Toy Story 4 Jun 23, 2019 14:35:12 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 23, 2019 14:35:12 GMT -5
Toy Story 4 (2019)
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks, right) introduces Forky (Tony Hale) in Toy Story 4.
For me, the Toy Story franchise is an elaborate, cozy quilt of nostalgia, innocence, and emotional sucker-punches, all gift-wrapped in animation that's second-to-none. With that, I was intensely skeptical of another installment, moreso than with any previous Pixar sequel (yes, including Cars 2). It's beyond rare that a trilogy of films with uniquely different plots meets the consensus of acclaim from both critics and audiences, and with the heartbreaking but very pragmatic conclusion of Toy Story 3, I, like many others, felt the curtain should rightfully fall on the beloved toys after 15 years of hard play.
As I'm sure any Disney/Pixar executive would admit behind closed doors, there are more toys to sell and theme-park rides to open. For a five-year-old kid in 2019, they have no real connection to seeing the Toy Story trilogy in theaters, if they've even seen them on home video/streaming. A Toy Story-themed Disneyland attraction might become stale or foreign to children when it's been almost a decade since the last installment was released. It's a sad fact that likely justifies why so many of our favorite characters are undermined in this sequel (enough Buzz Lightyear dolls have sold, but how many Duke Caboom and Bo Peep figures do kids have?). Despite its obvious commercial intentions and the low prioritizing of the classic characters, Toy Story 4 justifies its existence by being a well-made addition into a franchise that really demanded a home-run, but won't be hurt by a mere triple.
The film opens with a flashback to a rainy night when Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) rescue an RC car nearly washed away into the sewers. The terrifying rescue ends with a degree of poignancy, though, as Bo Peep is set to be shipped off to an undisclosed location. Woody tries to save her, but Bo Peep informs him that part of being a toy is coming to grips when you're no longer needed by your kid (in this case, Andy).
Fast-forward nine years later, and we pick up where Toy Story 3 left off, with Woody, Buzz, and the unforgettable gang of toys now belonging to a young girl named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). Playtime has become a bit of a sore-spot for Woody, as he sees all his friends, such as Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) get taken out of the closet while he lies dormant amidst Bonnie's baby toys. Woody still takes on the role of the unseen protector of Bonnie, hopping into her backpack on her first day of Kindergarten, and lending a hand by giving her some art supplies from the trash to craft into something. Armed with a spork, Popsicle-sticks, a pipe-cleaner, and googly eyes, Bonnie creates Forky (Tony Hale), her new best friend.
Woody offers to give Forky an introduction to the world of being a toy, but Forky insists on returning to what he believes is his rightful place — the trash. I anxiously await the dissertations and doctoral theses on the single-use spork, who is thrust into being a toy against his own volition, but that's for another day. Woody takes it upon himself to keep Forky in the company of Bonnie, which becomes more difficult when the family and toys take a road-trip in an RV. Such a trip will inevitably involve run-ins with a litany of new characters, including a vintage doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who wants Woody's pull-string/voice-box, her army of eerie ventriloquist dummies in an antique shop, Duke Caboom (voiced by America's new favorite celebrity, Keanu Reeves), an Evel Knievel-esque Canadian stuntman on a motorcycle, and plush carnival toys charmingly brought to life by the voices of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
Not even Cars 2, at least in my recollection, spawned such pre-release skepticism as Toy Story 4, but I'm happy to report mostly good things. In a year that's brought us merely adequate or forgettable animated features thus far, such as The LEGO Movie: The Second Part, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and UglyDolls, it's a breath of fresh-air to be greeted by familiar faces encased in a storyline that prompts laughs, tears, and whimsy, all without pandering. The thematic heft of Pixar doesn't disappoint either, as the story concerns a believable existential crisis amongst the toys, namely Woody, who must become content with the fact that not one but two kids may no longer need him as he currently is. Another crisis applies to Forky, as he doesn't understand how he became a toy or what exactly a toy is. As a piece of disposable plastic cutlery, he is ingrained to believe his only purpose is one that provides momentary convenience before being discarded and forced to live amongst other waste products, an outcome he embraces. He is wired to be tossed away in the similar way that Woody is wired to desire connection and fulfillment for the kids who take advantage of his ability to be a fun addition to their toy-boxes.
Also reassuring to note is that even with all the camaraderie that occurs in the RV, antique shop, and carnival, Toy Story 4 is well-paced and dead-set on being kinetic as opposed to manic. Even its fastest moments don't feel as breakneck as the aforementioned sequel to The LEGO Movie, and rather than be built on a foundation of pop-culture references and quips, it's predicated on a touching story and a plethora of engaging characters.
It is a shame that fan-favorite characters such as Jessie, Rex, Hamm, and Slinky Dog are relegated to being passive forces in the film, lying motionless on the table of Bonnie's family's RV in a respective park. I don't recall Mr. Potato Head getting more than two lines (probably because voice actor Don Rickles passed away in 2017 and the film uses archival recordings of Rickles) and the little green aliens have no dialog nor presence whatsoever. Once again, I'm sure this is the insidious ways of Disney working to supplant the classic characters of the series by foregrounding new ones as a way of selling toys, and although I'd like to pretend backdoor "creative decisions" shouldn't impact a film's quality, this is America, after all, and they do. And it makes the film noticeably lesser in quality.
Toy Story 4 is reassuring insofar that it doesn't flagrantly dismantle all that made the first three installments so wonderful nor does it conclude on a note that wouldn't (or shouldn't) stand up to serving as the real end to the series. It's a film clearly made by people who care and respect these characters, even if they don't allow them a lot of room to breathe at times, and delicately crafted by those who have channeled the subconsciousness of our closest companions as children. We've certainly come a long way from simply trying to avoid the backyard bully.
Voiced by: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Madeleine McGraw, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jordan Peele. Directed by: Josh Cooley.