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Review: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Directed by: Josh Cooley

Premise: A few years after the events of Toy Story 3, Bonnie (voice of Madeleine McGraw) creates Forky (voice of Tony Hale) out of a spork and pipe cleaners. Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and his plastic friends try to keep Bonnie’s new favorite toy out of trouble.  

What Works: The Toy Story franchise is Pixar’s signature property. That’s quite a thing to be. Pixar has emerged as Hollywood’s leading animation studio both in terms of box office earnings but also in quality and Toy Story 4 is an impressive showcase of Pixar’s technical prowess. There are some astonishing images in this film and the textures and the subtlety of the details are sometimes indistinguishable from a live action movie. Toy Story 4 is built around a new character, a plastic spork that a child has crafted into a plaything. Forky is a unique character not only in the Toy Story canon but within contemporary animation. Most American animated feature films are very literal. They rarely push out into the absurd or the surreal. Forky takes the Toy Story series in some unusual and experimental directions. Another hallmark of Pixar’s films and of Toy Story in particular is the way this series has dealt with existential questions—What is the nature of existence? What is our purpose?—all within the context of a family film. Toy Story 4 literalizes those ideas through Forky. It’s not a cerebral film but it does integrate philosophical ideas into the story in a way that most supposedly grown up films don’t. Toy Story 4 may also be the funniest chapter in this series. The humor ranges between physical comedy and sight gags and verbal quips and the humor skews a little bit older than other Pixar films while still family appropriate.

What Doesn’t: Toy Story 4 is about Woody searching for a purpose to his life. The irony is that this film has the same problem and unlike Woody the filmmakers never really find a raison d’être. Toy Story 3 was the organic conclusion of this series. It drew together the themes and plotlines and characters of the previous installments and brought everything to a nearly perfect conclusion. Toy Story 4 comes across as an addendum. The film recycles a few of the ideas of the previous Toy Story installments and it never shakes the feeling that it is unnecessary. That problem is partly due to the plotting which moves ahead in fits and starts. Stories are generally about characters who want something. One of the impressive hallmarks of the Toy Story films is the way they subvert our expectations. Woody starts each story wanting something and by the end he realizes that he actually wants or needs something else. That’s not done as well in Toy Story 4. Woody’s epiphany is sudden and doesn’t grow organically out of the rest of the story. The film also fails its supporting cast and especially Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen). The friendship between Woody and Buzz was central to these films and the way it’s pushed aside is disappointing especially given how the film concludes. 

Bottom Line: Toy Story 4 probably didn’t need to exist but it does. The third film was a better conclusion for this series but the fourth installment is sufficiently entertaining and terrifically crafted.

Episode: #755 (June 30, 2019)