So ‘Toy Story 4’ has finally hit cinemas, supposedly to be the ‘true’ conclusion to the animated saga. But does it live up to it?
From back in 2010 when I first watched: ‘Toy Story 3’, I was blown away by the true greatness of this animated trilogy. Still to this day, I still honestly believe that the ‘Toy Story’ films are one of the best trilogies to ever be put to the silver screen. Combing beautiful animation, with incredibly memorable and iconic characters, in addition to plenty of humour, excitement and surprisingly in-depth themes at points. The films felt like one big story, split into three parts purely for the audience’s easy enjoyment, and I (along with many others) was very happy with the way the third film ended, finishing the story in both a satisfying and emotional way. That is of course until Pixar announced a fourth film to be released back in 2014.
So as I wasn’t really anticipating any-more sequels to the ‘Toy Story’ series (thinking this fourth entry was purely created to be a cash-grab) I wasn’t really looking forward to the film all that much. But after seeing all the fantastic reviews from both critics and audiences alike, I started to think that perhaps Pixar may have pulled off the impossible. So I went into the film with decent expectations, wanting to be pleased. Unfortunately however, although I don’t think the film is terrible by any means. The film is easily the weakest of the ‘Toy Story’ films for me, feeling almost like an additional adventure with the occasional memorable moment sprinkled in. Aside from the ending of the film of course, which seems to be the main element that is really winning people over.
The film takes place a while after the third film, now focusing on the gang of toys living with their new owner: ‘Bonnie’. However, this is where my first issue with the film comes in, as although we don’t find out exactly how much time has passed. It seems to have only been a months going by ‘Bonnie’s age within the film, yet during this time she has now grown out of: ‘Woody’, completely ignoring him in favour of all her other toys. While I understand children can grow out of their toys in time, this simply feels like too large of a shift to me, especially when compared to ‘Bonnie’s love for: ‘Woody’ back in ‘Toy Story 3’. This also plays into the ending of the film that I already mentioned, as here we a difficult moment for ‘Woody’s previous owner: ‘Andy’ as he hands over his favourite toy entrusting it to ‘Bonnie’ with a promise, to which she now completely ignores when going onto the next film, making this beautiful moment now mostly pointless and making ‘Bonnie’ feel like a victim of some weak writing.
The main narrative continues on however, as ‘Woody’ follows ‘Bonnie’ as she nervously heads to her first day at kindergarten, where she creates her own toy out of pieces of rubbish which soon become a sentient toy. This eventually leads the entire gang on a road-trip with ‘Bonnie’s family as ‘Woody’ attempts to stop ‘Bonnie’s new creation: ‘Forky’ from throwing himself away, believing he is a piece of rubbish rather than a toy. This soon leads onto ‘Woody’ encountering his old flame: ‘Bo Peep’ as he finds her now a rouge toy living a free life. It’s around this point many more of my issues start to arise, as from this moment on, the becomes film entirely revolves around: ‘Woody’ and his love interest. Ditching many of the classic ‘Toy Story’ characters such as: ‘Jessie’, ‘Rex’, ‘Ham’, and ‘Mr. Potato Head’ in favour of many new characters voiced by famous actors, and while many of these characters are mostly entertaining, it’s a shame none of the other characters get any kind of conclusion or even anytime to shine like in the previous film.
Even one of the main characters from the franchise: ‘Buzz Lightyear’ has a very reduced role in the film, making his relationship to ‘Woody’ barely even notable, despite it being a very heavy focus throughout the trilogy. It’s also due to this that the film’s conclusion lacks the emotional impact I feel it should have, as when ‘Woody’ eventually decides the leave the gang for good. He only shares a simple hug with many of his long-time friends, many of which he’s barley even shared any screen-time or even dialogue with throughout the film. Which I do believe there was time for, as many of the new characters took up a lot of the run-time with a few of them not even adding anything to the story, purely just there for comedic effect, which is a real shame, as I feel if this scene was handled well, it could’ve been even more impactful than the ending of: ‘Toy Story 3’.
My biggest issue with the film is also relevant to the ending, as personally, I didn’t find ‘Woody’s decision to stay with ‘Bo’ within his character. While I have seen many people attempt to defend his decision, I simply don’t feel that fits in with the rest of the series. As the theme of sticking with your owner regardless of whether you get played with or not has always been at the centre of the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy and ‘Woody’s character overall. Obviously, the film does attempt to give ‘Woody’ a character arc throughout the film, focusing on a toy’s need for more than just an owner, and the overall focus of self-worth, which is interesting, but I simply feel with the film’s rushed pacing and very large character arc they are attempting to pull off, it just simply just doesn’t work. Perhaps if this was a single film I could believe it, but going off what we’ve seen before this, it’s just too big of a jump to me that ‘Woody’ would abandon his owner and friends of years for freedom.
Now I do feel this story for: ‘Woody’ could definitely work, and I do like the idea of the two best friends ‘Woody’ and ‘Buzz’ going their separate ways. But I just don’t feel this was the way to do, perhaps if this character arc was built up for ‘Woody’ in previous films it would’ve worked better. In regards to previous films, ‘Bo Peep’ returning again in this film was a smart move on the writer’s part. As this character is far more developed than she was previously, and I can see her being used to convince ‘Woody’ down a different life-path over some random new toy introduced purely for that reason. Overall, it seems like there were trying to do something a little ‘different’ from previous films, and I think that’s great. But I feel this way mostly conflicts with what was set up previously in this series. It’s not that this film is ‘bad’ per-say, it was just very disappointing for me.
Of course, the film does have many merits, as the animation is phenomenal (being almost photo-realistic at points) along with some great voice-acting, an interesting/unique antagonist and a decent original score once again by Randy Newman. But personally, I find the story, characters and overall themes of: ‘Toy Story 4’ a little messy. The film has been described by many as an ‘epilogue’ to the ‘Toy Story’ franchise, almost like a little additional bit of story after the main narrative. Giving ‘Woody’ a conclusion alongside his old owner: ‘Andy’. But for me personally, the film doesn’t quite land on its feet. Feeling more than an additional adventure with the iconic toy cowboy rather than anything truly impactful or conclusive of note, and for me, the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy will always be the true animated classic, with this film serving as a decent side-adventure. But clearly, I’m in the minority on this, as it seems most people adore ‘Toy Story 4’, so at least the franchise can still appease most.