TURNS OUT THERE’S NO SHORTAGE OF STORIES
Movie Review – Toy Story 4
Review by Paul Preston
I attended a screening of Toy Story 4 that was preceded by a great introduction from two of the film’s producers. They said that they were interested in making another of the Toy Story franchise films and were met by most people with the idea that they were done. Toy Story 3 wrapped things up nicely, the characters had run their course and it was all finished, no? The producer’s response was that they never thought Toy Story was Andy’s story, so even though Andy has given the toys to someone new, this was always Woody’s adventure to follow, and they thought he had another one in him.
They were right.
Ensuring that the story would be told correctly, the team behind the writing was an all-star gathering of Pixar’s best. Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter and six other writers are credited with the story and screenplay, while fellow Oscar winners Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich produced with Stanton and Jonas Rivera and Mark Neilsen (who were at my screening). Normally, you see a hundred people listed as producers or writers, it’s a sign of doom that there were too many cooks. At Pixar it always ends up that the group mind yields excellent results.
The interesting thing about any skepticism towards making Toy Story 4 because it could disrupt the clean trilogy we had before it is that the story of the first three films was never a true trilogy. There wasn’t a beginning, middle and end. They were pretty much three unrelated adventures involving toys and the challenges they might face from favoritism, collectors, getting donated, etc. Toy Story 4 finds the toys with a new owner and a new adventure, this time involving lost toys, antiques and carnival prize toys.
Woody and Buzz now live with Bonnie, alongside the usual gang of Slinky, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Hamm, Rex, Jessie and Bullseye. They’re joined by some Toy Story 3 holdovers like Mr. Pricklepants, Buttercup, Trixie and Dolly. The gang is growing and the writers deftly juggle the large cast, even when adding on the return of Bo Peep and new friends Forky, Ducky, Bunny, Gabby Gabby, Giggle McDimples, Combat Carl and Duke Caboom. Only Marvel does this as well as Pixar. Every character has their moment. If a character isn’t a main part of the plot, they’re still going to get an emotional moment or when they crack a zinger, it’ll bring the house down.
At a particularly melancholy day of school, Bonnie makes a toy figure out of a fork, with pipe cleaner arms and googly eyes. She names him “Forky” and like the other toys, he comes alive outside the presence of humans, but he’s having an existential crisis even worse than Buzz did. When Forky gets separated from Bonnie, Woody knows he must return him to keep Bonnie from heartbreak. There’s your plot, and it’s made up of familiar themes of toys who don’t know they’re a toy (Toy Story), toys realizing they’re antiques (Toy Story 2), and toy hierarchies (Toy Story 3). The writers have wisely surrounded all this with fresh and exciting content.
I loved Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), Canada’s Greatest Stuntman. That moniker alone is a huge WIN. There are ventriloquist dummies who act as henchmen for the main villain and they’re silently creepy and odd AF. Forky’s running gag of believing he should be trash never gets old and actually warrants a hilarious montage. Two of the best gags are Buzz listening to his “inner voice” and the plans to save the day laid out by Bunny and Ducky, to carnival toys whose plans are always WRONG in the best ways. Voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, every bit of comedy gold is mined.
Then there’s Woody. If I were to again compare Pixar to Marvel, Woody would be Captain America. He simply will not give up when the cause is right. He’ll never, ever, ever, ever give up. This heroism is also fresh in a world of cynical or glib movies (especially ones aimed at the whole family). Tom Hanks is synonymous with Woody at this point and they’re both American Treasures. Hokey, I know, but c’MON! Hanks is a treasure!
The animation, as ever, is not to be taken for granted. Pixar delivers realism when necessary but even more so, they just set up rules and stick to ‘em (as they do in their writing!). This is one of the best films of the year and when I say it’s aimed at the whole family, that’s because Pixar seems to be the only movie company out there who knows that G rated is for “All Ages”, when many other films that get a G-rating, are…Grating.
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Release Date: July 21, 2019
Run Time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: Pixar/Walt Disney Studios