Pixar has its formula and its bag of narrative tricks that have worked less effectively in recent years, producing many sequels and less of the breathtakingly original content that made it the animated studio to beat in Hollywood. Due to creative shake-ups and allegations that forced CEO John Lasseter to step down, it’s been up in the air where Pixar would end up after its newest slate had finished. If Toy Story 4 is any indication, they will be just fine. This is a fourth part that nobody wanted to a near-perfect trilogy that came to a very emotional and satisfying conclusion. I would have had no problem panning Toy Story 4. However, sometimes, these things come back around for a reason.
Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and their gang of friends are now toys belonging to young Bonnie, who is starting kindergarten. Feeling insecure, she makes her own toy out of a discarded spork and pipe cleaners and mismatched googly eyes and other miscellaneous items, and Forky comes alive. Forky immediately finds himself in the throes of an existential crisis, questioning his own sentience and what it means to be a toy. After Forky throws himself from the back of the family RV on a road trip, Woody goes off to bring him back to Bonnie. This leads them on an adventure where they encounter old friends and new.
I stand corrected, this film was essential. It’s necessary mainly because we learn what happened to Bo Peep, voiced by a better-than-ever Annie Potts. Bo Peep was not in Toy Story 3. Here, we learn why and we see a new side of the character no one was anticipating, and she’s a more engaging character than you’d think possible. However, if I were nitpicking, which is harder to do for this movie than you might think, I would point out that this film doesn’t spend quite enough time with the characters fans know and love. Buzz Lightyear is kind of relegated to the side, and others have pleasant moments but are also kind of separated from the action of the story. However, it’s tough to complain when you look at what the new characters bring to the table.
Forky is great. Forky is probably the best new thing in this movie. It’s a smaller role than you’d think, but it’s clear early on that Forky is essential, and what Tony Hale brings to this voice performance is exceptional. Christina Hendricks plays Gabby Gabby, a doll found in an antique shop with apparently sinister motivations. I would like to point out how great the Gabby Gabby arc is. I cannot remember a ‘villain’ character in any recent animated movie treated with this kind of nuance and depth.
Midway through, Buzz meets Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), who are prizes at a carnival, and these two lead to some of the most hilarious moments in a Pixar film. I would say Toy Story 4 is undoubtedly the funniest in the franchise. We also meet Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a Canadian daredevil toy whose owner no longer wanted him after he failed to do what it says on the box. And he’s delightful, and Reeves’ resurgence is continuing for a reason.
This is longtime Pixar storyboard artist Josh Cooley’s directorial debut, and these movies seem to look better with each passing year, proving the tech of the previous films obsolete. The opening scene, which is a flashback set in the rain seems breathtakingly real, and when we meet a cat in the antique shop, the level of detail is out of this world. It could be partly because animation technology is continuously evolving and could be because there is just an infinite amount of work put into the beautiful animation at Pixar.
The screenplay, written by Andrew Stanton, who co-wrote the previous three films and Stephany Folsom, knows what the expectations are and how they could so quickly destroy the entire Toy Story franchise and its legacy. But they’ve smartly chosen not to give us something we have in every other Toy Story film. Like I’ve said, this one leans into the comedy, but when it must get emotional, it does pack a punch.
It’s not a rip-your-heart-out tearjerker like Toy Story 3, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s boldly going for something else, and something equally as cathartic and enjoyable. However, when all is said and done, you will cry a few quieted, dignified tears. It’s earnest and bittersweet and very emotionally satisfying. It’s just so lovely to spend some more time in the world of these beloved characters and to meet intriguing new friends along the way. I wouldn’t say I left this one wanting another Toy Story film. It wrapped up the story in an equally satisfying way as Toy Story 3, and I was very skeptical going into this one, and it turned out to be superb. Not just that, it was utterly necessary. That’s the highest compliment I could possibly give to the fourth entry in a film franchise. So, I think it’s safe to say I’ll follow this franchise wherever it goes. To infinity and beyond, indeed.