There is something of a battle in pushing a series beyond the confines of a trilogy at the worst of times, let alone the best. Some emerge as shockingly incredible, others polarise viewers and some are shocking for all the wrong reasons but when the stakes are as high as this, you do ask yourself “was it necessary”? In 2010, Pixar emotionally destroyed audiences with Toy Story 3, a film that delivered a poignant ride that left us reeling after we witnessed Woody, Buzz (Tim Allen), Jesse (Joan Cusack) and the gang say “so long partner” to audiences. It was practically a perfect send off, so when Toy Story 4 was announced (and apparently written during production of the third), even the most optimistic among us had to ask, is another outing required? Arguably the answer was no but as Toy Story 4 rides into cinemas, I have to tip my hat to Pixar on this most remarkable achievement.
This wasn’t like Incredibles 2, nobody begged years for another sequel and yet, by prioritising a soulful story, Pixar have not only justified its making, they have made it important and vital. Toy Story 4 toys (pun intended) with the idea of necessity itself, as Pixar reflects on the audience perception of this film to come up with a soul-swelling, brutally honest, impeccably animated and massively entertaining final adventure. I say final because a feeling of finality certainly surrounds Toy Story 4 (from the subtle touches to the character developments) and if this is the end it is a heartfelt, unexpected and moving climax, which will hit particularly hard for those who have grown up alongside the films.
This film tells a resonant tale of how we can lose our way in or be confused by life, and how some of us latch onto the glory days as we grow older instead of taking that leap and moving on to our next adventure. To do this it focuses on Woody (Tom Hanks), who sees himself have to transition from leader to accomplice, and question his own identity, which often clashes with his unbudgeable loyalty. The film opens movingly, addressing the absence of Bo Peep (Annie Potts) in the last film, before expanding into an unexpected adventure filled with heart, delight and honest lessons on living.
Owner Bonnie’s handmade new toy Forky (Tony Hale) often acts as the comedic element but comes to mean quite a lot in the grand scheme of things, as his surprising existence allows Woody a chance to now justify his…but on meeting Bo once again he is forced to ask, is this living through others anyway to really live? Seeing Woody and Bo back together is absolutely joyous and Bo’s timely re-imagining feels natural and very important to the plot, which shows us that there is often more to our lot in life than we expect. This is a movie about happiness and taking the time and finding the courage to discover it for yourself and more importantly for others, and more than ever before, this really is about the toys themselves. From the hilarity of scenes with Forky, to the fear of initial scenes involving new doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) to the absolutely moving – if bittersweet – final scene, Toy Story 4 has it all.
The film’s contemplative, optimistic, resilient and adventurous spirit runs through its characters old and new. The old faces are all welcome back (especially Bo Peep, who enjoys her greatest onscreen role with this film) and no matter how big or small their appearances, everyone is a part of the journey taken, while the new characters also fit into this saga brilliantly, with one of the standouts being Keanu Reeves’ stuntman figure Duke Caboom (who, like many others in the film, has his own backstory).
Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton’s screenplay somehow manages to be inclusive of the whole roster of characters, providing comic highlights for some (Keegan-Michael Kay and Jordan Peele’s Ducky and Bunny), dramatic sequences for others and respectful nods to the illustrious past of the franchise (an end credits tribute musters some real teary eyes). Easter eggs are dotted throughout and director Josh Cooley never feels to just go on autopilot or play it easy, instead the film takes fresh turns and these iconic characters continue to feel loved by the filmmakers and so too does the audience.
The cast is of course exceptional, as they gather perhaps one last time and the animation is absolutely stunning, with this series always standing as a testament to just how Pixar have perfected their medium over time and always had a strong handle on their stories, characters and emotions. While series regular Randy Newman triumphantly returns with another great score to back all the moments of the movie with exactly the right feeling.
Pixar has achieved the seemingly impossible with Toy Story 4, in making a fourth film to a trilogy that seemingly did not need one and making it an important and vital experience for all ages. Toy Story from 1995 to 2019 has taken us on a truly unforgettable adventure and, whether this is it or not, these beloved characters will always be a big part of cinema history to infinity…and beyond. Thanks for the ride guys!