When a trilogy ends as perfectly as Toy Story 3, it came as a big surprise to see Toy Story 4 announced after almost a decade without a cinematic release. We’ve had mini adventures with Woody and the gang in the form of Toy Story shorts like Hawaiian Vacation (2011), Small Fry (2011), Partysaurus Rex (2012) and mini-specials Toy Story of Terror! (2013) and Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014). These all served the franchise well, giving fans a little slice of fun to enjoy every so often. The arrival of Toy Story 4 serves up mixed emotions because whilst it is very entertaining, it’s not as good a finale as part 3 was.
Toy Story as a franchise is huge business, so I understand the desire to bring it back to the big screen for monetary reasons but honestly, the legacy of the original trilogy was amazing – and so, so rare in Hollywood these days. Was that worth breaking just to make another one? I think not, and it’s a shame because the film feels like one of the shorts we got in the intervening 9 years since 2010’s Toy Story 3, rather than a story in its own right.
I’ll say this – Toy Story 4 is very entertaining, and probably the best animated film I’ve seen this year. However I hold Toy Story to a higher regard than most generic animated films and with that in mind, Toy Story 4 feels slightly like a cash-in that retreads on old ground a bit too often. The film opens with a story from 9 years ago, that explains what happens to Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and how she comes to be separated from the gang. Move on to present day and Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is getting ready for her first day at Kindergarten. It’s a big deal, especially for her toys. Woody (Tom Hanks) feels that he must go above and beyond to help Bonnie acclimatise to her new challenges, so accompanies her on her first day.
Whilst at Kindergarten, Bonnie makes a new toy using some pip cleaners, lolly pop sticks and a spork called Forky (Tony Hale). At this point I’ll say that Tony Hale is an absolute revelation here. Those of you familiar with his work as Buster from Arrested Development will know the sensibilities he brings to the table, and Forky is just a hilarious addition to the roster. He’s obsessed with trash, believing that to be where his destiny lies, but with Woody’s help, Forky learns that he has an important role to play in Bonnie’s life. So when he gets separated from her, Woody starts a rescue mission to reunite him, but encounters a few big problems along the way.
As I said before, the film is really entertaining, and you’d expect nothing less from the geniuses at Pixar. The cast are all as great as you’ve come to expect, with Tom Hanks quite brilliant as Woody. It’s great to see Annie Potts given a far bigger role this time around as Bo Peep, whose storyline has gotten much deeper. Tim Allen has a heavily reduced role in Toy Story 4 and that was a real shame. The trilogy has always had Buzz and Woody at the centre of their adventures, but this isn’t the case this time around. The rest of the toys are hardly used either, with a new set of toys introduced instead. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play Ducky and Bunny, who are a bit one-note to really make an impact. Christina Hendricks is great as Gabby Gabby, a slightly sinister doll looking for an owner. Keanu Reeves steals the film though as Duke Caboom, a stunt-bike rider who has his own emotional demons to slay.
Toy Story 4 looks incredible so I’d definitely recommend IMAX to see it, as it’s a wonderful way to experience the magic on a big screen. The attention to detail here is stunning and shows how far animation has moved on since 1995’s Toy Story. The spectacle always looks great in the format, but it’s the little details that really pop in IMAX and makes the viewing experience all the more fulfilling. There’s a cat in the film that really looks so lifelike it’s incredible – from the way the light hits the fur, to its sleek movements. These are details you can really see come alive on a big screen. The lighting on the carousel for instance is also stunning. This might sound inconsequential to the casual viewer but I guarantee that if you take your family to see Toy Story 4 in IMAX you will get a far richer viewing experience as a result. IMAX is worth it just for the scary, marauding Ventriloquist dummies alone.
Toy Story 4 is enjoyable and fun, but it doesn’t come close to hitting the emotional highs of Toy Story 3. That film ended the story of Woody, Buzz and the gang in such a bittersweet way that when the finale of Toy Story 4 hits, you certainly feel the love but not nearly as much as you should. This feels more like an epilogue rather than an ending. There’s also a strong suspicion that we aren’t done here, and with new characters brought in and money to be made, I’m sure Toy Story 5 will emerge sooner rather than later, even if the set-up may be slightly different.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Lila Sage Bromley, Don Rickles, Jeff Garlin, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, Steve Purcell, Mel Brooks, Alan Oppenheimer, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea Director: Josh Cooley Writer: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom Certificate: U Duration: 100mins Released by: Disney Release date: 21st June 2019