“Toy Story 4″ Review: A Great (and Unnecessary) Sequel

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Directed by Josh Cooley

Starring: Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Tim Allen, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele

 I think I can speak for most of us when I say there was a collective groan and eyebrow raise when it was announced Pixar was working on a fourth “Toy Story” film. After all, how do you follow-up what is a perfect film trilogy with a perfect ending in “Toy Story 3” which brought the story full circle in such a way that 90s kids were bawling their eyes out in the theaters back in 2010?

(Me trying to look tough walking out of the theater back in 2010)

It felt like a cash-grab to squeeze one last box office score for the power hungry Mouse out of a franchise that I felt really didn’t have much left to say. Well, “Toy Story 4” is still at the end of the day a cash-grab BUT it’s a movie that won’t insult its viewers, teaching another great life lesson to kids and is still nonetheless as heartwarming as any of the previous three films.

“Toy Story 4” picks up where “Toy Story 3” left off continuing the adventures of Woody, Buzz and all his friends who are now in the care of their new kid, Bonnie, who is beginning her first year of Kindergarten. When Bonnie makes a new “toy” friend out of garbage named Forky Woody struggles to get the new kid in town acclimated. Just as Woody begins to get Forky into the fold however he is taken hostage by antique toys during Bonnie’s family’s road trip. Now Woody must get him back before Bonnie’s family leaves but not without the help of a long lost friend; Bo Peep.

I watched this film literally hours after putting my cat down. Yeah, I know that’s a lot to start this review off with but I needed heavy dosage of feel goodness after what happened and “Toy Story,” no matter how much there didn’t need to be another one, is consistently great at warming the cold dead strings of my heart and this film helped me cope tremendously.

(I mean, I definitely wasn’t going to feel better watching this disaster again…)

The story isn’t too much different from previous film’s themes regarding love, loss and bittersweet melancholy but it still manages to feel mostly fresh here as we deal with a new set of circumstances for Woody who grows perhaps the most here than any previous film.

It becomes clear early on he still misses Andy to a certain extent and feels he’s losing Bonnie now too. He wants to continue to be loved even though he knows it won’t last forever. As he states (paraphrasing here) toys are there to guide kids through the best parts of their lives, even though they can’t be there for the later years its better to have been a formative part of their development than not at all (But he wants this process to still go on forever).

Toys are representative of nostalgia, of childhood here; though we all wish we could go back to those simpler times and stay there forever we all have to move on eventually. But the message isn’t that we should be sad here but that we should all be glad we experienced that joy no matter how long or short it was.

(I mean, I too miss blowing air into my game cartridges to make them work, rewinding multiple VHS tapes to get them Blockbuster before midnight, my digi pet sitting in it’s own shit, drinking Crystal Pepsi all while the US slowly began molding even more into the capitalistic hell-scape that it is today. Hey, wait a minute…)

Woody’s arc at the end of this story represents an acceptance of change and a bittersweet happiness that comes with it. It made me think deeply of my beloved cat I had to let go of not even six hours prior to seeing this. I had believed all the way up until that morning that I still had years left with him, that I could still hang on to what I had but with his diagnosis it was clear it was time and through tears I let him go. I definitely felt Woody’s sadness there but not of the tragic kind but of happy acceptance. Like Woody’s time as a beloved toy, my cat’s time was up and it was time to accept that and in that way this fourth film is poignant and unique in its message.

As for the rest of the story “Toy Story 4” is just about what we all love about the series; toys getting into wacky adventures. Though the main part of the gang doesn’t get too involved in this one, instead relying on mostly the new characters of the film, they are all nonetheless charming in each bit they are a part of and will bring plenty of laughs when appearing on screen.

The newcomers especially here shine between Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s always hilarious banter that fans of their show enjoyed. Tony Hale is great as Forky and delivers some great humor throughout and Christina Hendricks who joins in as Gabby Gabby delivers a truly enjoyable performance and arc for the film.

Of course, there’s Keanu Reeves, the internet’s favorite wholesome, meme husband who as Evel Knievel toy Duke Kaboom knocks it out of the park here with his comedic timing and wit as this character. Some of the funniest lines of the movie are delivered by Keanu here and it makes me wonder all the more (especially after watching “Always be my Maybe” too recently) where comedic Keanu has been all these years? Keanu clearly still hasn’t lost a step in the comedy department since “Bill and Ted” so Hollywood, put this man in an Edgar Wright movie soon please!

(KeanUwU Weeves, everyone)

Bo Peep was a welcome return to the story, however. Whether it was intentional or not, I got some light “Mad Max” Furiosa vibes from Bo Peep who’s character evolved tremendously in this film. It always felt strange to leave her out of the third film and to have her character’s story completed in this film was a major delight. Seeing Bo and Woody play off each other brought back some happy memories from the first two films and I’m glad we got to see the two interact again.

The worst thing you can really say about this film though is that despite its quality it still feels unnecessary. As endings go it’s a pretty good one but you know what was better?

The third film.

Though it has some new and often poignant things to say it still goes through most of the usual beats you expect out of this series and feels only like a very interesting side story to the more robust trilogy.

This all said am I mad that I saw it? Do I wish Disney hadn’t made it? No, cause kind of like Woody’s arc it’s not really my time anymore. This movie is for kids and in that way it’s perfect. The people who worked on it, even if it is a cash grab for Disney, clearly cared about telling this story one more time and made sure it wouldn’t be a cynical exercise for 90s kids like myself who are still seeing it as adults.

I love “Toy Story,” always will, and whether this series continues on from here or not I’m glad I got to enjoy it through my childhood and at the close of my teenage years just as I was in college much like Andy. If future movies help kids learn about love, loss and other complex themes then maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.

So to my childhood, so long, partner but to the kids who will surely love this film, enjoy these years while they last because nothing lasts forever and that’s ok.


5 out of 5

Ugly tears intensify

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