Toy Story 4 is the fourth and final film in Pixar’s Toy Story franchise by director Josh Cooley — it continues the journey of the beloved toys going on a new adventure, as Woody faces a new and challenging change in his life.
At its core, this is the journey of a lone cowboy, but more importantly, this is the conclusion to the Toy Story. Threading together the themes of each successive film in its franchise, Toy Story 4 pays homage to them all; whether it’s about uncovering your true self, helping a friend in need, or saying goodbye – the fourth and final entry to this beloved franchise takes a dive at exploring it all. That’s right, Toy Story 4 borrows a chapter from each of its previous films; all in masterful Pixar fashion.
Firstly comes the journey of discovering your true self; much like the events that Buzz (Tim Allen) experienced during the first film, Toy Story 4 explores the rough journey of a toy suffering through an existential crisis. Through this journey, we’re posed questions about purpose, following your inner voice, and in doing so, perhaps finding your purpose along the way. Then comes the theme of “helping a friend in need” or as Woody (Tom Hanks) calls it “no toy left behind” – this has always been an essential part of Toy Story, but here it reaches new heights, as Woody’s relentless loyalty is explored and even dissected. Finally comes the last goodbye. Now, an argument can be made that Toy Story 3 perfectly captured that final wave goodbye to the franchise and that another goodbye was not necessary; and that’s a fair argument to make. But what Toy Story 3 really provided was a wave goodbye to childhood, growing up, and moving on. What Toy Story 4 aims to achieve is a fond farewell to its characters. Bringing them together one last time and concluding arcs we never knew we wanted to see tied up.
The additions of new characters such as Forky (Tony Hale), Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) are all welcomed additions that only added to the franchise further. Forky provides everything you’d want out of a Toy Story character, being funny, quirky, and sympathetic in just the right ways. Forky doesn’t just provide the films best comedic relief, but also stands as an essential character in the story’s conclusion with Woody, making his addition to the film feel more than justified. I cannot however speak for the two stuffed animals Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), that, while funny, weren’t necessary to the narrative. While Duke Caboom could be regarded as “unnecessary” his character provides a clear and concise backstory that ties in with the films messages, plus Keanu Reeves, what else can be said?
But it all comes back to the classics, right? None other than Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz, and Annie Potts as Bo Peep. Hanks only improves in layering Woody with each successive film, Toy Story 4 is no exception as he provides yet another choking emotional performance as Woody. Tim Allen comes in as much more of a reprisal than a leading man, as this is mostly Woody’s journey. However, Bo Peep comes in stronger than ever, providing a balanced and hardened version of her character in just the right ways, without getting too obnoxious. These are characters and actors that now and forever will feel inseparable to their respective roles – Toy Story stands as one of, if not THE best voice acted digitally animated films of all time.
The Toy Story films have always been able to produce ground-breaking, cutting-edge animation and imagery that push animation to new heights. Toy Story 4 once again achieves this feat by producing a high level of detail inside every frame and utilising every visual feature that allows the audience to be transported into the world it has created. Bordering on photo-realistic, every toy has many subtle details that help the facial expressions convey emotion while the 3-D sets feel as if they have been shot live-action.
The rain interacts with the environment in a way that hasn’t been seen in animation before and the night-time carnival sequences are comprised of thousands of lights that elevate the established atmosphere. The cinematography is naturalistic through the use of excellent framing and beautiful transitions that help push the emotional beats.
Toy Story 4 further expands on its universe introducing audiences to a fresh perspective on the world of lost toys. The 3-D sets are built on naturalism as antique stores contain hundreds of objects appropriately arranged in that environment and the carnival sequences feature a beautifully vibrant atmosphere that consists of thousands of lights. The Toy Story franchise are the only films that fully demonstrate how sophisticated Pixar’s animation is when working with characters and 3-D sets. Randy Newman once again composes, conducts and performs the score and songs of the film which elevates the films emotional beats through character motifs as well as newly established themes.
For a directorial debut Josh Cooley has done a fantastic job alongside the writers and story makers at Pixar. It begs the question, is this better than Toy Story 3? Well, it’s certainly funnier and it certainly introduces much more powerful characters to its world. Does it reach that same soul-crushing emotional finale? For me, nearly; however, it’s a slice just below Toy Story 3 but for many it’ll be a clear win. Pixar has done the impossible task of making lightning strike twice. This is a franchise that has done everything right – but furthermore restores a new-found faith in Pixar as they head into their future projects. Good things are ahead if this team is behind it. Toy Story 4 achieves the monumental task of expanding upon characters whose journey felt concluded and stories felt closed – making audiences shed one last tear before tipping their hat to a perfectly concluded franchise.