Image: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jordan Peele in Toy Story 4 © Photo by Pixar. Property of Disney/Pixar [Source: IMDB]
Woody and the posse are back. Now in the care of and for a young girl named Bonnie as she ventures to kindergarten. The toys find themselves in the familiar territory of loneliness and trying to look out for their kid and fellow toys alike. Especially with the creation of the “toy”, Forky. Who believes himself to be trash. Woody and the gang have to convince him otherwise for himself and Bonnie.
Director: Josh Cooley. Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Carl Weathers, Jeff Garlin [U]
I’ll come right out an say it. Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the story that began with Woody and Buzz as Andy’s toys. Ending on a moment so sweet yet bitter I’d bet its hard to find a fan that wasn’t teary-eyed. Nostalgia rewarded and a story ended. Then Toy Story 4 comes along. Immediately you have to ask, what is there left to tell? Why are we returning to these characters and this story that we were told was ended and we certainly felt that. Toy Story 4’s answer – Woody.
It’s very quickly apparent that unlike the other films where the colourful cast of characters is a true ensemble and every character is realised in some sense adding flavour to them and the story. Here, however, ironically the other toys are left in the closet. This is a Toy’s Story, Woody’s Story. Superficially it sounds fitting, Woody has always been the centrepiece of this story and has always struggled with being there for his owner/kid. Toy Story 4 wisely delves into Woody’s struggles in a world without Andy and touches on loss as Toy Story has continuously done. A lot of the themes feel like treading old ground, except of course through the characters of Gabbie Gabbie and Forky. Which do explore fresh and somewhat exciting avenues for social commentary and both are realised well and with a full heart.
Despite that, the execution of the overall film feels like a tack on or a conjunctive. The feeling I took away from Toy Story 4 is they wanted to see if audiences would like less of the old characters and more new as a way to disconnect from the original cast and branch off into more sequels. While my reasoning for not liking this movie so much is not that, I cannot help but feel like they should have just started afresh with new toys, all new characters instead of using old characters as a bridge. It’s not exactly a premise that will seem otherworldly without Buzz and Woody.
Still, it’s still got some of that Toy Story magic, supported by the familiar tones and tunes from Randy Newman that light up the nostalgia in my brain like the 4th of July. It’s hard not to smile and get sucked into the playful humour, creative fun and adventure of it all and even harder for children perhaps only just getting introduced to the Toy Story world. But with this being what I believe to be a conjunctive film to disconnect from the original cast it comes across as cheap, superficial fun that ultimately, unfortunately, soils the original story.