Director: Josh Cooley
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Ally Maki, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Madeleine McGraw
It seems that no matter your age, the Toy Story franchise has probably factored into your life in one way or another. Whether you were the parent of a child who saw the first movie back in 1995, you were the child yourself at that time or been one or the other at the time 2 or 3 were released, chances are it’s been in your life somehow. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t at least know of these movies and its famous characters. The end of each movie left little ideas that signalled potential sequels, but they also rounded stories off quite nicely so that there wouldn’t necessarily need to be any further movies. On that note, was there really any need for a fourth instalment? Does it even measure up to previous movies (particularly the first)? Is there any real potential for a fifth? Do we WANT a fifth??
WARNING: Spoilers for the previous movies below. If you haven’t watched them, do so, but frankly it’s a bit weird that you haven’t already. Get out from under that twenty-four-year-old rock.
Woody (Hanks), Buzz (Allen) and the gang are living quite happily with Bonnie (McGraw) and her other toys, even if they’re not being played with as much as they were when they were Andy’s toys. As Bonnie starts her induction into kindergarten, Woody insists a toy should go with her to help with her confidence. Whilst at kindergarten, Woody helps Bonnie create a new toy in the form of Forky (Hale). Finding his newfound consciousness and status of being a toy and a comfort to Bonnie a difficult concept to grasp, Forky tries to make a run for it. As Woody goes after Forky, he finds himself in an old antiques store that is governed by an old doll with a broken voice mechanism named Gabby Gabby (Hendricks), her desire for Woody’s mechanism causing trouble for Woody and Forky. Woody is reunited with Bo Peep (Potts), who had been given away nine years previously, and together they must find a way to get out from under the glare of Gabby Gabby and return Forky to Bonnie.
It’s always tough when studios insist on continuing a movie franchise, especially when previous films are held in high esteem, because fans don’t want their favourite characters to be tarnished with a lazy story and/or poor character development (if any). The great thing about Toy Story 4 is that the writers have clearly thought through what the next step would be in the narrative, specifically for Woody. The franchise has arguably always been about Woody and his relationship with Andy, Bonnie and the other toys as well as his hardcore loyalty to whichever kid he belongs too, something that has been both his gift and his curse, and it culminates in the main plot of TS4. Without giving anything away, not only does Woody’s story get a potential finale (who knows what could happen in the future), his development as the main protagonist throughout the franchise thus far also comes to a head. This movie wasn’t created for the sake of it – the writers and staff at Disney and Pixar have spent years of their lives with Woody and the Toy Story characters, just as much (if not more so) as audiences have, and the care and attention they have given to make sure these characters continue to grow and deepen really shows in this movie.
What also really stands out is the attention to detail. Computer graphics have come a hell of a long way since 1995 (watching Toy Story really drives that home), and the animators have outdone themselves in their work on characters such as Forky (who is basically a fork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner arms and lollipop stick feet) and the Bensons (ventriloquist dolls). Not only do they look incredibly realistic, but they also move in a way that would be expected in reality, such as the way they walk or use any appendages right down to the way their eyes work. It also adds to the comedic effect of some scenes, such as one where Woody is walking along a road with Forky trying to keep up. There’s also the nostalgia that comes with such attention detail, such as through the character of Giggle McDimples (Maki), who is basically Polly Pocket, down to her detailing and her home’s design.
If there’s one niggle about the movie, it’s that it’s missing the involvement of many of the older and still popular characters, such as Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky (Blake Clark) and Mr Potato Head (Don Rickles, with the use of archived recordings due to his passing in 2017). They are in the movie in brief intervals, but it doesn’t quite feel the same without the whole gang setting out on a rescue mission. Perhaps it’s because it would have felt very samey as the previous two movies, as Buzz leading the gang to help Woody with whatever peril he’s gotten himself into has probably been done enough. Buzz also hasn’t got much to do in TS4, but at the very least he is still as comical as he usually is and provides a good moral compass for Woody.
Although the Toy Story movies would not be the same in any sense without the original voice actors, it’s clear that they are getting on in years. Hanks and Allen are still awesome as Woody and Buzz respectively, however it doesn’t help the case regarding any future movies. There is a solid argument that Hanks and Allen are Woody and Buzz, and Woody and Buzz are Hanks and Allen. They are one and the same, and utterly irreplaceable. The studio would certainly never even try. The actors’ care for their characters is palpable through their performances, and hearing their voices is like being swamped in a comfort blanket, particularly for those who grew up watching the Toy Story movies. To be able to bring back the majority of the original cast members is also a feat in itself (with perhaps only death being a reason anyone could not return) and really helps to validate this instalment within the franchise. The inevitable introduction of new toys is always quite well done too, in this instance with the likes of Duke Caboom (the ever-breathtaking Reeves), a Canadian bike stunt toy, the comic relief duo Bunny and Ducky (Peele and Key, respectively), the villainous yet misunderstood Gabby Gabby, and the wonderfully endearing Forky.
Perhaps Toy Story 4 wasn’t a necessary movie, but it doesn’t make it any less entertaining and relevant thanks to its commitment to the themes at the heart of the franchise. The filmmakers found a way to make this movie work without compromising the integrity of what has been built over the past thirty years (including pre-production and production time). Do we need a fifth movie? Not especially, though there are openings for one. Do we want a fifth movie? At this point, the general consensus would probably be no, but it’s not entirely ruled out. There are other characters through which to explore new horizons, and potential for spin-offs, but we could say with assuredness that we probably won’t see another Toy Story helmed by Woody and Buzz together. It’s a sad thought, but they would be leaving us on a high this time, arguably a stronger high than Toy Story 3 left us with. Although there may not be any further movies along this particular road for Toy Story, we know the characters will live on as toys in the fictional universe and as beloved characters in reality for future generations, to infinity and beyond.