Toy Story 4 comes off as an unnecessary addition to the franchise but ends up resonating with its established universe and serves as a brilliant epilogue to a character we’ve all loved. Spoiler Review Below.
You need not be a toy to make a child happy and a toy is much more than a child’s plaything. These are two extremely mature themes for a movie about kids and their relationship with toys but not surprising considering the age of the franchise. So, it goes without saying that the people who saw the original Toy Story in 1995 are adults now and would expect a mature story. The evolution of the franchise is evident in the animation as well. Some shots in the movie look downright photorealistic with absurd levels of details down to Woody’s stitching or the scratches on Buzz’s plastic. But this was something to be expected from Pixar so I won’t go into that in detail. It goes without saying that the animation is top notch and one of the best in any 3D animation movie yet.
In contrast to the previous Toy Story movies, this one has a premise that it decides by itself. Whereas the previous movies consistently delved with the idea of toys reacting to kids growing up, Toy Story 4 creates the premise for itself within the first 10 minutes of the film and shows us that Woody is just not being played with anymore. Maybe Bonnie just can’t find the place for Woody or maybe being a girl makes her prefer the cowgirl more, who knows. It’s not an unconvincing premise by any means but just comes as a surprise rather than as an expectation as was the case with previous movies.
But the movie makes the most out of this premise giving Woody a reason to guide the new toy ‘Forky’ resulting in two excellent character arcs. Easily the strongest part of the movie, it delves deep into the understanding of a toy and tells us that anything that gives a child comfort can be a toy rather than just something that was meant to be played with. And then, in a classic mentor-student dynamic, Woody ends up realizing his own purpose as a lost toy and realizes he need not take responsibility for a kid that doesn’t need him anymore.
Many audiences have hated the decision to split him up from the group saying it was all just for his love with Bo Peep and that it ruins everything his character has done over three movies. Let me try to break it down for you. In the two previous movies, Woody has made huge selfless decisions for greater responsibilities. Toy Story 2 forces him to leave Andy and the toys because of his concerns for the Roundup gang. He also thought Andy was done with him because he didn’t take him to cowboy camp. In Toy Story 3, he decides to leave the group in Sunnyside because Andy chose to take him to college. Also knowing he might stay on a shelf for the rest of his life and never see the group again.
At the beginning of this film with Bo’s farewell, he considers leaving but again stays back when he realizes Andy needs him. Now, the new kid no longer needs him. And I would rather have him have fun with other toys than stay back with the group collecting dust bunnies. And this is where Bo Peep serves a purpose because the narrative needed another motivation for Woody to leave Bonnie. Not only does he have no reason to stay with Bonnie, but he also has someone special worth leaving. It sucks for us but it’s the perfect setup for Woody.
All the new characters are welcome additions and find their place perfectly in the story. Gabby Gabby is very reminiscent of The Prospector Stinky Pete. She too has stayed on a shelf for a very long time and is introduced as a mean bully. Audiences are kind of mad that she changed motivations too quick. This can be attributed to a lack of screen time but I felt the motivations were strong. After interacting with Forky, she realizes Woody has also been on the shelf for quite a while. She then starts to empathize and changes her interaction with him. Gabby was a very mature decision from the writers, and I respect that. Duke Caboom, The Plushies, and Giggle McDimples are great characters for comedic relief and they never overstay their welcome.
Unfortunately, despite being a very mature movie and successfully executing risky choices, this is also the most flawed movie in the franchise. Comedic relief from Buzz Lightyear was a stupid decision and came at the cost of character inconsistency. I mean we are talking about a character that led a rescue mission for Woody and tracked down Al’s Toy Barn from a chicken suit feather and a license plate. All his inner voice sequences seemed forced for humor and were decisions he could have taken himself. They didn’t seem funny, necessary or plausible.
Additionally, apart from Bonnie’s detachment with Woody, nothing from the human side added anything to the story. Toy Story 2 was also very light on the human plot but then decided to make the toys center stage. This movie struggles due to a stretched-out road trip with the family which is just an annoyance to pacing. The entire sequence with the fake GPS and toys controlling the RV seems gimmicky and ruins the emotional finale. And due to this, we get a rushed farewell that could’ve been even more hard-hitting than it already was.
This movie had a lot to live up to and responds in an interesting way. It does not pretend to be another adventure with the group and makes some risky choices. It doesn’t have a traditional bad guy, removes most of the toys out of the main story (evident from the poster above), splits the main character from the group at the end and settles for a much simpler story. I still feel this was a cash grab corporate decision made sometime after Toy Story 3. Which is exactly why this movie deserves praise. Despite the writers having their backs against the wall, they came up with a coherent idea that resonates with the franchise. Is Toy Story 4 unnecessary? Yes. But it feels more like a ‘plus one’ rather than the fourth, which is not a bad thing at all.
Score – 9/10
Director Josh Cooley claims Toy Story 4 was being worked on for longer than you think. Read more here.