There comes a time when a movie franchise is so dialed in
that it can seemingly do no wrong. The Toy Story series is one of those
franchises. Not only has Pixar struck and stuck with a winning formula, but moviegoers
have lived with these characters for close to 25 years in one incarnation or another.
We’ve laughed with them, cried with them, and grown with them. We know
them. These toys might as well be our friends. As such, does it really matter
what hijinks they get themselves into next? Probably not, so long as they
behave the way we know them to. As such, Toy Story 4 is like hanging out
with old friends, and it’s a blast.
Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw), the new owner of the toys
is old enough to attend kindergarten, but she’s worried about the new
experience. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) stows away in Bonnie’s backpack to
ensure that her first day is a good one. To cope with being without her toys
for a day, Bonnie creates a new toy out of scraps that Woody digs out from the
trash, like some pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and a spork. From that, Bonnie
creates Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), which becomes her new favorite toy. And
when he goes missing, it’s up to Woody to bring him back, and this adventure
reunites Woody with old friends and pits him against new threats.
Having caught a bit of the original Toy Story
recently, the visual fidelity in the computer graphics have certainly come a
very long way. In the opening moments of the film, the toys attempt a daring
rescue during a torrential rainstorm. The artwork looked amazingly real, from
the way the water bounced off and accumulated on the character models to how
the light refracted and reflected realistically off surfaces. It was only when
the cartoony humans entered the frame that the verisimilitude was dispelled. Toy
Story 4 has raised the bar once again, and we shouldn’t take technology
like this for granted.
Beyond the visuals, however, is a plot that’s rife with hilarious
comedic gags. A set of “Combat Carls” (voiced by Carl Weathers) enjoy high-fiving,
but always leave one hanging. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key join the cast
as plushies, and they bring their signature high-energy creativity to the
movie. And Forky has trouble accepting his new existence as a toy instead of
trash which makes him constantly seek out waste bins. It all works, and the
theater I was in was so raucous with laughter that I sometimes missed the next
bit of dialog.
If there’s one criticism to level, then it would be that the story does feel a little random. That is to say that while the characters all have goals – and audiences want those characters to succeed – there doesn’t seem to be any dire consequences if the characters fail in their mission. But does the plot even matter for this franchise? I think that anyone who is a fan of the series will watch these characters no matter what. With that said, there doesn’t appear to be any real stakes in Toy Story 4, but, knowing that, the movie doesn’t suffer at all.
Ultimately, it’s the themes that make Toy Story 4
work. Friendship. Loyalty. Sacrifice. These aren’t groundbreaking revelations
into the human condition, but they are the messages that families will take with
them long after the movie ends.