None of us have recovered from the sucker-punch of Toy Story 3. Its heartbreaking conclusion affected anyone who saw it and provided long-serving fans with a beautiful closing chapter. Toy Story is Pixar’s legacy and it’s an intellectual property they take seriously. For all of the ebbs and flows that the studio has produced over the years, Woody and Co. remain the heart and soul of their creative output, and they’ve never taken it for granted.
Regardless of the franchise, number “4” sequels are rarely anticipated or celebrated, and with Toy Story 3‘s powerful closing it was a courageous decision to push forward with another chapter. We reunite with Woody, Buzz and their quirky cohorts as they adjust to their new home in Bonnie’s bedroom. She has no interest in playing with Woody and in a desperate bid to win her affection he sneaks into her schoolbag to keep her company at kindergarten. When Bonnie creates a new friend, Forky, out of plastic cutlery and pipe-cleaners, Woody sets about assimilating Forky into his new home. A family road trip leads to disaster, however, when Forky escapes. And with that an adventure ensues as Woody ventures out into the wide world to bring him home.
The story predominantly takes place inside an antique store, as well as a nearby carnival, and it unfolds in a most joyous fashion. Woody and Bo-Peep are central to this instalment, with other characters relegated mostly to the background. The idea of them being cast aside might cause apprehension, but Toy Story is too valuable to Pixar for them to make such a decision foolhardily. All creative decisions have been executed with purpose and benefit the overriding narrative.
The original cast reprise their roles with absolute devotion and have never sounded more comfortable. Tom Hanks slides into Woody’s boots the way an old man slides into his slippers, and Annie Potts reprises her Bo-Peep persona beautifully. The gang are back and notable return players include Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Wallace Shawn as Rex, Joan Cusack as Jessie and John Ratzenberger as Hamm, amongst others.
Adding to the impressive list of newcomers: Keanu Reeves, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Patricia Arquette, Christina Hendricks, Timothy Dalton, Carl Weathers and a hilarious turn from Tony Hale as the aforementioned Forky. A bonus delight for cinephiles are the cheeky additions of comedy legends Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner as Melephant Brooks and Carl Reineroceros.
First time feature director Josh Cooley comes to the series having risen through the ranks of Pixar by directing spin-off shorts and providing numerous voices. He arrives at Toy Story 4 with enough weight to carry it through and he manages to do so with great gusto. He understands the emotional toll of the previous instalment and re-calibrates the series with a new beginning. He doesn’t have the 15 years of personal investment to contend with (which part 3 had), and that frees him up to explore new and exciting adventures.
The storyline is sweet and there are still very tender moments throughout. What makes Toy Story 4 so refreshing is the abundance of new characters, the wonderful new setting, and the immaculate quality of animation. The script – written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom – has been brilliantly written and finessed to every finite detail. These silly little characters have so much heart, and Stanton & Folsom have exploited each of their mannerisms and quirks with precision; from the hilarity of Forky’s identity crisis to the sincere crossroads at which Woody finds himself. No stone is left unturned in excavating sincerity, depth and humour from their journey.
Simply put, Toy Story 4 is a crowd pleaser. It offers the comfort of familiarity while pitching a whole new directive, and if the third movie was the closing chapter, this flick serves as the cheeky epilogue. Just as my position was in 2010, I would be happy to end things here, and yet my faith in Pixar’s integrity welcomes whatever inevitable continuation they might come up with. This, I’m very happy to report, is lovely.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘Toy Story 4’ is in Australian cinemas from June 20 and US cinemas from June 21.