THE PLOT: A couple of years after the events of Toy Story 3, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), the current owner of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and their friends, creates a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale), who she becomes attached to. When Forky is lost during a family road trip, Woody sets out to bring him home – and on the way, he is reunited with his lost love Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
REVIEW: Making a perfect film is hard. Making a perfect sequel to a perfect film is even harder. And making TWO perfect sequels to a perfect film is about as hard as it gets. Yet that’s exactly what Pixar accomplished with the first three Toy Story movies, giving us an exceptionally rare case of a trilogy with three equally amazing instalments. And given that Toy Story 3‘s perfect ending seemed to wrap up the story beautifully, the idea of a Toy Story 4 understandably made a lot of us nervous. Could even Pixar keep up that level of quality across four films? Would a new instalment spoil the emotional conclusion of the last one? As it turns out, we were fools for ever doubting them. While one could argue that Toy Story 4 wasn’t strictly “necessary”, it remains a wonderful continuation of this story that lives up to its three predecessors.
We pick up a couple of years after Andy passed his toys on to Bonnie before departing for college at the end of Toy Story 3, and see that Woody, once the leader of the gang, is struggling somewhat to find his role in their new situation – Bonnie isn’t totally attached to him in the way Andy was, so his sense of purpose is not as certain as it was in the previous films. Then along comes Forky, an arts-and-crafts project made out of a plastic spork by Bonnie during her first day at Kindergarten. He becomes sentient like the other toys, but does not completely understand his existence – he insists that he’s “trash”, not a toy, so Woody becomes a mentor figure to him, trying to explain to Forky what a toy’s job is supposed to be. When Forky gets separated from the gang during a road trip, Woody finds himself on a new adventure during which he meets new and familiar faces.
Some of the original cast are somewhat under-utilised, with John Ratzenberger’s Ham, Wallace Shawn’s Rex and Joan Cusack’s Jessie getting a bit sidelined, but it’s still fun to see the characters again. Tom Hanks gives a heartfelt vocal performance as Woody, whose arc gives the movie the opportunity to explore new themes rather than retread the messages of the first three, Tim Allen is once again delightful as Buzz Lightyear, and Annie Potts’ Bo Peep gets much more depth than she did in the others due to her expanded role.
The new additions to the cast are just as memorable. It may have seemed like an odd choice to centre the film around a spork undergoing an existential crisis, but Tony Hale brings an endearing innocence to Forky that gives his scenes a sense of sweetness. The antagonist, a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is more complex than you’d expect. Comedy duo Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele are typically hilarious as a pair of stuffed animals named Ducky and Bunny, and Keanu Reeves steals scenes as stuntman action figure Duke Caboom.
It almost goes without saying that a Pixar film is going to be visually impressive, but the animation here really is a testament to how far the medium has come. The backgrounds are stunningly rendered and the characters extraordinarily expressive.
As with the first three, there’s an excellent balance between hilarious gags and heartfelt emotion. There are plenty of laughs to be had here, and while the last ten minutes may not make you cry quite as hard as, say, the opening montage in Up (or indeed, the final moments of Toy Story 3), they should still bring a tear to your eye, especially if you grew up with these characters like I did.
In the end, Toy Story 4 is as good as it could have been, and much better than the cash-grab some had feared. It’s a worthy addition to a great series, a fun chance to revisit beloved characters, and also a thoughtful meditation on existence and finding your place in life (y’know – for kids!).
Heartfelt, funny and beautiful to look at, Toy Story 4 is a delightful fourth instalment that’s worthy of the Toy Story name.