The Toy Story series will always hold a special place in my memory. Toy Story 2 was the first film I went to see in the cinema and I have fond memories of watching the first two Toy Story films when I was younger and, even after initially expecting to be disappointed, I found Toy Story 3 to be a perfect conclusion to the series. This is why Toy Story 4 never felt right with me. The series had a perfect ending with Toy Story 3 and this film just felt like a cash grab rather than an honest attempt to add to the story. Having seen the film, I will say that there is a good heart to the film and I did find it to be a pretty good film. But for Toy Story, pretty good is still a bit of a disappointment.
The film takes place shortly after the events of Toy Story 3, with Woody, Buzz and the other toys owned by Bonnie, although Woody is starting to be ignored by Bonnie. On her first day of Kindergarten, Bonnie (after being secretly given craft supplies by Woody) creates her own toy, Forky, out of a spork, googly eyes and pipe cleaners, with Forky coming to life as Bonnie’s new toy. Whilst Forky believes himself to be trash, Woody tries to convince Forky of the importance of being a toy. This reaches a peak during a road trip Bonnie’s family takes where Forky throws himself out of the window and Woody goes to retrieve him. Whilst on their way back, Woody and Forky go into a nearby town and run into Bo Peep, Woody’s love interest from the first two films who was sold to someone else before the events of Toy Story 3, with Bo now being an adventurer helping lost toys find people to play with them. They also run into Gabby Gabby, a doll with a broken voice box who wants Woody’s to replace hers and kidnaps Forky to force Woody to give up his voice box, with Woody and Bo having to rescue Forky, with the help of Buzz and new characters Ducky, Bunny, Giggles McDimples and Duke Caboom. Now there is a lot that happens in the plot of the film and most of it does work. There are interesting existential ideas raised about the nature of being a toy and what it means to be alive and finding a purpose in life, although these elements are mostly focused in the first half of the film (Forky not being present for long stretches in the second half). There is also solid character development for Woody coming to terms with his position in the world, still not fully being over Andy and trying not to let being ignored by Bonnie get to him, with these issues coming to the forefront in his mind through his interactions with Bo and Gabby Gabby, allowing him to understand what it means to be a positive influence in a child’s life. However, most of the character development is strictly focused on Woody. Virtually all of the other toys are in an RV for most of the film and get very little to do and whilst Buzz does get a few funny moments in learning about a conscience, it doesn’t really feel in character for Buzz to only now be having these feelings. As a result, what should have been powerful, emotional moments at the end of the film didn’t have the impact on me that I thought they should have because not enough time was spent with all the characters.
The performances are solid throughout the film. Tom Hanks continues to be great as Woody, showing off the caring nature of the character and his desire to make Bonnie happy by any means, showing the character development Woody has gone through from the first film, going from someone who was willing to push Buzz off a desk in the first film to jumping out of a moving vehicle to save Forky here. Annie Potts as Bo meanwhile shows how the character has adapted after being alone for so long, wanting to help children be happy with toys and being more proactive in helping toys. Tony Hale as Forky is a lot of fun, the panicky nature of his voice perfectly fitting the existential crisis of the character and getting some of the best lines in the film. Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby is a more sympathetic antagonist than in the other films, with there being themes of disability present in her character (although I’m not the right person to discuss those ideas). There is some great comedy from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny (although it’s hard for Key and Peele not to be funny together, they have such a natural comedic chemistry with each other, even in voice over) and Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom is a lot of fun, the same also being true for Ally Maki as Giggles McDimples. Tim Allen is fine as Buzz, selling his angle of the film well and doing a good job in the emotional moments. For the rest of the returning cast, they are pretty much wasted, getting a handful of lines each if that (I counted one line for Timothy Dalton), and the characters are only memorable because of what you bring to them from the other films.
On a technical level, this is easily the best animation quality in the series. The textures present in the characters are incredibly, allowing small details in fabric and paint chips to be seen for all the characters. There’s also a greater sense of photorealism in the animation, with the rain being a particular highlight, along with the animation for Bo really making her look like she’s made of porcelain. The background designs meanwhile, mainly for the antiques shop, give the film a unique feel compared to the other Toy Story films, with there being a creepier vibe in these scenes, helped by the use of ventriloquist dummies. The music is also a highlight. I won’t deny that I got a nostalgia hit hearing You Got A Friend In Me again, and the rest of the music Randy Newman is a lot of fun.
Overall, Toy Story 4 is a pretty good film. There are some interesting ideas raised about the existential nature of the series and the film is a good culmination of Woody’s character, but most of the other characters don’t get the development and scenes they deserve whilst the interesting themes are top loaded into the film to give the second half more of an action feel. Again, it is a good film, but for Toy Story, I expected a lot more.
My Rating: 3.5/5