Toy Story 4 (2019)
Director: Josh Cooley
Screenwriters: Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale
When I first heard that Pixar were making a fourth instalment in the Toy Story franchise I was both excited and nervous. I am a huge fan of Toy Story and I can distinctly remember going to see the first film at the cinema when I was five years old, a cinema that is now no longer there, so this franchise has been something I have grown up with over the course of the past 24 years.
In 1995, when the first film was released, the idea that the toys we cherished as a kid had lives of their own and loved us back was a genius ploy from the up and coming Pixar Animation Studios as it was something that every child could relate to. Cut to 2010 where again, this time as adults, we could deeply and emotionally resonate with a film about toys because of how we could relate to growing up (like Andy had to) and leaving a part of our childhood behind. This seemed to be the perfect send off; a passing of the torch (or the toys) from one now grown up kid to one who still had her whole childhood ahead of her, from one mainstay franchise to a new generation of Pixar movies under the Disney banner. And “So Long Partner”… well, it’s possibly the most perfect parting line of all time, 15 years in the making.
We’re now nine years down the line, and after such a difficult parting of ways, we get to see our beloved characters once more. Exciting, yes? Well, maybe…
The question was always going to be whether a fourth film was necessary and the answer was always going to be that it probably wasn’t, but Pixar are pretty reliable when it comes to making a good film, so there has always been a level of trust between those who grew up watching the studio’s work and their wave of new sequels and original releases.
As a child of Pixar’s fledgling adolescence, I find it difficult to not enjoy a Toy Story or a Pixar film, so it was inevitable that I’d enjoy this one – it was fun and humorous, even emotional in parts; it was all of the things you would expect from a Toy Story movie. My main concern when watching the trailer was that the new characters wouldn’t be very good, that Forky in particular would be too annoying or obnoxious for me to ever truly invest in, but I actually really enjoyed the new characters, Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) especially; the duo providing some excellent comedic moments. This was a nice surprise.
The issue is that my initial apprehension regarding the need for a new Toy Story was something justified by the picture itself. By no means was this a bad film, but it also wasn’t outstanding, and Toy Story had always been outstanding…
The main problem I had with Toy Story 4 was that I felt it lacked the nostalgia that the other films in the franchise provided, even though it seemed like they were trying to force nostalgia upon you by reintroducing characters such as Bo Peep and referring back to past events throughout the film. As is the case with any Toy Story movie at this stage, we don’t know whether this is the last time we’ll ever see these famous characters, so to see so little of the gang was a real shame, despite how the film’s focus on Woody on Bo Peep made for a strong central narrative arc. In this respect, even Buzz was relegated to a secondary character and seemed absent of the development he’d gone through in the previous films, his sidekicks turned adopted children (the aliens) being nowhere to be seen. The film simply focused too heavily on the new or revived characters and left me feeling robbed of time with some old favourites such as Buzz, Rex and the Potato Heads.
Even worse, Toy Story 4 left me feeling flat emotionally.
Going in to see a Toy Story film, I expect to feel a certain level of emotion towards the narrative, towards the characters, because of my own projections and etc., and this film was simply flat until the very last few lines (but there was always very little doubt I would leave the cinema without at least a few tears). In general, I was left wanting more on an emotional level, and that’s coming from a fan of the franchise; what could a casual filmgoer possibly connect to?
Well, as always, the animation was stunning.
The textures that the teams of animators at Pixar HQ are now able to create are phenomenal, right down to the tiniest scratches on Buzz’s armour after years of being played with to the smallest frays and threads coming off Bo Peeps’ worn clothes. The attention to detail is like the work of no other animation studio and illustrates exactly why Pixar more often than not come out on top with critics, audiences and awards shows alike. In growing up with this studio, there’s a sense of pride in seeing how far the animation has come since their debut feature in 1995, their achievements in a field they innovated being simply outstanding.
The plot to Toy Story 4 is a familiar story; a typical road trip movie. After Bonnie (the child) creates Forky to get her through her first day at school, Woody will do anything to make sure Forky stays by her side even though Forky believes he is not a toy and is meant solely for the trash. This essentially leaves Woody and Forky on the road to find their way back to the rest of the gang and Bonnie, which is when they stumble across an antique shop and Woody is reunited with Bo Peep (who has been living a very different life since the last time we encountered her). While the story did not necessarily offer anything new, it also seemed to come naturally, which only worked in the film’s favour. Where Toy Story 3 was the end of Andy’s story, Toy Story 4 felt like the conclusion to the Toys’ story; as Andy grew up and had to find a new place in the world, Woody and the rest of the Toys now had to do the same. One thing the plot does do very well is show the true goodness of Woody’s character and rounds his story arc off nicely. Although the film may have missed the mark on certain points, its heart seemed to be in the right place and the message it was trying to convey came across clearly; the last line of the film providing a sense of satisfaction that the rest of the picture lacked.
To reiterate, Toy Story 4 is by no means a bad film. It was perfectly fine and very enjoyable, but it didn’t live up to expectations. Adults who have grown up with the franchise may be a little disappointed, but perhaps Toy Story is no longer for us… perhaps Toy Story 3 was as much about us moving on from it, as it was about Andy moving on from the toys? I have a feeling that, regardless of the answer to that question, kids will love this instalment all the same.