Film Review: Toy Story 4 tailors its heart and humour to audiences across the board

If you’ve asked yourself why Disney and Pixar bothered making Toy Story 4, you are not alone. With 2010’s Toy Story 3 serving as the perfect ending to the series, this fourth go-around felt more like a cash-grab than an organic continuation, and though the series as a whole has been that rare breed of production where each successive film both built upon and improved on its predecessor, there was still an arguable sense of unease surrounding Toy Story 4, especially given the lack of spark throughout its various trailers.

Whatever concerns were held against Toy Story 4 can be put to rest though as Josh Cooley‘s story (a credit he shares with Toy Story director John Lasseter, screenwriters Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton, Martin Hynes, Valerie LaPointe, and writing partners Will McCormack and Rashida Jones) is one that embodies the same sense of heart that’s run rampant throughout the series, as well as serving a fitting conclusion to the tale of Woody (Tom Hanks).

Woody has always been the emotional core of these films, as was his relationship with “his kid” Andy, and though Toy Story 3 fittingly wrapped up Andy’s story, Toy Story 4 showcases that there is still more to be said regarding Woody’s journey. I wouldn’t completely rule out a Toy Story 5 (I mean, we never thought we’d get a Toy Story 4 so never say never, right?) but this particular telling delivers a sense of closure for Woody, further fuelling the film’s reason for being.

As suggested in the trailer (though rather unsuccessfully I feel) Toy Story 4‘s plot line centres around a road trip gone wrong for Woody and co. when their new owner, the young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), brings her favourite new toy in tow – a decorated fork named Forky (Tony Hale).  Creating the utensil in kindergarten, and bonding rather passionately with it in the process, Bonnie cherishes Forky to the point that Woody has to explain to the oblivious new toy that he’s special and no longer the piece of literal trash he considers himself to be.

Not entirely grasping the concept of his relationship with Bonnie, nor why he is alive in the first place, Forky makes it a habit of trying to escape Bonnie’s clutches, eventually breaking free and soaring out the window of Bonnie’s parents’ RV.  Knowing this will devastate the young tyke, Woody goes after him, eventually leading the duo to an antique store, one that not only houses Woody’s lost love, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), but the slightly unnerving Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a discarded doll who’s seeking a voice box in the hopes it’ll make her more complete and therefor more appealing to a young child.

Counterbalancing Woody and Forky’s tale of survival is Buzz’s (Tim Allen) hope to save Woody, joining forces with the talkative, and slightly unhinged Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), a duo of carnival prize plush toys who similarly crave freedom and the comforting sense of ownership from a young child.

Similar to the previous instalments where plot lines sound more convoluted than they actually are, Toy Story 4 may feel like it’s thrown a few too many cooks into its kitchen, but such is the mastery of its storytelling it never feels overdone in the slightest.  Whilst the emphasis on Woody, Forky and Bo means Buzz surprisingly feels more secondary – and the returning favourites, such as Mr. Potato Head, Rex, Slinky, and Ham all get relegated to minor support status – it never feels like the characters are being done a disservice, and given that the friendship and understanding that blossoms between Woody and Forky, as well as the romance between Woody and Bo, are presented in such an honest and investing manner, the film’s forgiven for any of its apparent oversights.

Then there’s Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom.  A Canadian daredevil toy with a handlebar moustache and enviable flexibility, Reeves’ surprisingly emotional figurine – we learn he suffers from low self-esteem as he believes he let down his previous owner due to being unable to perform the stunts his commercials promised – is similar to the mentality of Buzz in the first film, emerging as Toy Story 4‘s funniest component in the process.

As a conclusion to a near-perfect series and a potential jumping off point for further stories to be told, Toy Story 4 succeeds as both.  There’s a genuine care about these characters and how they can connect with audiences that’s always been at the forefront of their storytelling, and this third sequel is no exception.  A generational experience that tailors its humour and heart to audiences across the board, Toy Story 4 is the type of soul-warming cinema experience we didn’t know we needed, but are thankful all the same that it exists.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Toy Story 4 is screening in Australian theatres from June 20th 2019.

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