Toy Story is my favourite Pixar series, which made the prospect of the 4th entry to the 20+ year franchise, something that I was both apprehensive and excited about. My biggest fear with Toy Story 4 is that it would feel unnecessary, perhaps even forced. Toy Story 3 impeccably brought closure to the series, double, for the 20-something-year-olds who grew up alongside Andy, making the prospect of anything that came after, inherently feel extraneous.
I was wrong — Toy Story 4 is not only a necessary movie, but it is also my favourite entry into the beloved series. The life and times of toys can be tumultuous, even heart-rending at times and the latest Toy Story reaches new heights in this regard. Toy Story 4 begins with Bonnie, the girl bequeathed with Andy’s treasured toys, from the third film, preparing for her Kindergarten orientation day, a significant milestone for any young child.
To ease the adorably anxious Bonnie, Woody decides to hitch a ride in her backpack, which inevitably leads to some fun hijinx and more importantly, the birth of Forky, voiced by the hilariously neurotic Tony Hale (Arrested Development).
Forky is an interesting character as he brings in a new but essential aspect to the relationship between young children share with toys and playtime. Composed of a single piece of red pipe cleaner, some plasticine, popsicle stick feet, googly eyes and of course, a plastic spork body. Forky is a craft project made of garbage, brought to life with Bonnie’s signature, communicating not only her ownership over Forky but cementing that special bond children have with their toys.
Early in the film, an existential crisis, brought upon by Bonnie leaving Woody in the closet during playtime, quickly galvanizes his desire in helping Forky come to terms with his newfound toyhood (in addition to Woody being responsible for his Frankenstein-esque genesis).
Before Woody and company can help Forky overcome his identity crisis, Bonnie’s family decides to go a road trip with toys in tow. Eventually, Woody and Forky get separated from the rest of the toys and wind up in an antique store, after Woody spots what he believes to be Bo Peep’s lamp, a lost toy and longtime love interest of Woody.
The use of an antique store as a location within the film is a stroke of brilliance as it opens up the opportunity to introduce unique toys to the fold — namely, Gabby Gabby, a vintage girls doll and her ventriloquist henchmen, in addition to an interesting sandbox for the characters to explore.
Visually, Toy Story 4 is stunning. Everything from the translucent plastic of Forky’s body against harsh lighting to the top-heavy nature of Gabby Gabby’s ventriloquist dummies, as they scamper around the tightly crafted antique store, feels fully realized and thoughtful. In other words, Pixar has mastered their way of conveying realistic materiality, making Toy Story 4 an absolute treat for the eyes, with detail somehow surpassing even the likes of the third film.
Little Bo Peep, without a doubt, is the most fleshed out character within the film — this might sound like an easy thing to do, considering the last time we saw her properly was in Toy Story 2 as a mostly sidelined character. But in truth, the writers have taken the character and given her a personality that surpasses even the likes of Woody and Buzz (at least, individually).
Bo Peep, after living on her own, as a lost toy, has transformed into a Vagabond-Jedi-type, that would make the likes of Rey, of Star Wars fame, seem ill-prepared. Bo Peep’s newfound sense of adventure and adrenaline moves the movie forward, capturing the same magic Buzz and Woody shared in past films. Unfortunately, an ill-side effect of the extended cast, coupled with Bo Peep and Woody’s exploits, left me wanting more time spent with Buzz and Woody.
Among the new characters, Duke Caboom, a character introduced into the world of Toy Story 4, who happens to be a Canadian Evel Knievel type, isn’t merely a means of poking fun and parodying Keanu Reeve‘s impressive action movie persona but a great character in his own right, bringing with him a real, tactile feeling of what it actually means to be an action figure/gimmick toy.
In fact, Toy Story 4 does an excellent job in continuing Pixar’s trend of showing the literal plasticity and versatility of toys brought to life. In essence, the film feels like the perfect intersect between traditional animation techniques and cutting edge CGI, in that it borrows elements of classic cartoons, elevating them to beautifully realized horizons thanks to years of refined expertise in computer animation.
When it comes down to it, Toy Story 4 explores the delicate relationship between toys and children, what it means to grow up, and most importantly, how to accept change and things beyond one’s control.