When I first heard that Pixar were going ahead and making a fourth Toy Story movie, I was conflicted. On the one hand I was ready to see these characters back on the big screen, while on the other, I was fearful of what the overall narrative would be. I felt like the franchise had reached its natural end, with Woody and the gang finding a new home outside of Andy’s iconic, cloud-patterned bedroom.
Then word spread that this new film would mark the re-introduction of Bo Peep into the series, one of my favourite characters from the first two films. So I was pumped, and ready to see how Bo would shape the film’s story and themes. And over time, I got more excited with every trailer and poster reveal – Bo was now a badass and they played the Beach Boys in the commercial – I was ready.
So when I finally sat down and watched the film, I was surprised by what I got. Honestly I was not expecting anything great, but what I got was good, solid and well-done. The film takes place a few years after the events of Toy Story 3, with Bonnie now being the owner of our favourite characters. But it seems that Woody is not exactly adapting to his new environment. One where he is no longer the leader (with that role being taken by Bonnie Hunt’s Dolly) and where he is no longer the favourite toy – with Jessie now being the Sheriff of Bonnie’s imaginary town. However, Woody does accompany Bonnie to her first day at kindergarten, where Bonnie ends up making herself a new friend. Literally! The product of her creation being a living spork with a face called Forky (voiced by Tony Hale).
And here is where we begin to see some of the issues with the film’s story. In a matter of five minutes we literally witness life being created by a child, and it is never addressed! The unfortunate implications of Bonnie’s unmentioned divinity should really have been the primary plot of the film – but no! Instead we’re going on a road trip and of course, Woody and Forky soon find themselves stranded on the highway.
This eventually leads to duo to come across a dusty antique store, where Bo’s lamp sits dimming in the window. From this point, Woody finds himself having to contend with a crazed doll, her army of ventriloquist dummies and his remaining feelings for Bo. And all these things lead to twists and turns that may be unexpected, even for the most hardcore of Toy Story fan. And, honestly, I’m here for it. I’m proud that Pixar made some bold decisions with this story, instead of simply treading upon common ground.
However, this also doesn’t feel like a Toy Story film. If you are expecting to see the whole gang, then you better enjoy the first ten minutes, because that’s all the screen time they are given. Even Buzz and Jessie, two staples of the film series, do not have any time or development given to them. This film is very much Woody’s film, and although that is interesting, it does rob the film of its comfy Toy Story vibe.
Tom Hanks once again does an amazing job in the title role, while Annie Potts return is marked by an equally strong vocal performance. Christina Hendrix also shines as Gabby Gabby, with a vocal range that is actually shocking in its depth and pitch. But beyond that, very few characters are given a moment to shine, although all the voice work remains great.
The animation of the film must also be celebrated as the best in the franchise, and maybe the best Pixar has delivered since Coco. The dust looks real, the animals look real, hell, even the people are getting there. Watching this film and comparing it to the original just goes to show how far Pixar have come and how far animation has come in the intervening years.
Overall, Toy Story 4 feels more like a post-Toy Story 3 animated short. There is very little substance or story, but there are also great characters and some beautifully crafted moments. But I do hope this is the true ending of the series, because I don’t think Pixar can keep beating this barely-alive horse for much longer.