When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.
Nine years after ‘Toy Story 3’ seemingly ended the finest trilogy in animation, and arguably the finest in any cinematic form, a fourth film comes into cinemas and I must admit to being a little apprehensive about where the story could go after a near perfect ending to the last entry. In an era where every popular form of media is seemingly milked dry for financial reasons, I was perhaps naïve enough to think Pixar (or Disney Pixar as they are now) would let the ‘Toy Story’ series conclude with the third film, but alas I was wrong. So the main question – does ‘Toy Story 4’ live up to the standards set by the previous films? The answer is sort of. It’s comfortably the weakest of the 4 films (although I appreciate nostalgia may play some part in this early assessment), but it does just about justify its existence and the charm and character bonds that were established in the earlier films are still apparent.
This entry begins shortly after the toys narrowly avoided the incinerator at the end of ‘Toy Story 3’, where they are now settled as the property of Bonnie, a young girl preparing to head off to kindergarten for the first time. There’s a cyclical feel to the early proceedings as the narrative reminisces about times past at Andy’s, when he was the young boy about to start school, and this series has always been at its strongest when dealing with the emotions that come with a change in circumstances. After Bonnie’s parents take her (and her toys) off on a road trip, the mission of this film mostly centres around Woody and co’s attempts to keep her new favourite toy Forky (a ‘toy’ created from a discarded spork ) from escaping. This leads them to a fairground, a creepy antiques shop (complete with ‘Goosebumps’ style dummies), and the gang encounter friends old and new alike along the way. There is some good material here and Forky is the best of the new additions (helped by the perfectly cast Tony Hale), but for me, it failed to scale the heights of the previous films in the series.
As the film progressed the filmmakers seemed to lose sight of the internal logic of the series and it essentially turns into an action film with toys. The premise is the premise and yes, this is a kids film at heart, but one of the core ‘rules’ as such is that the toys are meant to remain inactive around people, and it’s fair to say ‘Toy Story 4’ stretches this to the absolute limit. The voice cast has been consistently excellent and Tom Hanks is as good as ever, carrying most of the emotional material with aplomb, whilst Hale, Keanu Reeves and the returning Annie Potts are the standouts in the rest of the cast. One of the biggest things I noticed about this film is the difference in the animation from the first film in the mid-90s, which is now essentially photo realistic and every backdrop is barely distinguishable from live action – how technology has advanced in this field, driven in part by Pixar themselves. This is an enjoyable film and it taps into that pathos that has served this series so well over the years, but when you’ve set such high standards for yourself it becomes easier to fall short, and I’ll be disappointed when this series is inevitably ran into the ground with increasingly diminishing returns. Unfortunately, ‘Toy Story 4‘ might just mark the start of that.
Directed By: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Allen, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, June Squibb, Blake Clark, Carl Weathers, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Jeff Garlin and Timothy Dalton