I can’t have been alone in feeling an aversion to Toy Story 4. 2010’s Toy Story 3 was such a rousing critical success and felt like a perfect send-off for everyone’s beloved toys. Despite being an obvious commercial hit, it felt like the Toy Story franchise was above the need for cash-grab sequels, and that Disney-Pixar would leave their crown jewel of a franchise to rest with a perfect ending.
They even said as much initially. But soon, there were rumblings, and in 2014 this fourth instalment was finally announced. To many, it felt like one film too far. The story felt complete with the transition from Andy to Bonnie, and there didn’t seem to be a single person actively clamouring for a fourth film. So for years there was a lot of trepidation regarding this movie.
Was Toy Story about to jump the shark? Was it going to undo a satisfying finale in favour of something worse? Promotional material introducing us to Forky filled many with confusion. This wasn’t the Toy Story we knew. Even the traditional Pixar short being cut from screenings gave the impression that this wasn’t going to be the same.
And yet, here we are, with another masterful Toy Story film on our hands. Pixar has pulled it off once again, continuing the story in unexpected ways, while always retaining their trademark profundity.
Viewers with similar worries to me may find the first 15-20 minutes a little uncomfortable. The film formally introduces us to new character Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), and he’s soon off having an adventure with Woody, separate from the rest of the group.
It felt a little too much like The Woody & Forky Show, and the film begun to feel like a cheap spin-off of sorts. However, once the duo enter an antiques store, everything turns around, and Pixar begin to work their magic. But it is worth noting that this is somewhat different to prior films in the franchise.
There’s less of a focus on the core group of toys, and it feels a little more like if the first film had spent the majority of its runtime at Pizza Planet. Ostensibly, that might sound bad, but Toy Story 4 harnesses its new setting and fresh characters and becomes a slightly smaller film with a tighter focus than its predecessors.
But while it is guilty of feeling a little slight at points, it delivers an abundance of thrills with some incredibly well-paced, sublimely-edited action sequences, pushing the boundaries of animation to points never even dreamt of when the first film arrived in 1995. While some of the classic supporting characters do get a little sidelined, that’s just a product of making sequels that will inevitably introduce new toys.
Fortunately, the new additions to the cast (and re-introductions) steal the show. Bo Peep, unfairly sidelined in the series after the first movie, is now re-purposed from the kind voice of reason amongst the group into an independent toy happy to be free from the trappings of having a kid take care of her.
The film begins with a flashback to Bo being essentially thrown out while the toys were still living with Andy, urging Woody to come with her. However Woody knows his purpose, at the time, is more important as Andy’s best friend and favourite toy. So he lets her go. But his fondness for her stays, and their connection after her re-introduction here drives the film.
But the show-stealers of the film are no doubt Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele‘s Ducky and Bunny. They’re introduced at a travelling carnival and proceed to deliver most of the great laughs of the film. Production clearly made a note to harness their natural chemistry and let them riff, and their inclusion keeps the levity present even when things get more sombre, as Toy Story films are wont to do.
Because of course, being a Toy Story film, it still has moments that will bring out the blubbering child in every adult watching. It’s almost inexplicable how this instalment is able to create arguably an even more satisfying finale than Toy Story 3. This is a film about loving and being loved. Woody can never leave a toy behind because he knows the impact just one can have on a child, and on that toy as well.
He felt that love with Andy, and now, like many of us watching, he’s grown up, and is no longer the centre of attention. So, like the wise, experienced one of the group, he passes on his stories of love and wonder to his younger disciples, helping other toys find their place in the world, while realising he’s no longer the Sheriff he once was of his.
Stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have already mentioned how they found it very hard to get through their final scenes with Woody and Buzz respectively, and audiences will likely have a similarly tricky time watching them. It’s hard to imagine most will ever be able to hear certain famous lines from the franchise in the same way ever again.
But amid the tears, one has to be impressed that this film does what most thought was impossible. After what seemed like the perfect finale in 2010, they were able to continue the story in an equally profound and satisfying way. One of the great trilogies is now one of the great quadrilogies.
As mentioned, Toy Story 4 feels a little different to the prior films in its setting and through other aspects, but the heart it still there, and still beating strong.