Film Review: ‘Toy Story 4’ Evolves Its Characters With Love and Respect

It's hard to believe that the franchise could get any better and here we are...

Josh Cooley‘s “Toy Story 4” is a film that dares to explore the inventive scale of our humanity, all within the lens of plastic figures navigating a constant foreign and changing world.  The sensational script by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom highlights the most bright and warm parts of these characters audiences have grown to know and love, and propels them forward in such a way that, by end credits, audiences who have grown with these characters and their stories will be weeping with both joy and heartbreak. Anchored by consistently marvelous voice work from Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, and new to the family Tony Hale and Keanu Reeves, “Toy Story 4” pushes the envelope and lovingly hits every note with innovation and visually complex design.

Toy Story 4” brings back the family of toys from Andy’s bedroom, who have all now settled in the room of Bonnie, the young girl that Andy bestowed his most precious gifts to at the end of “Toy Story 3.”  Things get crazy when Bonnie begins kindergarten and creates a new toy named “Forky.” The new toy brings the gang on an adventure that has them questioning their place in Bonnie’s life and looking towards their future.

The collective expression of animation in movies has evolved since the first time the world laid eyes on Snow White and her band of dwarfs in 1937.  Pixar Studios revolutionized the genre in 1995 with the inception of a group of toys trying to understand the world from a child’s bedroom.  Since then, audiences have seen the expansion of its characters in two dynamite sequels. “Toy Story 2” went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Comedy or Musical), the last animated feature to win that category (and likely will always be unless the HFPA changes the eligibility rules for the animated features competing there), and “Toy Story 3” went to on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2010, the most recent animated film to earn a nominated from the Academy. “Toy Story 4” deserves to join both those ranks.

Hanks’ Woody shows a new level of vulnerability we haven’t seen from him before.  He’s looking at his new life in comparison to his other life with his former owner.  Woody is desperately seeking fulfillment but when he finds himself recalling the exit of his beloved Bo Beep, and then later encountering her years later as a “lost toy.” The story explores existential questions for the viewer about closing a previous chapter and beginning a new one.

Annie Potts’ “Bo Beep” captures the current moment of female empowerment and manifesting one’s destiny.  Probably one of the strongest female characters ever constructed by Pixar, Potts taps into the emotional and determined will of a toy that has tenacity, no matter the circumstances.

The integration of talents like Emmy winner Tony Hale as the creative and lovingly inept “Forky” and Keanu Reeves as the damaged but entertainingly brave “Duke Caboom” should be highlighted in Pixar’s historical texts for all-time.  They don’t just garner laughs that will have you holding your stomach, but they offer an interesting alternative to a new generation of toys and misfits that audiences have grown accustomed to for nearly 25 years.  We can’t let any of this review exit without mentioning the amusing antics of Oscar-winner Jordan Peele and Emmy-winner Keegan-Michael Key as “Ducky” and “Bunny,” two of the most “adult-like” entries into the franchise yet (made almost explicitly for audiences who can remember seeing the first entry in theaters).

“Toy Story” and its various entries are intertwined with a Randy Newman number that feels essential and pronounced. Assembling all the elements audiences love about the franchise into a sweet, cinematic treat.  His musical score is another dynamite invention while his original song is the best of the series since the inaugural “You Got a Friend in Me.”

Toy Story 4” was one of “those films” that the movie world was actively apprehensive about simply being explored, let alone made. This was in part due to the consensus that the third installment ended so perfectly (admittedly this reviewer was also on that train).  It’s so beautiful to be so delightfully proven wrong, and even not have a firm answer if there will be the fifth movie in the future.  If this is the end of the angelic figures, it was a wonderful send off. In the case it is not, the world can be securely open to Pixar continuing to explore these whimsical roles and figures, especially in this “brand new world,” they have laid at our feet.

If anyone is keeping count, at this time of writing, “Toy Story 4” is the single best film of 2019 thus far and if there are films that top it throughout the year, what a year of cinema we have been blessed with.

“Toy Story 4” is distributed by Pixar Studios and is currently in theaters.

GRADE: (★★)

What did you think of “Toy Story 4?” Let us know in the comments below.

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