The decision to continue the beloved Toy Story trilogy was met with widespread rancor across the entire internet. “They wrapped it up perfectly! Why continue?” was the resounding cry from Twitter. Of course, it’s foolish to bet against Pixar, even despite the general downturn in their quality throughout this decade. They’re a collective group of genius storytellers, gods compared to we mere mortals. Toy Story 4 may have sounded like a bad idea upon announcement, but the film happily and completely justifies its own existence, and feels like an essential coda to the franchise.
We all know what happened at the end of the last one, but as a refresher: Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the rest of the toys were given away by Andy to a new child, a little girl named Bonnie. Some time has passed, and now Bonnie is a kindergartner. Woody’s been left out of playtime lately, but his devotion to caring after Bonnie’s well-being is just too strong. His stubbornness leads him to helping her a little bit too much, and results in the creation of Forky (Tony Hale). Forged from garbage, Forky has quite the identity crisis due to his new life as a toy. When the family takes a road trip before Bonnie’s first day of school, he manages to escape the RV, leaving Woody to chase after him. The family stops in Grand Basin, a charming small tourist town with a carnival, and while the other toys figure out how to keep them there as long as possible for the rescue mission to work, Woody comes across an old, long lost friend: Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who has been living life on the wild side for the past seven years as a “lost toy”, free of the bond to one child.
The brilliant thing about this entry in the series is that it focuses itself entirely on Woody and his character arc over the past three films. He truly is the protagonist, and the result is a film that spends more time with him than the past characters. His arc is finished beautifully here, and contains a message of self-love and the importance of putting your own needs first that honestly, dear reader, made me wept. Does this come at the expense of some of the adored supporting cast from the trilogy? Yes, but they’re still given some excellent material to work with. It’s a bizarre film, one that feels more like an epilogue than a continuation, but it just feels so natural that you never question, not even once, if there’s any point to all this. The story is deeply emotional and takes a few twists and turns that one might not expect, and even avoids some highly plausible twists that could happen. It’s smart and adult storytelling, that’s universal and humane.
Going beyond that, it’s a heart-stopping gorgeous film to look at. Contrast any frame of this film with the first film in the series, and you might die from shock. Toy Story 4 might represent the technical peak of Pixar Animation, filled with beautifully intricate lighting, astounding nature effects (the dust in the antique store!), and some rather ambitious camera movements for an animated film. It’s a testament to how far computer animation has come since the early days of the mid-90s, and is brilliantly well crafted. There’s real effort and love put into this franchise, and it shows. It’s a real tearjerker, while managing to be the funniest film out of the franchise yet. Toy Story 4 is a surprising yet assured triumph, one that proves Pixar should never be underestimated.
Toy Story 4 opens Nationwide June 21st