TOY STORY 4

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Josh Cooley

Stars: voices of Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves, Christine Hendricks, Medelaine McGraw, Wallace Shawn, Timothy Dalton, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Blake Clark, John Ratzenberger, Jordan Peele, Keagan Michael-Key, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, Betty White, Jay Hernandez, Lori Allen, Bonnie Hunt, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Jeff Garlin, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, Alan Oppenheimer, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Flea.

A tale of two franchises. While Men In Black 4 falters, Toy Story 4 soars.

Tom Hanks and Tony Hale in Toy Story 4 (2019)

Pixar’s Toy Story launched in 1995 and we fell in love with the affable toy cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), the arrogant Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and their friends. Toy Story 3 brought the trilogy to a fitting, sublime conclusion and gave us time to bid a poignant farewell to these familiar characters, and there was nary a dry eye in the house at the end of the film. Toy Story 3 was not only a great animated film but a great film, period. It provided a perfect ending to the trilogy. I didn’t think we needed a fourth film in the series, and while Toy Story 4 is not as good as Toy Story 3 it is still an entertaining film and it honours the legacy of its predecessors. Over the course of a quarter of a century the writers have maintained the high standards of story-telling, and the animators have maintained the high standards with the look of the films. And again we feel a strong emotional connection to these familiar characters, who are very human and given a real sense of humanity and warmth.

Toy Story 4 deals with themes of friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, the loss of childhood, second chances, and finding your own voice. When the film opens, we see Andy, who is about to leave home and head off to college, give his beloved toys to young Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw), a family friend. A wonderful montage (which is reminiscent of the opening of the superb Up) reveals how Bonnie warms to her new toys, although she soon relegates Woody to the closet. We feel sorry for Woody as he sits forlornly in the closet while Bonnie plays with the other toys, and even promotes cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) to sheriff. But Woody still feels a duty to bring happiness to Bonnie.

Then Bonnie heads off for her first day at kindergarten. She is feeling apprehensive, so the fiercely loyal Woody stows away in her backpack to keep a protective eye on her. While Bonnie sits alone he picks some pencils and objects out of a rubbish bin. Bonnie uses these objects – a plastic fork, some pipe cleaners, etc – to create her own little doll, which she names Forky (voiced by Tony hale). Forky quickly becomes Bonnie’s new favourite toy. However, Forky is drawn towards garbage bins and is constantly trying to escape. Woody feels it is his duty to keep Forky around for Bonnie’s sake.

But then Bonnie’s family head off on a road journey. When Forky escapes from the family RV Woody sets out on a journey to find him and bring him back. This adventure recalls Toy Story 2 when Woody set off to find an absent Buzz. The journey here brings them to the Second Chances Antique Shop, where he meets his former girlfriend Bo Peep (Annie Potts returning after being absent from Toy Story 3). Woody and Bo believe they have different roles as toys, which may drive them apart again. But here Bo Peep is transformed into an action heroine who helps to save Woody from peril.

But Woody also encounters the creepy Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christine Hendricks, from Mad Men, etc), a doll with a broken voice box. She wants Woody’s pull string so she can have a voice. She also has a gang of four creepy ventriloquists’ dummies as her henchmen (and these characters look like something out of the 1954 horror film Dead Of Night and are probably going to be a little too scary for younger children.)

Toy Story 4 has been co-written by a team of eight writers including John Lasseter, Stephany Folsom, Rashida Jones, Andrew Stanton and Josh Cooley. A former storyboard artist who worked on films like Inside Out and Up, etc, Cooley makes his feature directorial debut here. The progression of the overarching story lines from the original film though somehow seem natural and organic. However, a lot of the familiar characters get a bit sidelined here as the story centres around Woody’s mission to find Forky. Even Buzz gets less to do here, while Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), Slinky (Blake Clark), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) get less to do. Through the wonders of modern technology, the late Don Rickles, who passed away in 2017, delivers a posthumous vocal performance as Mr Potato Head. And there are vocal cameos from the likes of Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner and Betty White. Among the new characters, the stand-out is Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), a narcissistic and daring Evel Kneivel like bike rider daredevil and action figure. And Jordan Peele and Keagan Michael-Key bring plenty of slapstick humour to proceedings as Ducky and Bunny.

While this fourth installment in the Toy Story saga may not be quite as superb as Toy Story 3, it is still an entertaining film that should satisfy audiences of all ages. Pixar once again brings these wonderful characters to life and gives us another moving, heartfelt story that should bring the franchise to a poignant, bittersweet yet satisfying end.

★★★★

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