Toy Story 4
Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom; Story: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom
Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Lila Sage Bromley, Dom Rickles (Archive), Estell Harris
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Disney and Pixar’s habit of churning out animated films by the bushel has resulted in a significant downward trend in quality. Toy Story 4 is thankfully an upward bump in that trajectory, making for a satisfying diversion at the theater and a fitting conclusion to the series that started it all.
Woody (Tom Hanks) had been Andy’s toy for most of his childhood, but now, in the hands of his new child, Bonnie, he’s seen less and less playtime, relegated to the closet where old toys go to gather dust. As he fights to maintain his relevancy and ensure Bonnie’s continued development, he takes on the role of protector for a new toy Bonnie created on her first day of Kindergarten. As the family goes on vacation, Woody has to keep Forky (Tony Hale) in line to ensure Bonnie has the entirety of her toy support structure intact.
With Toy Story creator and series mainstay John Lasseter drummed out of Pixar for his sexual harassment, there hasn’t been anyone to shepherd this film through the creative process like he could. Toy Story 3 had been directed by Pixar titan Lee Unkrich, but this final film was helmed by Inside Out co-writer Josh Cooley, a figure who had yet to direct any of Disney’s big screen efforts, longform or short. Cooley shows the greenness of a low-level animator who understands the concepts of animation, but hasn’t had sufficient experience to execute them. The strength of the story outweighs Cooley’s inexperience behind the camera, which helps the film succeed far better than it might have otherwise.
The terrific voice cast has returned with the notable exception of Don Rickles, who died in 2017, but whose voice remains a part of the film, having been cobbled together from archival footage. Hanks as our stalwart central figure Woody continues to deliver the best vocal work of the series. Although, without being surrounded by the talented efforts of returning Annie Potts (Bo Peep), and new contributors Hale, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny, and Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby, he might not have succeeded nearly as easily.
A film series that gets to go out on a high note is a rare thing. Just look at the Jurassic Park films, X-Men, Terminator, Alien, and myriad others. Toy Story 4 may not be the best film in the series, a distinction still held by Toy Story 2 followed closely by Toy Story 3, but it’s an improvement over the original and is filled with the kind of series-ending situations that make poignant sense.
This is an animated film from a studio that has become accustomed to churning out high quality productions from imaginative minds that embed themselves in our psyches. Even when the central figures aren’t facing insurmountable odds, the waterworks still flow at the simple elegance of certain sequences. This in spite of the traditional Disney formula holding too much influence over the film and its director’s inexperience.
Toy Story 4 and the series that precedes it represent the best that Pixar has to offer, even if the majority of their output has been weaker in recent years. While a subtle downturn of quality from the excellence of its immediate predecessor looms over the entire film, there’s little question that the worthwhile journey has come to a fitting and bittersweet conclusion.
Guarantees: Animated Feature
Probables: Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
September 20, 2019