I must say, when Toy Story 4 was announced, I was very sceptical.
The third films ending served as a perfect end to the story, so I was worried that this fourth installment would be nothing more than a cynical attempt to milk beloved characters for every penny of their value.
Then I saw the trailer, and all the happy childhood nostalgia came flooding back, the teases of the characters dropped us right back into the world of these toys we’ve all grown to love, and I thought: ‘maybe there is worth in this installment after all?’
So, with all this emotional connection to the franchise that has literally grown up with me (the franchise is the same age as me, almost to the day) will Toy Story 4 remind me why I fell in love with this story as a child?
The gangs new child, Bonnie, makes a new ‘toy’ at her first day of kindergarten, ‘Forky’ (Tony Hale) a spork repurposed with googly eyes. As Bonnie grows more attached to Forky, the spork goes through an existential crisis and manages to get himself lost, Woody dives to the rescue to help recover Bonnie’s most cherished friend, and encounters an old friend along the way…
I don’t know how Pixar keep doing it, but they do, and they’ve gone and done it again.
With Toy Story 3’s ending feeling like such a definite close to the series, this instalment was always going to be under scrutiny in the eyes of the movie-going public. Would it be another wonderful entry into the near-perfect franchise thus far, or a cynical cash-grab cobbled together to play off our sense of nostalgia? Well, I’m happy to report that it’s firmly in the former camp.
The lineage of this series can be traced through this one film, it takes narrative strokes from each previous film and makes it feel fresh and new, plus it raises the stake in terms of quality animation, that you can track back over the previous twenty-four years of Toy Story, the quality has only ever increased, and in this film the animation quality reaches its peak.
The human models have improved in leaps and bounds since the first film, given the years of practise Pixar have had, this is barely surprising, but not only has the steady increase in animation quality remain, so has its emotive storytelling.
As I mentioned previously, narrative cues are taken from previous films and repurposed into something new entirely. From the first we have the existentialism of facing the truth of being a ‘toy’ albeit from an entirely different angle. From the second we deal with the devastation of abandonment, and finally from the third we take the tyrannical leader of a toy domain, although, not everything is as it seems.
While other sequels have had a tendency to make themselves seem thinly spread in their call-backs to their predecessors, Toy Story uses its past to paint a vivid picture of a world, from the perspective of a toy, looking up in wonderment at the world of humans, and somehow that hasn’t lost its charm, even after nearly two-and-a-half decades.
The voice cast, or rather the classic voice cast, bring their A-game. As has been the case with previous films, the emotional heart lies with Woody, and Tom Hanks’ performance is as top-notch as you can come to expect from the Hollywood legend. Supported by his ever-reliable friend in Buzz Lightyear, voices as ever by Tim Allen, and his returning friend in Bo Peep (Annie Potts) there might be a few twists and turns to the story, but the cast is predictably sturdy as ever.
This is a film tailor-made to please everyone who has been with the series from the beginning, it has the sense of adventure, along with the humour, and sadness we’ve come to expect on the way. It manages to keep up every step of the way with every beat of previous films, and manages to have an ending that might even compete in the emotional stakes with Toy Story 3, it might break your heart in the same way 3 did, and in its bittersweet delivery, there is hope, which in itself, belies all the magic of this adventure thus far.
They always find a way back, a way to help each other, no toy left behind, and no film below average, Pixar creates yet another animated masterpiece, that reliably hits the emotional beats expected of a Toy Story film, while juggling the expectations of being a film mainly aimed at children. It deals with complex issues, as the series as a whole always has, and never over-reaches itself. As much as it is difficult to say goodbye to a personally cherished journey such as Toy Story, it remains to be an unexpectedly beautiful journey. To Infinity, and beyond.