Toy Story 4 (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
I think it’s safe to say that Toy Story 4 is clearly the movie I never knew I wanted or needed. And it also is one of the best films of 2019.
The animation is simply stunning and the story, somewhat different in tone, finds another clever way to conclude this quartet of movies in a most emotional and touching way.
Truly a film that will win over viewers of any age, even if they are not familiar with the three previous films.
This is one of 2019’s best films. Unless you completely avoid animated movies (and I am sorry for you), or movies in general, I cannot come up with one reason to miss/avoid/skip out on Toy Story 4.
You hate toys and the idea of talking toys sends you over the edge.
You recoil from anything fun or things that make you smile and maybe even feel something.
Over the course of three films and fifteen years, the Toy Story trilogy brought us unforgettable characters, generational memories shared by millions of people, and a reminder that while we can all feel young and hold on to the dreams and imagination of our youth, time never discriminates. We all grow up. No one can stay young forever.
2010’s Toy Story 3 ended beautifully, perfectly. The movie proved to be bold, brave, emotional, and perhaps the finest Pixar movie ever made. And yet, I was not thrilled to learn a Toy Story 4 was on its way. The idea, concept, and need felt unnecessary. I may have called the project a cash cow in certain circles, even wondering out loud if Pixar happened to begin running on fumes creatively.
I stand corrected.
For everyone who thought this was just going to be some throwaway summer blockbuster, where our beloved Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and gang mess around with a spork (a…spork?!?), you will be sadly mistaken. Despite eight (eight?!) credited screenwriters, Toy Story 4 finds a moving and clever way to put one last bow around what has grown into a quartet of unforgettable films, which will last for generations and generations to come.
On the surface, the premise this time around seems rather simple. Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), the young girl who a college-bound Andy gave his beloved toys to at the end of Toy Story 3, is off to kindergarten orientation. Woody (Tom Hanks) senses the need to protect her when he sees Bonnie nervous and anxious about going to school for the first time. Sneaking into her backpack, he makes it to her classroom and observes her work through her nervousness, watching her create a toy made out of items recovered from the trash.
A spork, pipe cleaners, and glued on jiggly, googly eyes serve as all the tools needed to make “Forky” (Tony Hale), Bonnie’s creation and new favorite toy. Forky, who comes alive back home to all the toys’ surprise, slowly learns to speak, with Woody immediately trying to help him realize he is much more than the trash he was created from.
When Bonnie’s family goes on a vacation, Toy Story 4 becomes something of an adventure film. Early on, Forky is still wrestling with an existential crisis and tries to run away. Woody longs for the missing Bo Peep (Annie Potts), given away years prior, and lands at an antique shop thinking her lamp appears in the window. Here, he encounters a talking doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), and a devoted quartet of awesome ventriloquist dummies causing him unanticipated anxiety and tension.
Meanwhile, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is trying to better understand his inner voice and, as the movie unfolds, a Polly Pocket-size companion (Ally Maki), two stuffed amusement park prize rabbits (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), Canadian-born motorcycle daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and all the old friends are thrown together in an energetic, emotional tale that finds ways to touch our hearts while bringing about happiness and bittersweet emotional reflection.
At times, especially in the opening act, the film feels like it is trying to justify its own existence. Once you realize where the film was going thematically, a subtle irony presents itself, juxtaposed to the conflict many characters find themselves trying to resolve as the story moves along.
Part of what makes these Toy Story movies so wonderful is that they have navigated audiences through complex feelings and emotions in astute, novel, and transcendent ways. This fourth installment is no different, even if the concepts are stitched together from a significant number of scripts and story concepts, ideas, re-writes, and changes in narrative direction over the last several years.
To first-time director Josh Cooley’s credit, he trusts his instincts and finds inventive ways to entertain us. It doesn’t hurt that Pixar has never delivered a finer looking product, with many of the settings and backgrounds for the animated film looking tangible and real. The rendering of the characters is astonishing, and it becomes very easy to get lost in the craftsmanship on display. Toy Story 4 is an astonishing film to watch and observe, beautiful in any number of ways.
There is a vulnerability and sensitivity that resonates throughout the story. At the core of the film, Cooley drills down into analyzing one’s self-worth and defining our individual meaning and place in the world. Whether we want to admit it or not, out loud or even to ourselves, we all want to matter.
Woody encounters this in multiple ways, with his pursuit of Bo Peep, mentoring Forky, and watching over Bonnie. Gabby Gabby has a malady that she believes make her undesirable. Buzz is struggling with a desire to step out of the shadows and live life for himself for the first time. In essence, the toys are growing up too.
And perhaps that is how Toy Story 4 payloads such a powerful message. By showing us the fantasy of our childhood playthings finding the courage to move on and live for themselves, we find a new opportunity to connect with these characters all over again. I was blown away by how I felt watching this, the emotions stirring up again and again as I considered what it has meant to see my kids leave their toys and playthings behind as they move into adolescence and adulthood.
What the Toy Story movies do better than arguably any other cinematic franchise is bring out the child in everyone who watches. Though wildly popular, not everyone can connect to Star Wars. And at the risk of committing movie blasphemy, not everyone cares about The Avengers. But everyone has had that one toy or childhood item which they became inseparable from, traveled everywhere they went, and became a part of their everyday existence.
And that's where the Toy Story movies live and breathe so vibrantly and vividly.
Toy Story 4 is no exception, impressively arriving as one of 2019's best films.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Lila Sage Bromley, Don Rickles, Jeff Garlin, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea, Melissa Villaseñor.
Director: Josh Cooley
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom (screenplay); John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom (story).
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Walt Disney Pictures