Bringing a franchise out of retirement is always risky. This is the case for any beloved and once-thought complete series, but the stakes were even higher for Disney Pixar’s “Toy Story 4.” And fortunately, it delivered.
Before now, Pixar’s landmark — and arguably most iconic — franchise comprised a trilogy many consider to be the best, animated or not, in recent memory. The finale of Toy Story 3, released in June 2010, brought poignant closure to the arcs of loyal characters like Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
Directed by Pixar staple Josh Cooley, who worked on “Up” and “Inside Out,” the film picks up shortly after the events of “Toy Story 3.”
Woody and the gang look after Bonnie now, who received the box of Andy’s childhood friends at the end of the last film. When she crafts a makeshift toy, Forky, during crafts at school, our favorite characters are beset with a new adventure as they continue fulfilling their purpose: making a child happy.
“Toy Story 4” is special in both obvious and subtle ways.
It continues Pixar’s winning streak in terms of refined, detailed and often dazzling animation. The film’s opening sequence, which fills in the gap in Bo Peep’s story left by “Toy Story 3,” is incredible. This is thanks in part to the digital artists’ immaculate rendering and a truly exciting introduction back into this world.
From those first moments, packed with Pixar’s signature blend of excitement, humor and poignancy, it became clear that this film had something new to say – and more than that, something necessary.
The movie deals with some of the same themework as its predecessors: what it means to be a toy, to earn a child’s love, to have purpose.
This discussion is continued and deepened through the lens of Woody’s life after Andy. Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, was there for Andy since the very beginning, and now that he belongs to someone new, he must come to terms with the reality that Bonnie has different needs. His purpose, to bring her joy, hasn’t changed, but the challenges of pursuing it, and his own intense emotional need to feel he’s serving it properly, become complex and even self-destructive.
The movie explores this existential crisis with poise and nuance, as only Pixar can. To see Woody’s story play out, with the help of the newly independent Bo Peep, is both genuinely fun and supremely satisfying.
New characters, such as Forky (Tony Hale), Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and the villainous Gabby Gabby (Christina Henricks) energize the story with their antics. Meanwhile, standbys like Buzz (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) help keep the story feeling grounded, even if sometimes it would be nice if they had more to do.
The announcement of this fourth installment in the series gave many fans pause, and rightly so. In this sequel-heavy industry, it takes more than nostalgia to convince anyone the world truly needs another chapter (even if we all end up buying tickets anyway). After all, a tacked-on addition to an already-revered series risks tarnishing the legacy of the films which came before it. There’s a fine line between authentic continuations of story and cash grabs, a line so many fail to walk.
As we’ve come to learn, though, Pixar is Pixar. And thankfully, though movies like “Men in Black: International” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” might leave us feeling pessimistic, hope remains for sequels like “Toy Story 4.”
Everything here, from the worldbuilding and character design to the comedy and action sequences, remains impressive. One of the most compelling aspects of the film is Woody’s relationship with Bo Peep, which hasn’t ventured beyond surface level in previous films. As we learn at the beginning of the film, she has been living “childless” for the past several years, a lost toy now free from the burden of looking after anyone. Her character is more interesting now than ever before and contributes to the sophisticated commentary behind Woody’s own journey.
In the end, “Toy Story 4” is a layered, deeply textured and emotional film – not in the standard “We will make you cry!” manner that Pixar is often accused of employing, but in a profoundly authentic and compassionate way. It is as fun as any movie about living toys should be and as urgent in terms of storytelling as all great films are.
With this installment, the “Toy Story” saga becomes a perfectly captured quartet. Moreover, while we all reserve the right to change our minds (we’ll cross that bridge if “Toy Story 5” ever comes along), what we have here is a satisfying – and complete – story.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Traveler Score: A