the series was very good. In the case of Toy Story 4, everyone seems to have trepidations because Toy Story 3 was so very excellent. The 2010 blockbuster, released to substantial demand and palpable nostalgia, was just about as perfect a film as Pixar has given us. Full of humor, excitement, and heart,
it tastefully concluded the trilogy that began with 1995's pioneer, the first entirely computer-animated film, and it did so with mind-blowing visuals and an abundance of human emotion. Kids who grew up with the first two movies -- and who born in the '80s and '90s did not? -- could not have asked for a more satisfying threequel, while new kids too young enough to go to the movies in the '90s helped make it the highest-grossing animated film of all time with over $1 billion in worldwide gross.

If you are skeptical in the slightest, then you have to ask how much is the existence of Toy Story 4 motivated by artistic inspiration and how much of it is motivated by the fact that there's at least a billion dollars to be made here on existing goodwill for the franchise. Pixar did wait nine years to follow up what until last year was their highest-grossing movie worldwide and it's not as if those years have been full of great and original ideas (*cough* Cars 2 *cough* The Good Dinosaur *cough* Cars 3). But at least no one can accuse the studio that has won nine of the eighteen Oscars for Best Animated Feature of charging hastily or carelessly into expanding their flagship franchise.

Woody has a roadside heart to heart with Bonnie's favorite new "toy" Forky after the two exit Bonnie's family's road tripping RV in "Toy Story 4."

Toy Story 4 opens "nine years ago", but those nine years are not the real nine years that have passed since Andy went off to college and the toys last worried about their expendability. In the Toy Story universe, a rainy night nine years ago is when Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), the porcelain icon of a children's lamp and Woody's sort of love interest, left the Davis household. Most of the rest of the toys we know and love -- pullstring cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), his yarn-haired sidekick Jessie (Joan Cusack), confident space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), piggy bank Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (the late Don Rickles, via archival recordings, and Estelle Harris), and too many others to mention (see the voice cast list above) -- have departed from the Davis home more recently, having been taken in by Bonnie (now Madeleine McGraw), the daughter of Sunnyside Daycare's receptionist.

Things should be pretty good for Woody and company, since we've learned that toys thrive on being loved by their owners. But Woody, accustomed to being Andy's longtime favorite, has increasingly been sidelined from Bonnie's playtime. At her kindergarten orientation, Bonnie makes a pencil holder she names Forky out of a plastic spork, a red pipe cleaner, googly eyes, and a broken popsicle stick. That is enough to bring Forky to life when she's not looking. Voiced by Tony Hale of "Arrested Development" and "Veep", Forky is anxious about being a toy and repeatedly runs off seeking the warm comfort of trash. It's a weird concept, but at least you can't say Pixar is just repeating themselves here.

Bonnie takes a number of her favorite toys, including Woody, Forky, and everyone else I've mentioned plus a few more on an end of summer family road trip. Her parents rent an RV and they drive to a mountainous area somewhere outside the ambiguous Tri-County Area where these films have all been set. Still determined to run off, Forky manages to escape with Woody tracking him down quickly. But the two end up at an antique store, where Woody finds Bo Peep's lamp (but not her). The cowboy and spork also meet Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a Chatty Cathy-esque 1950s girl doll whose voice box is broken. Gabby does not hide her interest in Woody's mechanics and she has an army of silent, creepy ventriloquist dummies that do her bidding.

Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Bo Peep, and new friends journey through a cobweb-filled stretch of Second Chance antiques shop to rescue Forky in "Toy Story 4."

At their most basic essence, all of the Toy Story films are about toys getting lost and trying to get back to their owners. This one is too and comes with the existential soul searching that has always been an integral part of the franchise's fabric.
With this, the fourth installment released over the past quarter-century, the studio has managed to explore these ideas in an entertaining fashion without repeating and recycling beats. Much of Randy Newman's score sounds extremely familiar, with reused cues starting at the opening Disney castle logo. But in every other way, Toy Story 4 ventures into new territory, getting us to invest in new settings, new characters, and new obstacles standing in the way of Woody's happiness.

Diverting new characters I haven't yet mentioned include Ducky and Bunny, a pair of unwinnable, sewn-together carnival prize stuffed animals voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and Duke Caboom, a Keanu Reeves-voiced Canadian stunt motorcycle racer figure with an inadequacy complex. With the addition of Forky, anything can be a toy and the creative minds at Pixar put much thought and consideration into every personality they introduce. For all the mythology they've developed over the past three films, it is both surprising and refreshing that Toy Story 4 opts for so many new elements over simply trotting out the tried and true again. The one downside to that may be that it's a challenge for moviegoers to form an emotional attachment to new characters and ideas in adulthood that can rival the extremely strong ones they formed ten or twenty years earlier. To that end, though, Woody remains front and center. And after being marginal in TS2 and silent and mostly absent from TS3, Bo Peep has her biggest showcase yet as more of a co-lead to Woody than even Buzz is.

As far as Buzz is concerned, the filmmakers deserve credit for avoiding a reprisal of the deluded Buzz aspect that has featured in the first three films. For a universe so rich in ideas, Buzz's characterization has been a tad one-dimensional. This one finds him listening to his internal voice, a funny misinterpretation of Woody's advice that is one of the film's strongest sources of comedy.

Directed by Josh Cooley (who has helmed two made for home video Pixar shorts but only gotten as high as story supervisor on a feature prior to this), Toy Story 4 does not reach the same extraordinary heights of the original trilogy. And it doesn't fit together with them perfectly. Without spoiling anything, I would describe the ending as unsatisfying and slightly miscalculated.

But this series is generally regarded as one of cinema's greatest with two sequels that have been as unanimously praised as the original that's now accepted as a game-changing classic. A slight drop-off in quality was inevitable and this remains a much more satisfying extension than the untimely Monsters University and both Cars sequels. That's not meant as backhanded praise, but admittedly having recently revisited about fifteen of the twenty Pixar movies that have come before this, it is hard to celebrate the studio's newer works without acknowledging just high they set the bar in their first fifteen years. The output since Toy Story 3 has been less masterful. Toy Story 4 is unquestionably one of the good ones of this era but still at the shallow end of the company's complete catalog.

Gabby Gabby, a 1950s girl doll who's been at the Second Chance Antique Store for a while, wants Woody's voice box and has creepy ventriloquist dummies like Benson here to help her get what she wants.

Easily boasting the most credited writers on a Pixar film to date, TS4 credits two teams of four with the original story. One is topped by Toy Story 1 & 2 director John Lasseter, who is otherwise not credited at all (and no longer working at, let alone running Pixar). The other is led by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, whose own exit from the project added more negative headlines (and reported rumors that proved to be false) to the touchy subject of Lasseter's departure. The screenplay is attributed to the seasoned Andrew Stanton and complete newcomer Stephany Folsom, both of whom also take story credit with the Jones and McCormack quartet. I'll let others make a "too many cooks" observation because for all those judged to have a hand in it, the final script is pretty smooth and steady.

Surprisingly, no short precedes the film, breaking a tradition that dates back over twenty years to A Bug's Life. Randy Newman contributes two original songs to the movie, one he performs in the middle of the movie, and another "The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy" that Chris Stapleton sings over the end credits. Neither of them should add to Newman's twenty Oscar nominations and I'm not even sure the score will qualify based on recycled themes and the Academy's fussy Original Score rules. A quartet of comedy legends -- Betty White, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Carol Burnett -- play characters named after themselves but their contributions are brief enough not to appreciate (or recognize) in the moment. In unsurprising but still worth mentioning news, Toy Story 4 advances the quality of animation as just about every Pixar film has. From dust to a cat to a carnival bustling with life, there is much to marvel at visually.

Related Reviews:
Toy Story 3 Toy Story 2 Toy Story Toy Story of Terror! Toy Story That Time Forgot
Now in Theaters: Aladdin Men in Black International Dark Phoenix The Secret Life of Pets 2
Pixar Sequels & Prequels: Finding Dory Monsters University Cars 2 Cars 3

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Reviewed June 13, 2019.



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