Toy Story 4 is the latest entry in Disney and Pixar’s long running Toy Story franchise, which once again follows a group of sentient toys led by the trusty sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks). At school, the toys’ new kid owner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) creates in a new toy from trash named Forky (Tony Hale), which Woody feels obliged to protect, but the two are unfortunately lost at a nearby carnival and must get back to Bonnie before she and her parents leave with the help of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody’s old flame from the first two films.
For those who don’t know, the Toy Story trilogy is in important part of my life. Toy Story 2 was the first film I ever saw and is a major reason why I love Pixar. Going into Toy Story 4, I was skeptical about this movie’s existence because I am one of the many fans who believe that Toy Story 3 had a perfect ending to the franchise. Thankfully, the newest sequel does not disappoint.
In terms of filmmaking, Toy Story 4 is another shining example of why Pixar is the leading studio for big-budget CG animation. The original Toy Story’s computer-generated imagery was revolutionary in 1995, and Pixar has kept moving the technology forward because the animation in Toy Story 4 is superb. So much care not only went into rendering the locations and character designs, but also drawing them to have their own distinct looks. At several points, the main characters are so full of detail that they often look like photorealistic toys.
One notable example is Bo, whose character model is lit well enough to resemble a porcelain doll. Whether or not this movie is absolutely necessary, there is no denying that the animators at Pixar put a commendable amount of time and effort into making the animation on-display as amazing as possible instead of simply fulfilling the bare minimum that most modern animated movies fail to rise above. On a related note, I would recommend watching this video from INSIDER on how Pixar’s animation has evolved since the original Toy Story. It makes me appreciate their more recent sequels such as Finding Dory and Incredibles 2.
Toy Story 4 is also directed incredibly well. Josh Cooley, who started out as an intern for Pixar, makes his feature-length directorial debut with this film. In the vein of his predecessors, Cooley knows how to direct extravagant action set pieces as well as much more somber emotional scenes that the series is known for. I hope he directs original properties for Pixar in the future now that they are taking a break from sequels.
Randy Newman, who composed and conducted the musical scores for the first three Toy Story films, returns to compose Toy Story 4’s score and once again knocks it out of the park. He brings an exciting orchestral score to the film as well as original songs like the classic “You Got a Friend in Me,” as well as new additions including “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” and Chris Stapleton’s “The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy.” It truly is the only nostalgia that this movie needs besides a quick Andy cameo.
A Toy Story movie is only as good as its characters and Toy Story 4’s characters vary in their success. Many of the original voice actors likeTom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack reprise their respective characters and each one slips back into iconic personalities as if they never left. Among these returning voice actors is Annie Potts as Bo Peep, who did not appear in Toy Story 3. She has transitioned from a comforting love interest to a courageous adventurer who helps lost toys at the carnival find owners. Some fans may think that turning Bo into a strong, independent hero panders to modern audiences but I think this change is welcome because it gives her more to do as a character and it gives Potts more to do as a voice actress.
New characters also join the Toy Story franchise such as Ducky and Bunny, a Timon and Pumbaa–esque comedy duo respectively voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. I was worried that these two characters would annoy me after a while but they ended up supplying many of the film’s funnier scenes, either because of the lines given or more likely because of Key and Peele’s impeccable comedic delivery. The standout inclusion, however, is Keanu Reeves as an overly confident Canadian stuntman toy named Duke Kaboom, which is further proof that too much Keanu Reeves is never a bad thing. There are many other new characters that I cannot talk about for the sake of time as well as clever cameos that some viewers may not realize until after they read the credits.
The one character that I did have a problem with is Forky. He wasn’t all that funny at first and even though I understand his purpose in the film, his arc felt somewhat rushed in the long run. I could possibly like him more on repeat viewings but his character somehow rubbed me the wrong way on my first viewing. Of course, many of old characters return including Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Mr. Potato Head (the late, great Don Rickles). Sadly Rickles died before he could record his lines for Mr. Potato Head, so Pixar used previously-recorded material instead. This idea may explain why the new characters take priority over the old ones in addition to already knowing the latter for three movies.
Several screenwriters went through the script of Toy Story 4 such as Rashida Jones, who retains a story credit, and they mostly succeed at turning out a well-rounded screenplay. Another worry I had going into this film was that it would recycle plot points from the original trilogy but luckily it doesn’t, instead tweaking them to expand on previous themes and create a new story unlike any other entry. Similarly, the first twenty minutes of Toy Story 4 include a brief, but well-edited, montage that sums the original movies for children who haven’t seen them yet, or fans who didn’t re-watch them in preparation for this new movie.
Pixar is primarily known for pulling on the heartstrings of both kids and adults, and Toy Story 4 is no exception. The film features several emotional moments that are bound to make audiences tear up especially the ending, which comes close to that of Toy Story 3. This new sequel is also hilarious and includes some adult-oriented jokes that make me wonder how the movie was rated G. There are some scenes that felt predictable that could just be a personal opinion.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
At first glance, Toy Story 4 isn’t my favorite Toy Story movie, or even my favorite animated movie of 2019 (that honor goes to the severely underrated Lego Movie 2), but it is still an entertaining and heartwarming summer blockbuster for the whole family to enjoy. The gorgeous animation, lovable characters, and innovative themes are enough to warrant the price of admission. If little kids should see their first movie, then that movie should be Toy Story 4 rather than The Secret Life of Pets 2.