Has any movie series shown improvement from installment to installment like the various Toy Story movies? I don’t think so. Toy Story 3, a Best Picture nominee, is generally seen as the perfect ending to the trilogy, hitting all the right story and emotional beats.
Why, then, is there a Toy Story 4? You know, besides the obvious? Well, it exists. What can we make of it?
Life changed for Woody (Tom Hanks). Once the favorite toy for Andy, he’s now a somewhat neglected toy for new owner Bonnie. Sure, Woody has experience that he can use to maybe bring joy to the rambunctious Bonnie, but he’s still the new toy. His big role seems to be making sure Bonnie is happy even when Bonnie is playing with a different toy. That becomes very apparent when Bonnie somehow makes a new toy that comes to life, a pile of trash she called Forky (Tony Hale). Forky doesn’t want to be a toy. It makes him nervous. So much so, he jumps out the window of the family RV during a vacation road trip, leading Woody to jump as well and try to bring Bonnie’s new favorite back again.
And as much as Woody is trying keep things smooth, he’s really just confronting something in himself. What happens to a toy nobody wants anymore?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: this movie is not as good as Toy Story 3. That would probably be an impossible feat.
That said, this isn’t at all a bad movie. If anything, this may be the most “Girl Power” installment in the series. Woody reconnects with the long lost Bo Peep (Annie Potts) a “lost toy” that is a lot more badass than she was the last time Woody saw her. The movie’s villain is another old talking doll, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a character that reminded me a bit of Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. And yet, she is a rather sympathetic villain. And while much of the original gang save Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear doesn’t have much to do, Joan Cusack’s Jessie gets some nice moments along the way. She comes out as much smarter than Buzz and maybe even Woody at times. Heck, Woody even seems uncomfortable under the leadership of a doll (Bonnie Hunt) back in Bonnie’s bedroom. Girls are running the show here.
But really, this is still Woody’s story. He has decisions to make as he figures out what his role is. Is he Bonnie’s toy? Is he still in his heart Andy’s? Given how many of these movies deal with Woody doing something selfish, does he have to keep looking out for his kid and all the other toys? Does he even know he’s doing it? What is his place in the world? Woody needs to answer questions like these for himself, and that’s where the movie’s emotional core is. And it largely works. Whether or not Toy Story 4 was something anyone wanted, it works largely as a coda for the trilogy before it. I wouldn’t call it a must-see for anyone who isn’t already a Toy Story fan, but it mostly worked. The only real problem is it doesn’t quite live up to the previous movie.
And that’s saying something since it adds new toys played by Key & Peele and Keanu Reeves to the mix.
But really, it’s sweet, has a solid emotional core, and tells a nice story. If anything, the stakes just feel lower this time around. 9 out of 10 “Yes, I CANADA!”s.