One of Pixar’s greatest assets have no doubt been the Toy Story franchise, propelling both the golden age of Disney-Pixar storytelling as well as taking the world of 3D animation to greater heights. Without an incredible cast of toys and voice-actors, and a story that has lasted the test of time, this classic animation would not continue to be the masterpiece that it is today.
Now with Toy Story 4 out in theaters, we have some new situations and new toys to get through, but not before going back in time to the ‘good ol’ days’ of our childhood. After spending a nice evening with my dad to go watch the film, I can definitely say that it evoked several feels, old and new.
So put on your nostalgia cap! In this Toy Story 4 review, I go into the specifics of this sequel and how Pixar has managed to continue its magic, as well as weave in the modern era for new generations to enjoy!
I hope you have watched the movie, because ye be major spoilers ahead!
Toy Story 4 official trailer
Where We Left off in Toy Story 3…
The last time we see the gang in Toy Story 3, Andy is all grown up and ready for college. In this movie, we are taken back again with flashbacks and moments from Andy’s childhood, particularly one where Bo Peep and her sheep are sold, a.k.a given away, because his little sister, Molly, doesn’t want them anymore. The recurring theme of toys being discarded (or stolen) have always put the gang in danger of being separated. This time, however, we are shown that Bo is willing to leave and start a new life, because – as she states – once their job is done, it is time to move on.
After a heartfelt montage of Andy going from a beloved kid to a teenager, we are taken to where Toy Story 3 ends– with Andy handing off Woody, Buzz, and the rest of his favorite toys to a new young owner: Bonnie. Let me just add that my tears did not hold back during this moment in the last movie, but it comes to show that one day we all must grow up, and the things that used to be special to us can be given away to someone who would love them again. As we say goodbye to Andy and his world and enter Bonnie’s universe, we see new conflicts start to unfold.
New Dilemmas in Toy Story 4
First, we see that Woody is not as ‘special’ to Bonnie as he was to Andy, being left behind in the closet while she takes out everyone else to play. This does not faze Woody, as he knows his first and foremost goal as a toy is always to make a kid happy no matter what. Bonnie then starts having a tough time during kindergarten orientation, which Woody decides to fix by giving her the tools to make (yes, literally ‘make’) a new friend out of a tossed-out spork and some crafts.
The interesting thing about this universe is that we have yet to see random things being put together as a walking, talking play-thing, but once ‘Forky’ comes alive in his googly-eyed mayhem, we learn that that is indeed possible. Except – Forky doesn’t see himself as Bonnie’s toy, but as trash. Thus ensues several hilarious takes of Woody being the one to continuously prevent him from flinging himself into random trash-bins (relatable much?), as well as convince him that being a special toy to someone is the best life there is.
The road trip
When Bonnie and her parents stop in another town during a road-trip, Woody makes a final attempt to take a newly-convinced Forky to their owner. Woody, however, is distracted by an antique store in the town where he notices Bo Peep’s lamp on display. Inside, there is no Bo, but there is a defective doll, Gabby Gabby, and her minion of creepy ventriloquist dummies who try to nab Woody’s voice-box and replace it with her broken one to win the store-owner’s granddaughter’s favor. After an escape mission that leaves Forky behind, Woody ends up in the carnival across the shop where he finally reunites with Bo. However, she is not the same porcelain doll as she was before.
Bo Peep is Back and Killing it As a New Boss!
The great thing about this franchise carrying over 24 years is how the changes in culture and mindset has affected the story. Bo Peep, who was just a simple side-character in the first two movies, is now a kick-ass independent toy who takes charge, reflecting the modern woman taking on more leadership roles. She has been a free doll for seven (fantastic) years, and she loves it that way.
Upon meeting a slew of other new toys – a tiny Polly-Pocket type police officer named Giggle McDimples, a flamboyant Canadian stunt-biker named Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and a hilarious pair of plush-toys, Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) – they set on a quest to rescue Forky. Buzz, listening to his ‘inner voice,’ reunites with them as well.
New Twists and Turns
What follows is Pixar’s finest moments in action. We already know the intricate and brilliantly clever ways the toys plan out their rescue missions, and this movie shows no less from the beginning. Forky’s rescue attempt, however, goes wrong, and Woody insults Bo’s ownerless status and reveals his true inner dilemma. So far we have only seen our favorite cast of toys be a special presence in a kid’s life, but not as a free being. Bo explains that it’s better to not be attached to a person because kids move on. Woody only knows how to create happy memories for a child, and we soon learn that his steadfast determination to return Forky to Bonnie is because he has no other purpose anymore.
This somewhat-existential toy crisis feels dismal, especially when you realize that deep inside, he misses the special attention and love Andy gave him that Bonnie does not. Sadly, being ignored, discarded, or given away by a kid are not actions these toys can control. They can only make the best of it – which is a lesson we must all learn and face in life. Woody chooses to leave his friends and give up his voice box to help Gabby Gabby go back to her kid, Harmony. Later, Bo has a change of heart and comes back, along with Buzz and the gang realizing that they have to get Bonnie and her parents to the antique store so she can retrieve her backpack.
A Bittersweet Ending
After a train-wreck of chaotic but hilarious executions, the toys all finally get back together. Bonnie is happily reunited with Forky, whom she missed above anything. Gabby Gabby – whose dream of being loved by Harmony shatters after she gets thrown away despite getting Woody’s voice box – finds a happy refuge with a lost kid at the carnival.
This is where things take a bittersweet turn once Woody is confronted with a decision – go back with Buzz and the others to Bonnie or stay with Bo as a free toy. Woody listens to his inner voice and chooses the latter. But as important and relieving of a choice that it is for him, it’s still hard to see him say goodbye to his old friends. Thankfully, the movie ends with hilarious post-credit scenes. Our favorite characters continue doing what they’ve always done best – be a formidable team.
Overall, this is definitely more of a Woody-centric movie, with a self-searching, ‘coming-into-one’s own’ arch that caters to our favorite cowboy ragdoll after years being on active duty. In fact, Buzz, Jesse, and the old toys (apart from Bo) have less screen-time than any of the other films in the franchise. One thing I found interesting was how this movie throws in deep existential matters ever so subtly – being a ‘lost’ toy vs. being with an owner, listening to an inner-voice, and questioning how a simple put-together-utensil can suddenly come alive (a funny take from a post-credit scene). These elements even drive the decisions the characters make, as well as the lessons they learn in the end. For example, Woody is no longer considered lost as a free toy.
The universe has expanded
This, I think, also comes in effect with how the universe has expanded since Toy Story 1. There are more characters, more worlds, more dilemmas, and more subplots weaving into the main arch. Like most animated movies nowadays, things happen fast in this installment. For those who preferred to follow the simple linear direction of the first and second film, it would be hard to keep up if you’re not paying attention. The animation and action, however, have naturally improved ten-fold. The beloved voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen still sound the same and having Keanu Reeves thrown into the mix was the best decision ever. The characters of Bunny and Ducky have been the highlight of the film, and the effortless humor of Key and Peele steals the show at every turn. Seriously, I need a spinoff pronto!
All in all, Toy Story 4 was an amazing ride from start to finish, with Pixar achieving its core magic in storytelling and execution via a nostalgia trip that I enjoyed more than the third film. We get that in the sprinkles of the past with Andy throughout the film, the timeless music and friendships, as well as the lessons that are fit for kids and adults alike.
The sad part is realizing that characters have to go their own way, and after having Woody, Buzz, Jesse, Rex, Mr. Potato-Head, Slinky, and Hamm be together all these years, it is not easy watching Woody leave the pack. No more of those iconic duo moments between Buzz and Woody, unless we expect a Toy Story 5 years from now. Hopefully Andy comes back with kids?
Let me know your thoughts for this movie, as well as your favorite Toy Story installment!
Featured image credit: Disney, Pixar