Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Toy Story 4” (2019)

While Andy’s former toys have adapted quite nicely into being part of Bonnie’s playtime, things aren’t going so well for Woody (Tom Hanks) as he hasn’t been played with in a while and his role as leader has been diminished, but he takes it upon himself to accompany Bonnie to kindergarden orientation where he witnesses her create a new toy made out of a spork, the newly dubbed “Forky” (Tony Hale) instantly becoming Bonnie’s favourite toy and best friend. But Forky is unwilling to accept his role as a toy and while on a roadtrip journey to a fairground, he jumps out a window, which leads Woody to try and save him, utterly determined to bring him back to Bonnie, and in so doing, both Woody and Forky find themselves in an antique shop where residents include Woody’s old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who has given up on the idea of being owned by a kid, motorcycle stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and sinister doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who has her sights set on Woody’s voice box so that she can be “complete” and finally taken home by a child.

When news first came around that there would be a fourth Toy Story film, I, as well as many others, I’m sure, immediately thought that it was actually a bad idea because Toy Story 3 ended so brilliantly, closing the trilogy quite beautifully, and a further film seemed like a case of Pixar just wanting to make more money, break box office records and pretty much continue to dominate the world of animation by carrying on stories that have worked so well in the past.

But, cynicism aside, Pixar have also successfully delivered the goods by giving us emotional, top tier gems like Coco, Inside Out and Up, as well as the mighty Toy Story saga itself, so there was also reason to believe that this new chapter could actually work – that the fourth part could stand up tall alongside its three predecessors. Because Pixar aren’t generally in the habit of making duds, right?

Well, having now seen Toy Story 4, I can reveal that, whilst it’s certainly not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination and it sure does have its heart in the right place, it’s relatively unimpressive when compared to the other excellent films in the series and though Pixar often make spectacular, groundbreaking, imaginative and memorable films, this one can only be described as “pretty good”.

But starting off with the positives, the film undeniably looks impressive and the animation is as sleek and as accomplished as you’d expect from Pixar by now; beginning the film by showing off an incredibly realistic scene that takes place in a bad thunderstorm, impressively animated water and all, the film goes on to use long, sweeping shots that show off a directorial flair (and, again, loads of showing off of their animation mastery) and the locations we see are expansive, colourful, brilliantly rendered and when seen on the biggest screen possible, in the H-est of D-s, the animation and scenery will surely amaze and demonstrate just how far animation has come. I wish I could say more about it, wax a little more lyrical, but at this point, flawless animation is par for the course when it comes to Pixar and spectacular animation just comes as standard!

And despite some story problems (which I’ll get into a bit later), Toy Story 4 gives Woody a meaningful and thematically mature character journey and above all else, this film is about his determination to find purpose and value in his life by making it his mission to make his owner happy, no matter what the cost; it’s always apparent that he’s afraid of being useless in the new environment and changing world he finds himself in and he desperately clings on to the mantle of “leader” because that’s all he has and it appears that he’s in denial about the fact that his help isn’t really needed any more. Woody’s character development is the strongest part of the story and it once again demonstrates Pixar’s skill of being able to inject mature themes and relatable human behaviour into their films, to make sure that their movies are ideally suited to both kids and adults. The overall story is also decent with a fun adventure at the heart and Toy Story 4 will surely provide enough entertainment for many moviegoing families.

But aside from the tip-top animation and Woody’s admirably thoughtful story arc, Toy Story 4 noticeably pales in comparison to the three films that came before it and although there’s nothing partiularly bad about it, the film isn’t exactly spectacular and parts of it are regrettably forgettable. The main issue is that this film didn’t need to be made at all and as Toy Story 3 closed off the saga with power and a tinge of sadness, Toy Story 4 feels more like a spin-off – a 10 minute Saturday morning special that has been stretched out to feature length runtime. The story, though perfectly decent, isn’t particularly inventive or unique and it seems as though the MAAAANY people who came up with the story (it is a case of “too many cooks, here) have simply included tried-and-tested plot elements from the previous films, plot beats that they know the audience want to see, and have pasted them into a slightly above average adventure story, noble though their intentions may have been.

And although those intentions were surely honourable, Toy Story 4 isn’t particularly clever, funny or as moving as it should have been – the jokes are alright but they’re clearly not as witty as the ones found in previous films and though there is an attempt to tug on the ol’ heartstrings in true Pixar/Toy Story fashion, those attempts come up short and in the end, this film doesn’t have nearly as much raw power or wit as its predecessors and it seems as though this particular film series has run out of steam, carrying on for one film too many.

The story is flawed because as Woody, Bo Peep and Forky are at the centre of the narrative, all other characters are relegated to the sidelines more than they have been in previous films and most come across as too two-dimensional; returning favourites like Jessie, Rex, Hamm, Bullseye and Slinky have very little to do, we don’t get enough from the previous “new additions” like Buttercup, Trixie or Mr. Pricklepants (we definitely needed more from him!), and most disappointingly, Buzz is too much of a side character and comes across as more of a hindrance in this film – gone is the formidable, trustworthy, strong but flawed companion and instead, his character here is flat and seems far removed from the fully developed co-lead that we all grew up watching.

And Bo Peep? Hmmm. I guess in this day and age, it was inevitable that she’d change from being the docile, sugarsweet love interest of the first two films into a proactive, tough, ballsy, hands-on “not a care in the world” action figure and it’s nice to see that she’s finally been given some “heavy lifting” to do but I’d say that her character here is perhaps too different from the Bo we know (though, given her character journey, it’s understandable) and I didn’t quiiiite take to her as much as I could have. Her cloak’s pretty dope, though. But how was she able to get rid of her pink bonnet and petticoat and all that? Surely, since she was a porcelain figure, all of that was permanently attached to her? What gives?

Also, while Toy Story 2 and 3 did very well in introducing new characters, this particular film does bring in some new characters but few make enough of an impact. True, Forky and Duke Caboom certainly make their mark but elsewhere, the new characters are a bit iffy; we’ve got Ducky and Bunny who you’d assume to be scene stealers given that they’re voiced by the awesome Key and Peele but instead, they come across as a little annoying, they hinder more than they help, their comedic parts don’t really amuse and overall, they’re superfluous and forgettable. There’s also Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby who had the potential to be a creepy and formidable opponent but in the end, she’s an average villain (actually, she’s not even a villain – there’s no real bad guy in this film) with a predictable arc who doesn’t threaten or make any significant impact. Her doll minions are creepy, though.

But on the subject of new characters, Tony Hale’s Forky is nowhere near as annoying as you’d expect him to be, it’s easy enough to care about what happens to him in the film, and I hope we can all agree that Keanu Reeves steals the show as Duke Caboom – he got the most smiles out of me and Reeves voices him quite brilliantly with wonderful comedic skill.

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner are also credited but their scenes must’ve been cut out because I didn’t see or hear from their characters at any point during the film. I assumed that they’d appear during a post-credits scene but alas, no dice. There is a nice visual gag involving the Pixar logo, Duke Caboom and that poor Combat Carl who didn’t get high five’d (as well as a few lovely words for Don Rickles) so stick around for that if you want!

(After having read several reviews, I’ve since learned that Brooks and Reiner did in fact appear in the film during the closet scene but they must’ve only had about two lines between them because their involvement (as well as those of the other “veterans”) completely passed me by! This relates to what I was saying about certain characters and actors getting short changed!)

A decent adventure that’s beautifully designed and animated, with a good heart and an admirably mature story arc for its central character, but the story is too basic and uninspired, too many characters are sidelined, and the whole film is ultimately, regrettably, superfluous.

★ ★ ★

One comment

  1. I do give Pixar credit because I did not walk away from the film thinking “Wow, that was completely unnecessary”. Indeed, there were a lot of characters I thought would drag the experience down like crazy, but I ended up liking all of them. It’s probably my least favorite film in the series, but I still feel it is, at the very least, worthy of an honorable mention.

    Liked by 1 person

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