“I was made to help a child… I don’t remember it being this hard.”
When I was a kid, I would sit on my grandmother’s couch for hours on end while a VHS copy of Toy Story played on the TV. When the tape ended, I would say “Again, Grammie! Again!” She would rewind the tape, and the cycle would begin anew. I had my own Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys with me. In a way, I was Andy. Maybe I still am.
Toy Story as a series has always held a very special place in my heart. The continuing adventures of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, and the gang have always captivated me, and when Toy Story 3 released in 2010, I made peace with seeing the final journey of my favorite group of toys. Or so I thought.
Leading up to its release, many wondered if we need a Toy Story 4. The third film’s ending was so perfect, narratively and symbolically, that a new entry threatened to tarnish a masterful trilogy.
Toy Story 4 doesn’t do that. The story was not over. And not only does this film emerge as potentially an even more fitting end to the series, but as one of the better entries in the franchise.
Toy Story 4 is about many things. On the one hand, it’s about the place of toys in a changing world, and what being a toy really means. Forky, a “toy” of Bonnie’s making, is the embodiment of this idea, a confused and existential creation unsure of his place in the world. On another hand, it’s about holding onto the past, and is shown in Woody’s search for Bo Peep. These two strands make up the majority of the film, intersecting in creative and often surprising ways. Somehow, this film is able to create emotional stakes when it appeared there were none left in the franchise, often very effectively.
While it is emotionally powerful (this is a Pixar film after all), it’s also easily the funniest entry in the series. Jokes that are set up early often pay off in hilarious fashion and many of the new toys are full of humor. Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele stand out as Ducky and Bunny, who have some of the film’s funniest moments, as well as Duke Caboom, voiced perfectly by Keanu Reeves.
This movie is really about Woody, though, and Tom Hanks gives easily his best vocal performance to date. He gives everyone’s favorite sheriff plenty of soul and emotional turmoil, while still keeping him recognizable as the leader we all love. His arc drives this movie, and it’s a smart choice. The way Woody interacts with others, especially Forky and Bo Peep, instantly ground this movie emotionally, making it easier than ever to connect with his struggles.
Lastly, I really want to mention how gorgeously animated this movie is. Environments and characters alike are so lifelike and textured that it often left my jaw hanging open. Everything in this movie absolutely pops with color, and it’s truly a testament to how much love was put into the animation by the team at Pixar that it never gets overwhelming. It’s a beautiful movie, and has the potential to be the most stunning animated creation of the year.
Growing up, I always thought I was Andy, loving but slowly outgrowing childish things and eventually taking my place in the real world. After Toy Story 4, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m Woody, unsure of where I belong in the world, always wondering about my real purpose. Those questions, those uncertainties, elevate Toy Story 4 to the heights of its predecessors. These movies speak to people of all ages, while giving us unforgettable adventures along the way. This will be among the best movies of the year, and if it is the end of the series, it’ll be loved by many (myself certainly included) to infinity… and beyond.
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Jay Hernandez, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt