The fourth instalment in the beloved franchise adds fresh conflict for Woody, who begins to question his function when his child no longer seems to need him.
“Toy Story 4”
It is a film that fundamentally has no right to exist. Toy Story 3 delivered what could have been a delightful ending. Our characters had moved on, from their owner Andy to new child Bonnie, and, while sad, it seemed like an appropriate place to leave them. This film provides a moving and more intelligent addendum to the previous ending, and rounds off this tetralogy in possibly an even more satisfying way.
Of course, I needn’t have worried. For all their faults, Disney and Pixar seem to have as much love for its products as the audience have, and – sticking to their comments after Toy Story 3 – have only returned once they’ve found something new to add to the storyline. Speaking of which, I definitely did not realise that it had been 9 years since Toy Story 3, which makes the whole thing that much more valid. This instalment offers something fresh and new to the existing franchise, and even contains some of the best sections of all four films.
Toy Story 4 picks up pretty much where Toy Story 3 finishes off, even treating us to a little flashback to explain Bo Peep’s (Annie Potts) absence in the previous instalment. Woody (Tom Hanks) is now the toy of Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), though he has certainly lost the mantle of favourite toy. Unaccustomed to this new role, Woody is eager to help Bonnie adjust when she goes to kindergarten for the first time. Seeing her upset, she tries to buoy her spirits by throwing her various detritus from the nearby bin for an arts project, leading to her creating her own toy from a spork. Her affection for this “toy”, naming him Forky, and writing her name across his “feet”, grants him life in the form of Tony Hale.
Forky is now Bonnie’s most prized toy. However, he holds absolutely no interest in being Bonnie’s toy and sees no value in his function, viewing himself as trash and constantly trying to throw himself into the nearest bin. As well as providing a delightful slapstick sequence in which Forky continually attempts to escape Bonnie’s clutches while Woody struggles to bring him back, it’s also a nice opposite to Woody’s tale, in which he strives and is driven to be the favourite toy and is constantly putting his owner’s needs before his own, while Forky is driven to fulfil his own needs of comfort and safety within the trash.
The storyline really hots up when Bonnie’s family go on a road trip for the summer before Bonnie must properly start kindergarten. After many unsuccessful attempts, Forky finally manages to escape the RV in his quest to become rubbish, swiftly followed by Woody, who vows to meet up with the others at the trailer park. While taking Forky back to Bonnie, Woody attempts to get through to him that he is a toy and his function is now to bring joy and comfort to Bonnie. By the time they reach the trailer park, Forky is convinced and eager to get to Bonnie once more, but Woody is distracted by a familiar sight in the antiques store: Bo Peep’s lamp. Sneaking inside, Woody and Forky become embroiled in the sinister machinations of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a 1950s doll with a defective voice box, who has spent her life on the shelf, yearning for the affection and attention of children.
The shenanigans that ensue involve a host of entertaining sections. Bo Peep returns, with a completely new attitude, along with a delightful collection of new characters. Conjoined Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) elevate the film with their wacky humour, causing many of the laugh out loud moments of the film. Putting in commendable performances are Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil toy who is traumatised after being abandoned for not being able to travel the distances that his commercial promised and delightfully energetic Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki).
Woody’s foray with “lost toys” leads Toy Story 4 in a direction that firmly makes the film about the toys. In previous instalments, the focus has always been much more about the children, but Toy Story 4 is predominantly about Woody and his own internal revelations throughout. In a broader sense than the relationship between children and their toys, Toy Story 4 questions what the point of existence is. Woody has always been a toy whose first priority is his kid, but – as Bo points out – “kids lose toys all the time”. Children’s lives go on once toys lose their value, but the same is not the case for toys. The way that Woody views it, they need to be needed. It’s an exploration of one’s own agency and the true worth of selflessness and self sacrifice when it is not beneficial to oneself. It’s this character development that earns this film’s usefulness and pertinence to the whole franchise.
Not only is Toy Story 4 the funniest instalment yet, and the deepest, it is also visually stunning. From the beginning sequence with beautifully realistic raindrops thudding on the driveway, to the vibrant, technicolour carnival, each shot has been splendidly and lovingly realised. Even the locations that seem ordinary, such as the antiques shop, finds beauty in the detail of cobwebs and light reflecting off the tiny dust mites in the air. This Toy Story offers us the most diverse collection of locations and it is a testament to the developments in computer animation how incredibly rendered all of these shots can be 24 years after the first film came out.
Toy Story 3 was the culmination of a story in many children’s eyes: it was the end of Woody and Andy’s journey together. But Woody’s journey does not end there. His and Buzz’s (Tim Allen) story has yet to finish, and this film serves as the final chapter in that saga, as well as showing some major internal changes in our central character. For a film about sentient toys, it is alarmingly relatable and empowering to all members of the audience, whether it be Bo Peep’s storyline, or Forky’s, or Woody’s. The one criticism that I imagine could be levered at the film is the huge amount of screen time dedicated to characters like Woody, allowing old favourites like Slinky (Blake Clark) or Jessie (Joan Cusack) to all but fade into the background. However, Toy Story‘s creators maintained that they would only return with a story to tell, and they have successfully told that story, and it is clearly one that places Woody front and centre. Ultimately, it results in a highly cohesive, energetic and hilarious journey that successfully honours and builds upon the franchise.
But please stop now.