Directed By Josh Cooley
Starring – Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves
The Plot – Woody (Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Allen) and the rest of the gang embark on a road trip with Bonnie (Madeline McGraw) and a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale). The adventurous journey turns into an unexpected reunion as Woody’s slight detour leads him to his long-lost friend Bo Peep (Annie Potts). As Woody and Bo discuss the old days, they soon start to realize that they’re two worlds apart when it comes to what they want from life as a toy.
– Evolving animation. While the computer graphics associated with character designs and appearances have remained consistent throughout four films spanning 24 years, the opportunity to blend them with some richly authentic backdrops is what establishes as the most beautifully rendered of the Toy Story franchise. Pixar once again masters this seamless immersion of weather design in the form of raindrops and natural sunlight, and ups it further with a series of objects in frame that make the animated toys feel like they are living and breathing inside of this real life world that feels continuously like our own. There were several times during the film when I had to legitimately stop and focus on a cat or a slab of concrete for how visually striking it conveyed its realism, and overall its evolving dimensions in animation have allowed this series to adapt to the times in ways that never compromises the believability of the visual continuity.
– New personalities. More than anything, what keeps this franchise fresh is the constant addition of new toys that not only give us a chance to enjoy some big name cameo appearances off-screen, but also delightfully feed into the gift of their gimmicks. In this regard, none are as gifted as Keanu Reeves Canadian stuntman Duke Kaboom, who takes pleasure in the thrill of crashing. Reeves unusually excited demeanor in the film gives way to many scene-stealers and insanely quotable dialogue, but it’s the duo of Key and Peele who stole the show for me. As a duck and bear combo who are quite literally joined at the hand, the two embark on an adventure that allows them to bring along the sinister side to their personalities, bringing forth no shortage of laughter for this critic each time they had an idea to add to the conversation. Between these three, I could easily watch another three Toy Story movies without getting tired, and the precision in casting these very vibrant personalities not only brings to life the passion of the characters, but also dazzles us in ways that makes them unique to the dynamics of such a crowded cast in the foreground.
– Funny bone. Nobody does G-rated humor better than Disney/Pixar, and thanks to a consistency rate that was truly out of this world for a kids movie, “Toy Story 4” became one of my favorite comedies of the 2019 film year. What’s commendable is that nothing feels strained or confined because of the dominant audience age, and the material therefore is able to balance awkward pratfalls and timely deliveries in a way that practically dares you not to laugh. Likewise, the material itself never feels geared single-handedly towards youthful audiences, instead extending its hand not only to the newer generation, but also those who, like their kids now, were that age when they first delighted from Woody yelling at Buzz that he is a “CHILD’S PLAY THING”. “Toy Story 4” truly is one of those crossing of the generation moments, and thanks to no shortage of comic firepower, the film manages to keep our attention firmly in its grasp for many belly-tugs.
– Complexity of material. This one works in subplots and tone for the film, as the roller-coaster of emotional pulse makes this easily the most emotionally expansive of the franchise. Dealing with issues of abandonment, lost love, fitting in, and especially past trauma, the film respects its audience in conjuring up enough profound parallels to teach and learn all at the same time. It’s rare that a film can do this all the while transpiring the tone so smoothly, and even though this film has the depth of three or four different movies of comedy, drama, romance, and even horror, the pacing never felt like an arduous task. “Toy Story 4” teaches many lessons simultaneously, and the method of its madness constantly feels earned through twists and turns that honestly I didn’t see coming in the slightest. I probably should have because the hints are there all along the way, but they’re inserted in a way that doesn’t require strained focus or obviousness to sell its purpose, planting the seeds of progression that truly does grow into some beautiful and heartfelt.
– Prominent performances. In addition to the couple of rookies that I previously mentioned, the returning cast of Hanks, Allen, and especially Annie Potts gives way to some compelling dimensions of character that tell the story of their pasts. Allen is easily the least used between the three, but without the direction of Woody he is left to lead by example, and it gives us a few Allen performances for the price of one, thanks to him searching for his inner voice in ways that are anything than what is intended. Potts has evolved into this badass of sorts that is only rivaled by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road” in terms of female heroine. Thanks to an introduction that tells the story of her abrupt departure from Andy’s household, we are able to see what comes from living out nature over nurture, illustrating her as a take-no-prisoners kind of protagonist. Finally, Hanks emotes Woody in a way that not only hints at a deteriorating psyche, but also a vast amount of vulnerability that has him reflecting on a lifetime of shifts and changes. Woody is realizing for the first time that his best days are clearly behind him, and for the first time ever it has him questioning his purpose in a way that adds a refreshing uncertainty to his moral compass for being the one who always puts things back together.
– Randy Newman. The legendary musical composer is back again, but this time his level of vocal familiarity is exchanged for nuanced tones that better establish a scene’s tonal consistency without kidnapping the volume controls. The level of their incorporation feels subtle enough to constantly remind you of its existence, yet mature enough to never take away from the dramatic tension of the scene, and if one thing is for certain it’s that Newman has lived life through every avenue of the blues, and his level of somber resonance knows no boundaries in garnering the perfect poke to prod at tears from the audience. Sure, “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” as well as the new track “Don’t Put Me In The Trash” are there to remind us of Randy’s one of a kind raspy enveloping, but my appreciation here is more for his compulsion in mastering the fruits of the environment so effectively that the music itself is the one character that outlasts all of the others, very rarely leaving our ears if only to change to the next orchestral influence that highlights what’s to come.
– A gentle hand. For a first time filmmaker, the things that Josh Cooley is able to accomplish is nothing short of phenomenal, landing a consistency and fitting place for this film with the others that establishes him as the perfect man for the job. Cooley’s chase scenes are rapidly full of energy and urgency, using many magnetic movements of the camera to perfectly articulate the range in speed and direction masterfully, and his dedication to capturing the perfect resonating moment is something that can only be learned through moments of a director immersing himself into the shoes of the audience, who he knows he can’t let down. This film could’ve easily fell apart after the immense task of picking up the pieces on a finale that left so many ringing from buckets of tears, but his influence breathes new life into the character’s and franchise, inspiring us to seek more from this franchise to continue pursuing the grasp of human commentary from the smallest angles.
– Hidden Easter Eggs. How much can I even talk about this one? There is a specific Hitchcock reference in the film from one of his biggest film accomplishments that was every bit as sinisterly alluring as it was effective in capturing the essence that both films were trying to attain in their respective scenes. Obviously, children won’t interpret this in the same ways, but it gives the sequence a measure of twisted wink-and-nod to horror hounds like myself who simply can’t ignore the comparisons that are so obviously mirrored right down to the familiarity in musical notes. There’s also an entirely different Easter Egg that reaches into Disney’s growing library of properties, and inserts it into the middle of a wild county fair where all rules go out of the window. This truly is one of those blink-and-miss-it moments that could easily be Disney flexing its bulging muscles, but I liked it because it further captures the realism of the world around it, depicting heroes from other movie universes in a way that feels believable because of the way they clash in frame.
– A Familiar formula. Part of the nagging bother for me from this movie was how familiar this screenplay outline felt, even if given different directions for it to flourish. Particularly with the original “Toy Story”, there are many comparisons that I found that I would like to mention. Woody and new toy go on long distance adventure, the duo land in a horrific land of distraught toys, Woody constantly tries to tell new toy that he is in fact a toy, There’s a moment where Woody’s intentions casts a huge feel of isolation from the rest of the group, and a scene where the group is being chased by a four legged companion. These are only a few of the similarities that I noticed. If I wanted to, I could spoil much more, but will choose not to. The point is that the Toy Story franchise has been making the same script outline for four movies now, and it’s insane that they are getting away with it.
– Believability. Should I be complaining about logic in a kids movies where toys come to life? You bet your ass I should, as this film not only forgets about the rules that it set with toys being less obvious to the human eye, but also defies wear-and-tear in a way that I’ve never seen before. On the latter, you mean to tell me that none of these toys are decaying even remotely? You mean to tell me that Woody’s voice box is working as good as it was the first day he came packaged? You mean to tell me that we are STILL getting new catchphrases from both Woody and Buzz? How big is this voice box? On the former, there is simply too much toy interaction in the film that wouldn’t go unnoticed by someone in a classroom or county fair that saw something more. In the first two movies, this gimmick felt believable because the way the toys returned always felt grounded in reality. Here, toys disappear and reappear at the drop of a hat, and no one questions it. There’s also a finale with an RV that couldn’t be more absurd if a pink elephant was pushing it from the rear with no one seeing it.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+