After the harrowing events of Toy Story 3 (where the series’ beloved characters almost met their fiery deaths), Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang are back to living the sweet life. Toy Story 4 begins a few years after they’ve moved on from their last human, Andy. They now live with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a sweet child who loves her toys and plays with them every day. Well, most of them. While the other toys receive playtime with Bonnie, Woody gets left behind in the closet to collect dust.
During a tough first day at school, Bonnie makes a toy out of crafting materials and instantly bonds with him. Her crafted toy, Forky (Tony Hale) is a spork with pipe-cleaner arms, Play-doh feet, and googly eyes. Even though Bonnie’s love grants him life, Forky looks like garbage and has a skittish personality. All Forky wants is to make it back into the trash where he thinks he belongs.
Losing her new toy would devastate Bonnie. So Woody, ever the loyal toy, makes it his mission to protect Forky from his death wish. When Forky flees the RV during a family trip, it’s up to Woody to track him down and return him safely. But before that happens, they cross path with an old friend who leads an eye-opening alternative lifestyle.
Toy Story movies have churned out lots of unforgettable characters over the years. One of my few gripes with this picture is that 100-minutes isn’t enough screen-time to catch up with the entire gang. Director Josh Cooley has a murderer’s row of voice-talent at his disposal, but most of them are on spot-duty. I wanted more of Kristen Schaal’s Trixie and Joan Cusack’s Jessie. Who wouldn’t want a prequel movie about the years Bo Beep spent off alone and living her best life. And I would put money down right now for a Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) spinoff.
These films have looked fantastic for so long it’s easy to forget what technical marvels they are. Toy Story 4 features tonnes of gorgeous shots which deserve spots on 2019’s best-of lists. I could nerd out discussing the realistic-looking fabric textures, or the way the camera frames the action through its dazzling use of depth of field. It’s all quite phenomenal.
But what’s most impressive is how the animators use subtle body language queues to bring these characters to life. I don’t mean animating the toys in a way that makes them not look like soulless corpses – although the story features some unnerving soulless corpse-looking toys too! Instead, I mean making these toys seem alive in a way people may deeply connect with.
Pivotal emotional scenes are subtle and restrained in a way that plays out with heart-aching humanity. Cooley doesn’t need on the nose exposition to convey complicated feelings. These animated characters express their vulnerability through silent exchanges; slight nods, hunched shoulders, and half-smiles. Watching animated characters who are written with such depth, performed with such commitment, and brought to life with such care is pure movie magic.
Toy Story connects with audiences because the series’ themes are more profound than most films aimed at children. Previous entries explored grownup feelings like the melancholy of ageing, dealing with unwanted change, and finding one’s purpose in life. Although Toy Story 3 felt like an ideal bookend for the series, Toy Story 4 is a natural thematic evolution and offers an even better ending.
The film’s trailers show off a fantasy world full of colourful characters having wacky adventures, but this movie is rooted in something real: love. This story is really about what it means to love. Whether you’re five or fifty-five, that’s something we all relate to. This story is about the emotional ebbs and flows that come with experiencing love. And in true Pixar fashion, it explores these feelings in a way that’s more thoughtful and nuanced than other animated movies.
Through Woody, Toy Story 4 explains that love happens during different stages in our lives and that it takes many forms. Your love for someone else may last forever, even as the love between you fades – or moves on to another stage. But most importantly, Toy Story 4 tells us not to base our own value solely on someone else’s love. It’s a message that makes perfect sense, but it’s hard to put into practice. So, I’m glad we have these beautifully poignant tales that serve as reminders. And by the time this movie’s final credits roll, don’t be surprised if you’re all misty-eyed.
Could the folks at Pixar find a way to stretch out Buzz and Woody’s saga for one more film? Sure. But if this is the last we see of the gang, it’s a pitch-perfect ending to one of cinema’s best franchises. Toy Story 4 closes out the series on a bittersweet high; an unabashed tear-jerker full of dazzling visuals, standout characters, and brimming with heart.