An inessential but very welcome addition to the franchise (Toy Story 4 review)

The Toy Story Franchise was, and in my mind still is, the greatest and most perfect movie trilogy ever made. The story it told about childhood and growing up, all through the eyes of toys, was utterly masterful. While this latest film does not extend the trilogy into a perfect quadrilogy, it certainly acts as a thoroughly enjoyable epilogue.

Now living with Bonnie, Woody and the rest of the gang are worried as she prepares for pre-school. After she creates a new toy in her craft lesson, Woody takes it upon himself to look after him, and ensure he’s always there for Bonnie. The film’s story introduces us to new characters, as well as keeping all the old favourites, and continues to be rich and nuanced in its treatment of themes of abandonment, childhood, love, loss and the feeling of being obsolete. The film was directed by Josh Cooley, a long-time Pixar animator who also co-wrote Inside Out, so that should tell you how melancholic and emotionally rich the film is.

The voice cast are, unsurprisingly, phenomenal, with Tom Hanks still stealing the show was Sheriff Woody. His range as an actor is long established, and here it is on full show once again. Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and Annie Potts return as Buzz Lightyear, Jessie and Bo Peep from the previous films, with new characters being voiced by Tony Hale (as Forky, Bonnie’s new home-made toy), Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (as Ducky and Bunny, two fairground toys), Christina Hendricks (as Gabby Gabby, an antique talking doll) and a scene-stealing Keanu Reeves (as Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil action figure). In case that isn’t enough for you, other characters are voices by Carl Weathers, Timothy Dalton, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Kristen Schaal, Wallace Shawn and Don Rickles, who voices Mr Potato Head through archive performances after his death in 2017. If that cast (with plenty more I didn’t mention) doesn’t tickle your fancy, I don’t know what will.

When Toy Story was released in 1995, it was the first ever (EVER!) fully computer-generated feature film. The first thing to say about this new film then is how far the technology has come along in the 24 years since the first feature. The animation in this film has another new level of realism that I have never seen in a CGI animated feature. Dust particles, fluff strands and fur look incredible, and this richness of detail helps sell the insane premise that, even after four films, still makes no sense. What is most incredible is how emotional the film is. Ultimately, I was crying at an imaginary plastic toy, that had been completely created inside a computer. If that isn’t true cinematic magic, I don’t know what is.

The narrative and humour of this film, while hugely enjoyable, did feel slightly like a ‘greatest hits’ version of Toy Story. A lot of the story themes are repeated from the other entries, which meant they were slightly less fresh. However, this film is probably also the darkest of the four, with genuine moments of sadness and tragedy (I know Toy Story 3 is tragic, but it’s done with hope, not with hopelessness). Randy Newman’s melancholic score once again helps the film get the absolute most out of every emotion, from funny moments to touching heartfelt moments. No matter your stance on Toy Story, if you aren’t crying at some point during this film, you might need to re-assess your own emotions.

Overall, Toy Story 4 is a very welcome film, even if it feels like an inessential addition to the franchise. The humour and heart are both there in bucket loads, and with such timeless themes and characters, it’s incredibly hard to not sit for the whole film with a big dopey grin on your face.

5 stars 5

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