Because I’ve never formally reviewed any of them until now, you might not know that Toy Story is one of my absolute favorite series of films. I put them up against basically any series in terms of consistency and quality, animated or otherwise. Each is rich in subtext and wit that it makes any re-watch a joy for any entry really. As far as a trilogy, Toy Story 3 goes beyond just my opinion to rank as one of the best finales ever made, as its Best Picture nomination goes to show. That said, this is a review for Toy Story 4, a film I’ve not known what to think about, ever since I knew it went into production. With having experienced it, does it fit alongside its beloved predecessors, or does it deserve to be thrown in the garbage bin?
To answer that briefly, it absolutely earns its place alongside. The gang is all back in a post-Andy existence as additions to Bonnie’s toy collection (with many in sadly diminished roles), but it all comes to us with new toy characters in tow. I would be lying to say I didn’t enjoy this film. I smiled throughout, laughed more than I planned, and cried inevitably by the conclusion. Each of those should show, “Mission Accomplished!” Still, I kept feeling the nagging question throughout of, “Was this all necessary?” By the film’s end, I had an answer to that.
To briefly summarize, Woody (Tom Hanks, continuing his classic role) comes to the forefront after stowing away in Bonnie’s backpack on her first day of Kindergarten. His “always be there” instincts help her on a rough day, and he becomes partly responsible for the creation of Bonnie’s comforting and craftily-made companion, Forky (Tony Hale, who pretty much steals the movie with an instant favorite performance). All would be well, if only Forky didn’t see himself as useless trash that should be disposed of immediately. On a road trip, Forky throws himself out of the family RV, and Woody follows after him. The film follows the two of them making their way back to the rest, while meeting toys both new and familiar in an antique store along the way.
Of course, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and all the others familiar to us come back in some moments, but this film largely focuses on Woody and Forky and those they meet. One of those is a familiar face that has changed in big ways, Bo-Peep (Annie Potts, quickly reminding us that she was missed in Toy Story 3). She and her sheep have carved out a life on their own terms without one specific kid to own them, which, of course, stands as completely foreign to the devoted and loyal Woody. Their relationship makes for a strong component to the message of the film, and it makes the best case for the relevance of this entry to the series at large. Potts and Hanks are given a major chunk of the film to really allow us to ponder the importance of devotion and relationship in our lives.
Another new face is Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who lives as an almost mob boss in the small town antique shop Woody and Forky find themselves in. Her ventriloquist minions ramp up the creepy far beyond anything else in the series, but it still stays within that increasingly rare G-rating the film earns. There is a natural sweetness that always resides in Hendricks’ work, notably in Mad Men, and it makes her perfect in giving the character full dimension. Her arc is wonderfully telling and brings a lot of heart to the film.
While the film has all the touching moments we’ve come to expect, I can say that this entry may be the funniest of them all. The screening I attended had people in veritable stitches throughout, with Forky, Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), and Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) adding so much to the film’s hilarity. Having a good laugh never hurts, and it all complements very well the themes of finding one’s purpose in life, seeing who we really are amidst our own doubts, and adjusting our plans when life happens. I actually loved every one of the new characters, and my only regret with each is that their stories will likely begin and end here at this natural conclusion to the series. I could watch stories involving these characters until I’m old and grey, but this film achieves a wonderful sense of finality that I do hope sticks.
Content-wise, it was refreshing to watch a G-rated movie for a change. Most animated films today are PG, and this film caps off a series that is appropriate for all. With many films becoming increasingly violent and raunchy, rest assured, this is a film for all ages. Those themes mentioned above fit into the series overall, and each add something with little rehash of previous entries. I noticed the small rainbow drawn on Forky’s foot, and personally, I wondered about its relevance. Sure, it may only be there to reflect on Bonnie being a little one, but with the film releasing during Pride Month, I couldn’t help but feel it had some other meaning. Granted, it doesn’t change the film in any way or indoctrinate anybody, but it is worth noting kids may wonder why it was there, when the imagery is so prevalent now. As I review films from a Christian perspective, some families may want to know this ahead of time.
All-in-all, I thought the film earned its place alongside the others, and it is a noteworthy addition to the series. Pixar achieved a 4-for-4 with the series, and that’s as perfect as we could have hoped for. It will stand out for some as potentially being less necessary than the others, but that really just highlights how good this series is and how well Toy Story 3 was executed. I, too, had my doubts about the necessity of a fourth film, but the experience it gave me alleviated all those by film’s end. No doubt, Andy’s story was completed within the first three films, but here, we get resolution for most all of the toys we’ve loved for so long. It may not be the best film of the series, but it is leaps and bounds beyond what many other films give us, especially ones that are among sequels. The feature-film CG-animated series that changed the industry is gorgeously and hilariously completed here, and I have no problem recommending this film to any and all to see. Take your friends, family, and your child-like sense of wonder, and be entertained by some of the best friends any film goer could ask for!