Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Movie Review: Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 **** / *****
Directed by: Josh Cooley.
Written by: Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom and John Lasseter and Martin Hynes and Rashida Jones and Will McCormack and Valerie LaPointe and Josh Cooley.
Starring: Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Annie Potts (Bo Peep), Tony Hale (Forky), Keegan-Michael Key (Ducky), Madeleine McGraw (Bonnie), Christina Hendricks (Gabby Gabby), Jordan Peele (Bunny), Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom), Ally Maki (Giggle McDimples), Jay Hernandez (Bonnie’s Dad), Lori Alan (Bonnie’s Mom), Joan Cusack (Jessie), Bonnie Hunt (Dolly), Kristen Schaal (Trixie), Emily Davis (Bill/Goat/Gruff), Wallace Shawn (Rex), John Ratzenberger (Hamm), Blake Clark (Slinky Dog), June Squibb (Margaret the Store Owner), Carl Weathers (Combat Carl), Lila Sage Bromley (Harmony), Jeff Garlin (Buttercup), Patricia Arquette (Harmony’s Mom), Timothy Dalton (Mr. Pricklepants), Laurie Metcalf (Mrs. Davis), Jodi Benson (Barbie), Lori Alan (Julia Anderson), Estelle Harris (Mrs. Potato Head), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head).
Let’s be honest – we really didn’t need a Toy Story 4. 2010’s Toy Story 3 brought this story to a proper close – with Andy growing up, and giving away his toys to a new kid – Bonnie, was a kind of perfect, bittersweet ending – acknowledging that even things we absolutely loved at one point are things we grow out of leave behind. And yet, even if Toy Story 4 isn’t really necessary – it’s still an excellent – more of a coda to the end of the Toy Story movies rather than a complete film unto itself. It brings to a close the story of Woody, which has him finally accepting his new reality. It is another bittersweet ending – but really does bring these stories to a close (if they make a Toy Story 5 a decade from now, Woody should not play a part in it).
Even though 9 years have passed since Toy Story 3 – in the timeline of the movie, almost no time has passed at all. The toys now belong to Bonnie – who loves and adores them, and plays with them all the time. The exception is Woody – who has been relegated to the closest more often than not. Woody is holding on for dear life – holding on to the ways things were done with Andy, what his role as the favorite toy was with Andy – not wanting to acknowledge that things have changed. Bonnie is about to go off to kindergarten – a traumatic experience for any kid – and Woody thinks she needs the comfort that only a toy can bring – so he sneaks into her backpack. Woody ends up being both right and wrong – Bonnie does need a toy to bring comfort, but it isn’t Woody. It’s Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) – the toy Bonnie creates herself out of a fork, a pipe cleaner and some googly eyes. Forky is the favorite toy of Bonnie – which would be fine, except for the fact that Forky is a plastic spork, and believes his place is in the trash. Woody, then, in essence is on suicide watch – trying to prevent Forky from throwing himself away. Due to a series of events too complicated to get into – on a road trip, Woody and Forky get separated from the rest of the toys, and have to make their way back to them. Along the way, though, they get waylaid – and end up in an antique store, where Woody meets a new nemesis – Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) – an old doll, with a defective voice box, who has never known the love of a child, and an old friend – Bo Peep (Annie Potts) – who has become a lost toy.
The smartest thing the makers of Toy Story 4 has done is narrowed the focus of the film. This is Woody’s story, and the filmmakers know it. The supporting cast from the other movies are all here, but they are fairly quickly shunted to the background. The exception is Buzz Lightyear – who the filmmakers realize they need to give a subplot, and they do – he leaves to try and rescue Woody and Forky. But it’s a fairly minor subplot – and Buzz is outshone by Key and Peele as Ducky and Bunny – two carnival toys, who want a kid (who are hilarious). But the stars of Toy Story 4 are Woody and Forky – one classic character, and one new character – but both of whom bring the existential nature of this series into the focus of the film. Forky questions the very nature of what it means to be alive – why he’s alive at all, when he shouldn’t be. He’s a Frankenstein character – an unnatural alive character, who longs for death (Toy Story 4 is a very weird movie). For Woody, it is a different sort of crisis – one where he has to radically reorient his worldview. Woody has always viewed his role as a leader. Now, he has to accept a different role. He either has to make peace with being an afterthought – left in the closet day after day to collect dust, or find a new calling. The combination of his old friend – Bo Peep, and the new nemesis, Gabby Gabby, really does give Woody a different outlook on life.
I give Pixar and the makers of Toy Story 4 a lot of credit. While it’s somewhat disappointing that Pixar keeps churning out sequel after sequel (they’ve made 21 films – only 1 for the first 10 were sequels, 7 of the last 11 have been) – but what they’ve done with the Toy Story films in particular, is to really think through this world, and how it may evolve over time. They have never been content to repeat themselves in this series, and each new film pushes things further and further. True, any world in which toys are sentient beings, capable of emotions, etc. is insanity – but while admitting that, what they’ve done is continue along a logical progression here.
Toy Story 4 isn’t best Toy Story movie – and it isn’t in the upper echelon of Pixar movies (for the record, in terms of Toy Story movies, the correct order from best to worst is 3>1>4>2) – but it’s a fascinating film. And it’s a wildly enjoyable one – my kids (8 and 5) didn’t register the existential questions, at least not conscionably, but they wildly enjoyed the action and the humor of the film. For adults, there are heady questions here – and real emotion. The film didn’t quite leave me the mess that Inside Out, Wall-E or Toy Story 3 did – but I did cry, at least twice. And it felt earned. Toy Story 4 is kind of like Forky – there really is no reason for it to exist, but it’s wonderful just the same.  

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