I think everyone collectively went “really?” when a fourth installment of the Toy Story franchise was announced a few years back. After what already seemed like a decent end point with Toy Story 3, a fourth installment just seemed like an unnecessary addition, if not just a big fat cash grab. I include myself among those that were skeptical. Even though I grew up obsessively re-watching both Toy Story and Toy Story 2, I figured that, much like my own toys, there is a time to put them up and let them rest. Toy Story 3 brought me to tears in theaters nine years ago (I still can’t believe it’s been that long) and it felt like a necessary, and resolute ending. Andy’s toys have all found a new home, Andy himself has moved on to college to experience some of the most stress-inducing alcohol-filled days of his life, and us, the audience were left to imagine the toys lived with Bonnie happily ever after.
In the months leading up to it, I was far from excited; the promos were cute, but, I was still just wary of Toy Story 4 tarnishing the near-perfect track record the franchise had. It wasn’t until the positive reviews started pouring in that my excitement started building and I began asking myself: “Did Pixar really do it again?” …They sure did.
Toy Story 4 is another excellent addition to what I would argue is the best, most consistent animated franchise of all time. In fact, halfway through this movie, I was trying to think of another four-part franchise, animated or live-action that has delivered a level of quality throughout all installments quite like Toy Story has. Every franchise has that one film that pales in comparison to the rest, but among the installments in this series, they’ve all managed to meet, if not surpass the level of excellence that the original set. Though personally, this may be my least favorite installment in the series, I could understand someone ranking it elsewhere in the franchise on their own list. To me, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 have nostalgia at their advantage; having grown up with them, they hold a bigger place in my heart than the latter ever could. From an objective standpoint however, solely based on quality, they all shine bright as equals.
Picking up a few years(?) after Toy Story 3. Andy’s toys have all settled among the rest of Bonnie’s, our new child overlord. They’ve forged new bonds and now have dedicated roles in Bonnie’s playtime rituals, all but Woody at least. Woody has begun to be cast aside going from a favorite toy of Andy’s to sitting in a dusty closet among Bonnie’s older toddler toys. He’s determined to get noticed and sneaks into her backpack to try and help her get through her Kindergarten orientation. At school, Bonnie promptly withdraws herself to a table far from the other kids, and comforts herself by crafting a small toy out of a spork and discarded crafting supplies; enter Forky.
Voiced by the hilarious Tony Hale, Forky is the newest, strange addition to the main Toy Story cast.
A neurotic trash-obsessed spork composed of leftover arts and crafts supplies is at this film’s core, and he is glorious!
Woody is determined to keep Forky safe for Bonnie’s well-being and that all goes to hell when shortly thereafter, Forky flings himself out the window of the family’s RV in his lifelong quest for trash. Woody flies out right behind him and promises the rest of the crew he’ll meet them at the next rest stop down the road.
The rest of the story takes place in a small town featuring an RV park also currently hosting a carnival; the film features a new batch of toys to meet and fall in love with. Among the standouts are: Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom, Canada’s own heartthrob Evil Kenevil; the duo of carnival toys, Ducky and Bunny voiced by the hilarious Key and Peele; and Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) as the big baddie this time, who is more a product of rejection and insecurity than the villain she appears to be. Returning are Bo Peep and her trio of sheep who have Mad Max’d their way through life since leaving Andy’s sister’s life and are much more fleshed out and interesting this time around.
The film, like is customary of every other Toy Story, features tender, heartwarming moments that will definitely have those in the audience well-up. I myself was tearing up a mere 10 minutes into the ordeal. The film also boasts the unwavering, sharp and smart sense of humor featured throughout most of the other films. Pixar reminds us time and time again that animated films aimed at children don’t need to be dumbed down in theme, intelligence or emotion.
Toy Story 4 navigates the line between emotion and humor incredibly well letting every sentimental moment hit its climax, and letting each joke and comedic bit hit their mark without overstaying their welcome. It also does a great job of not pandering or succumbing to overused slapstick tropes and things like fart humor or cultural references to get a cheap laugh. Pixar’s been in the game long enough to know what works and what doesn’t. And though some aspects of the film seemed a bit rushed, especially towards the end, the pacing is pretty consistent and faultless up until then. The plot is also smarter than it leads you to believe, halfway through the movie I thought I knew what would come next but the film continued to lead me in directions I didn’t always expect.
The last major point I’d like to hit, is just how beautiful Toy Story 4 looks. To restate, Pixar has been doing this for a long time, and the dedication and resources they put into making their films look their best really shows here. There were moments during the film where the animation and lighting effects were so well-crafted and detailed that I would forget entirely I was watching something designed and animated entirely on a computer. The textures, the lighting, the facial expressions, the character models and movements; everything is executed flawlessly and Toy Story 4 is easily the best looking movie from the studio so far.
I genuinely loved this movie. Even if it is my least favorite of the four, it’s not by too wide of a margin and is also not enough to discredit everything this film gets right. As a franchise, Toy Story is perhaps the most iconic, widely-acclaimed series of animated films ever and Toy Story 4 truly meets the level of excellence set by its predecessors. Funny, beautiful and heartwarming, it’s another home-run for Pixar and the perfect ending (hopefully, but we’ll see) to their crown jewel of a franchise.
9 talking sporks out of 10