It’s been 9 years since Toy Story 3!
Toy Story 4 is directed by Josh Cooley, a homegrown talent at Pixar in his (feature film) directorial debut. The story? Woody, facing yet another sort-of-extistential crisis when Bonnie seems to prefer other toys to him, becomes preoccupied with preventing Bonnie from losing her new favourite – Forky, a “toy” of Bonnie’s own creation at kindergarten. In one of his attempts to bring Forky back to the fold, he meets his old love, Bo Peep, who had been given away years ago. Bo is now living a life of freedom as a lost toy – a life Woody himself can hardly imagine.
In brief: I thought it was an average film for Pixar. This means it was good by general standards but it’s not on the level of the other three Toy Story movies, Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles. It had an interesting angle but suffered from lack of the old characters and their interactions with Woody, and overdose of the new ones for which I did not feel much fondness.
That it had a basic premise that was good helped a lot in raising it above the likes of Cars 3 and Finding Dory. It didn’t feel like an outright sequel-made-for-money. But it was a disappointment because they had that interesting premise, yet didn’t take it far enough.
Overall rating: ★★★ (out of five)
- I was skeptical in the extreme: Toy Story 3 closed the story of Woody, Buzz, and gang really well. Could Pixar really find something more to expand upon in the Toy Story universe?
The answer is yes, they can and they did.
Exploring Woody’s fears of losing his purpose in life and of becoming a lost toy seemed to me a good route. In Toy Story, he feared being replaced as Andy’s favourite toy. Toy Story 2 saw Woody grappling with his life purpose – live forever in a toy museum without the joy of being played with ever again, or live perhaps a shorter life with Andy but one that is much happier. Toy Story 3 was about clinging to the past and learning to let go and move on – from Andy to Bonnie. Now in Toy Story 4, Woody has to deal with losing the life purpose he had (and reaffirmed in TS2), and when confronted with Bo’s happiness in her new life, he has to ask himself whether there might be another option for him.
- The opening scene, where Bo is given away right after helping to save RC, the remove control car, is really well done. Woody and Bo’s parting is animated superbly. It also suggests that Woody managed to deal with losing Bo Peep partly because he was Andy’s favourite toy, so while he has a happy life as Bonnie’s toy, he isn’t her favourite, and loss of that purpose shakes him.
- Forky is essentially formed from trash, and he’s the opposite of Buzz. Buzz spent most of the first movie labouring under the delusion that he was a real human, not a toy. Forky is convinced that he’s trash, not a toy. It takes a good long while for him to learn that Bonnie doesn’t see him as trash. In the meantime, he makes every effort to return to his motherland – a rubbish bin. Any rubbish bin. That montage of his attempts to escape to any bin in sight was hilarious.
- The bit with Buzz, Ducky and Bunny and Giggle McDimples trying to get an important key was funny too. Especially the payoff – they didn’t have to do a thing because the old lady dropped the key into the dish right in front of them. hahahahaha
- I’ve always liked Bo Peep, and was happy to hear that she’s in this movie. But when they started releasing posters and stills, I wasn’t too thrilled that they seemed to be turning her into another version of Jessie – “badass female character.” I liked that she was the very feminine toy, but with a spunky attitude. She’d never came across as damsel-in-distress or anything like that to me.
Fortunately, the movie doesn’t ruin her personality. I only regret that she’s ditched the poofy skirt and adopted a slightly more tomboyish air. While impractical, the skirt and that silhouette was a very recognisable part of her character design and I liked it. Wish she’d retained the skirt instead of turning it into a cloak.
- I loved that Giggle McDimples is essentially a policewoman version of Polly Pocket. (My Polly Pockets were probably some of my favourite toys so I have great affection for them. Though their newer iterations are significantly less cute and dainty.)
- They found an angle to explore in Woody’s fears and in the rekindling of his relationship with Bo Peep. BUT… To my disappointment, it wasn’t explored enough – or not in a way that was more satisfying.
The general arc was fine. Believable. However, there was too much time spent on the new characters and too little time spent on Buzz Lightyear and the gang from TS3. Considering the friendship between Woody and Buzz, Buzz could have and should have played a larger part in helping him reach the decision to stay with Bo. Just saying, “She’ll be alright. Bonnie will be alright” to suggest that Woody should remain with Bo was not enough. I wished they’d found a better role for Buzz in all this.
The lack of Buzz and the old gang undercut some of the impact of Woody’s choice at the end. Had some of them been more involved in the story and stuck with Woody throughout more of the film, that would have hit home harder. Not that there wasn’t any emotional impact – there was (and Pixar is so very good at that). But it wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
- The new characters mostly did not stick with me. I got tired of the antagonist, Gabby Gabby, very quickly and I didn’t feel as much compassion for her as might have been intended. Forky started to wear out his welcome at about the time Gabby was introduced. Ducky and Bunny, the two stuffed toys who are stuck together, I did not warm to at all. I found them annoying.
Duke Caboom was… Just ok. A bit forgettable.
- Woody giving up his voice box to Gabby so that he could get Forky back was another wasted element. There should have been more emotional weight to Woody losing a part of himself (even if it was relatively non-essential).
The Other Stuff
- I was struck by how good the texture and lighting rendering is now. Not that Pixar has done a bad job with other movies, but thinking back to how Toy Story looked, the difference is tremendous. There was a rainy scene early on the TS4 and it was so realistic that if not for the toys in it, it could have passed for live-action (particularly the wide shots).
- Gabby Gabby’s sidekicks were a bunch of ventriloquist dolls that were creeeeeeepy. The filmmakers were evidently going for a horror movie vibe with them, and in that they were very successful. Several scenes really make one jump with fright. I’m almost surprised no kids in the cinema (during my screening) started crying.
I don’t like horror movies and that sort of thing, so while I can appreciate that they achieved the effect excellently, it didn’t make me warm to the characters or the story.
- I’m not sure whether I like or dislike the plot point where the toys basically hijack the rental caravan that Bonnie’s parents were driving and force them to turn back to the carnival before locking them out of the car in order to wait for Woody. On the one hand, it made for some amusing scenes. But on the other hand, it seemed a bit too crazy and also, wasn’t that just dangerous??
- Five end credits scenes is a bit excessive, but fortunately four of them turn up quite early. The last one I didn’t stay for because I had to run to the washroom. But I read about it online and doesn’t seem like I missed much so that’s fine. The four I did see were pretty enjoyable.