Toy Story 4 - Review

It is very rare to see a fully realized trilogy that ends as close to perfect as can be. Toy Story did that with the beautiful, poignant, and emotional Toy Story 3. So it was natural to be skeptical about Toy Story 4's existence. Luckily, most of the fears were unwarranted. Toy Story 4 is a beautiful and worthy entry into the franchise.

The real title of the film should have been Woody: A Toy Story. He is the only one of the veteran toys outside of Bo Peep that has anything of substance to do. There are a ton of newcomers who do, but they just help contribute to Woody's story. For instance, the story did not need Buzz Lightyear. But you can't have a Toy Story film without Buzz Lightyear, there would be blood in the water! His involvement provided many moments of humor and levity, but felt forced overall.

Bo Peep is the reason Toy Story 4 exists. She was absent from Toy Story 3, and that is the reason to tell the story. What happened to her and what her relationship with Woody would be is the hook for the audience. But the story gets deeper than that.

Toy Story 4 tells a very existential story. It explores questions like "Who am I? What do I do now? Where do I belong? What is my purpose?" It is pretty deep for a kids movie, but works because of that.

The new toys have their own depth, which is nice. But your favorite toys outside of Buzz, Woody, and Bo Peep are reduced to mere extended cameos. This makes sense for Mr. Potato Head, whose voice actor Don Rickles passed away in 2017. His lines were used from archive footage. 

The rest, like Rex, Slinky, Jesse, and the rest don't have much to do. It is ironic that this is a road trip movie. Bonnie's family is on vacation in an RV, and she brings her toys with her. Toy Story 4 might be the most intimate of the series, even though it goes farther from home than ever before.

Tom Hanks, who has embodied Woody for over 20 years now, gave a very emotional and nuanced performance. He has found himself in a situation he has never been in before, but the grizzled veteran had always done whats best for his kid. A big part of that was grooming, saving, mentoring, teaching, and finding Forky, a toy that Bonnie made herself.

Forky is played brilliantly by Tony Hale. He plays up the existential theme extremely well. In fact, the movie starts to suggest that it will be Forky's existentialism that we focus on. When it shifts to Woody's instead, the film becomes something special. Forky is a great addition to the roster of characters, and smart from a marketing standpoint. Kids who can't afford to own a Woody or Buzz Lightyear, can now make their own Toy Story toy.

Tim Allen churns out a solid performance, as he always has. He wasn't given much to do, but the one line at the end that he had to get right, he absolutely nailed. It was one of the most emotional lines of the film, and his delivery lended itself to the emotional climax being that much stronger.

As for the new cast, the year of Keanu Reeves continues. His character Duke Caboom is a fun addition, and it was amazing how much depth and emotional resonance the character had in such a short time on screen. He wins the audience over very quickly, and his big moment near the end of the film feels earned. 

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play the best of the new characters. Their casting was spot on for the personalities of Ducky and Bunny. It feels like they have spinoff potential, if Pixar ever wanted to go that way. (With the introduction of Disney's new streaming service, and Pixar having already developed a Monsters Inc spinoff for it, I can see it happening there as a series.)

While this film had the most extreme conclusion of the franchise, it actually had the most mild villain of the series. Sid, the Prospector and Lotso were good villains that suited the story being told. Prospector, and Lotso were proper toy villains, and their motivations made sense. But they weren't very redeemable characters. They had satisfying endings in that they got what they deserved. But the villain here was Gabby Gabby, played by Christina Hendricks, and she was more of a plot catalyst that garnered sympathy by the end. Her conclusion was the most emotional - and most satisfying - of all of the villains in the franchise to date.

No spoilers, but the way things ended, I doubt very highly there will be a Toy Story 5. There isn't really any unfinished business left, and things would get very convoluted to try and get all the characters in a position to tell a new cohesive story. But I thought that about Toy Story 3, and here we are.

Overall, the film will satisfy kids new to the franchise and the adults that grew up with it. Some of the magic has been left in the last two decades, but they still managed to pull some tricks out of the hat. You'll get to visit old friends, have some laughs, shed some tears, and say goodbye to characters who have been with us since 1995. Audiences can't ask for much more than that.

Toy Story 4 is currently playing in theaters everywhere.


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