Toy Story 4 review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Another Toy Story? Hasn’t this story been finished? My doubts were minimal. The Toy Story franchise, after 24 years, has remained one of the strongest animated sagas of all time because there always felt like there was something worth coming back to in this on-going adventure of toy characters. More than a mere comical approach to what toys do when kids are not around, the previous films have been able to find some palpable sense of relatable themes that have only grown stronger with age. Toy Story 4 once more delivers on this aspect that serves as a fitting conclusion and perhaps the best entry in the series.
Everything seemed to be resolved at the end of Toy Story 3 with all the familiar toys being turned over from the aged Andy to the young girl Bonnie. At least for the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), all seems to be right with the world. No more toys need to be saved and his purpose seems fulfilled. But then what’s next? A life of being doomed to the back of the closet? This won’t stand for someone like Woody, hoping to preserve his ability to save the day.
He finds the perfect opportunity to prove himself when the Kindergarten-bound Bonnie creates a craft toy of Forky (Tony Hale). Using Forky as a coping mechanism for going to school, Woody decides to take coach the little guy in being a toy. And he’s going to need it as Forky finds himself more akin to being tossed in the trash than a useful toy. For most of the first act, it’s the tale of a new dad, the closest Woody will get to having a son and teaching him the ways of the toy world.
Ah, but that’s not the whole movie, even though that’d be enough for a decent romp of a return for the familiar toys. There’s a longing left for the lost toy of Bo Beep (Annie Potts) who returns to offer Woody a tough choice about the next stage of his life. Also presenting a new challenge is the antagonist doll of an antique shop that wants something only Woody can give if he’s willing to give it up. This is probably some of the darkest territory touched upon for a Toy Story film, not because of any pathos or danger of death but a deeply troubling sense of feeling like there’s nothing left in the next stage of your life, that the world has passed you by. There’s a desperation present that even moves Tom Hanks to tears while recording his part.
Sure, we’ve been talking a lot about Woody but that’s because he’s the most interesting centerpiece of this tale as someone who has always been conflicted throughout the series. He is finally given some closure and a grander sense of peace this time around, even more so than in Toy Story 3 which was more about safety than fulfillment. Still, the supporting cast do an admirable job bringing out the charming comedy of the saga. Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) has an amusing bit about trying to find his inner voice, what he believes is his literal internal voice mechanism. New characters such as a plush duo voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele bring all the energy and there’s plenty of physical laughs to be had from a troubled stunt-bike toy voiced by Keanu Reeves. I also have to mention how astonishing a job Pixar does at taking us into new worlds, despite being familiar ones within Toy Story. Watch how Bo Peep’s adventures take her on a Mad Max style adventure through playgrounds and carnivals while the antique shop seems like a dark metropolis behind the darker corners of the shelves.
While the other Toy Story films seemed to have enough for everybody to do, the fourth entry mostly favors Woody and for good reason. He has the most dimension that it feels like we’re getting the complete end to a brilliant arc of an unforgettable character. In the same way that Logan brought a brilliant finale to the legacy of Wolverine, Toy Story 4 grants a great send-off for this character, feeling more like a triumphant farewell than just another day with the toys. Easily one of the best entries in the Toy Story franchise which isn’t an easy slot to land, but this is just the perfect blend of kid-oriented silliness and poignant storytelling for adults.