There is a reason there are so many great movie trilogies out there … and not so many great fourth movies. The general assumption is: anything beyond three (and I’m not including ‘cinematic universes like the Harry Potter and Marvel movies), and it all starts to get a little tired and repetitive.
This is especially true when it comes to animated features – just look at the multitude of Ice Age, Madagascar, and Despicable Me movies out there. But as long as a franchise is still making money, you can always trust the movie studios to keep milking a property until it is dry.
Fortunately, Pixar isn’t just any movie studio. Ok, fine, they did try that money-grabbing thing with Cars, which definitely did not warrant a sequel, let alone two, but other than that, the Toy Story franchise is the only other property that has gone beyond two movies. And now, with Toy Story 4, the studio is entering uncharted territory.
If you ever wondered what happened to Annie Potts’ Bo Peep character (who was left out of the third movie), a quick prologue set nine years in the past explains what happened to her. Fast forward to the present day, and Woody (Tom Hanks) is adjusting to life in Bonnie’s (Madeleine McGraw) room, and still pining for his former owner Andy.
While helping Bonnie adjust to her first day in kindergarten, Woody unwittingly helps her create a toy out of a discarded spork, whom she names Forky (Tony Hale), who comes to life (and raises all sorts of existential questions here that we will ignore for now).
However, all the trash-turned-toy wants is to be trash again, and it’s up to Woody to make sure nothing happens to Bonnie’s favourite new toy. That’s easier said than done, however, as Bonnie’s family goes on a road trip where the toys end up in another adventure involving a carnival and an antique store.
The Toy Story franchise truly is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s hard to think of another franchise with at least four films that has been as consistently good as Pixar’s flagship franchise. Debut director Josh Cooley, who was only 15 when the original Toy Story came out, does a fine job with Toy Story 4, succeeding in continuing a story that we thought had already been concluded nine years ago with Toy Story 3.
If there’s a gripe to be had, it’s that there are just far too many toys to fit into the entire movie, which sees classic characters like Hamm, Mr and Mrs Potatohead, Slinky Dog, Bullseye, Rex, the Aliens, and even Joan Cusack’s Jessie and Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear having to step aside to give the new toys some room. Some of them do get a small moment to shine, but it’s a sad way to say goodbye to these characters.
Fortunately, most of the new toys introduced here are big winners. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Bunny and Duck are the fluffy equivalent of the comedic duo’s live-action act, while Christina Hendricks’ antagonistic Gabby Gabby doll is equal parts sugar and sinister (a dark side only enhanced by her terrifying ventriloquist dummy hench-toys).
Forky, who came about as a little annoying in the trailers, is anything but. Hale gives life to the hand-made spork-turned-toy in a way you never knew possible.
The biggest winner, however, is Duke Caboom, a posable motorcycle stunt rider who is haunted by the unreachable heights of his toy commercials, and voiced with bombastic panache by none other than Keanu Reeves (make sure you stay until after the credits for a bonus scene that pays off one of the movie’s funniest running gags).
Other than that, the animation is typically brilliant, the laughs are aplenty, and as always, there are moments that will make you shed a tear or two (especially if you’re a parent)
So why don’t I feel as warmly towards this movie as I did the last three Toy Story movies? Don’t get me wrong, I loved this movie as well. But it just doesn’t feel as organically connected to the Toy Story franchise as the first three were. Toy Story 3 ended the then-trilogy so well and on such a definitive note that this feels more like an extended epilogue rather than a continuation of the story.
All the same, on its own, Toy Story 4 is another fine addition to Pixar’s bulging list of great movies, and hopefully, the studio will let it serve as the definitive final footnote in a fabulous franchise.
Toy Story 4
Director: Josh Cooley
Voice cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, and Joan Cusack.