Toy Story 4: Definitely the Worst Toy Story, but Still a Good Movie (Spoiler-Free)

Pixar makes a mostly unnecessary film, but it’s Pixar, so it’s still better than 90% of the movies out there.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang from the last movie are still living with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), the girl who inherited the toys from their former owner Andy (John Morris). However, on her first day in Kindergarten orientation, Bonnie makes a toy out of items found in the trash and names it Forky (Tony Hale). Forky ends up coming to life and having an existential crisis because he was made to be thrown in the trash, not played with. On a road trip with Bonnie, Forky ends up trying to throw himself out and Woody has to rescue him, running into the film’s “villain” Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and his old lost flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Stuff happens and you’ll cry at one point, probably. 

END SUMMARY

Okay, first of all, if I seem a little harsh on this movie, it’s only because Pixar has set a bar that is pretty much the highest of any studio out there. Aside from the Cars movies, which I personally didn’t care for much, Pixar’s pretty much churned out magic every time for me, including all three of the previous Toy Story movies. They made Wall-E, half of which is basically the perfect film, Up, which has one of the best openings in cinema, Coco, which is a visual masterpiece, and Inside Out, which has a scene that will reduce me to a broken mass of tears even upon thinking about itohgodBingBongshe’sgoingtothemoonIpromise. So, it is with that in mind that I say this movie was good, but not Pixar good. 

Here’s the good stuff:

The opening to the film is amazing. Really, despite being a flashback, it sets up a lot of layers of the characters of Woody and Bo Peep that they had only alluded to prior to this. It also foreshadows a difference in their internal philosophies that will end up being crucial to the movie. We then head to the present and find Woody’s life is not the same anymore, because he’s not Bonnie’s favorite toy. In fact, when Bonnie plays with the toys, she makes Jessie (Joan Cusack), the cowgirl, the sheriff, leaving Woody in the closet. And, again, we’re at a good point in the narrative set-up at this point, because when Forky comes along, it’s made pretty obvious that Woody is facing an existential crisis of his own and their parallels and differences are set-up to be explored.And then we enter the second act and Forky quickly just moves to accept his place as a toy and from there the movie did kind of start falling apart a little, but more on that in a second.

The animation in the film is so damned good. It’s just… so damned good. I just re-watched Toy Story because I’m trying to watch the AFI top 100 along with the podcast “Unspooled,” and it’s unbelievably amazing how much they’ve improved the graphics without having to re-do the character models. The eyes of all of the characters are probably the best representation, because in this film all of the eyes are clearly made out of different materials based on the nature of the toy. Also, the materials that make up everything are so detailed now, as opposed to the patterned surfaces from the original. Now, this isn’t to say that the surfaces in the original weren’t amazing, hell, they’re more impressive than most CGI movies that come out now, but the technology has advanced and Pixar has advanced with it and I want to celebrate that.

The antagonist is Gabby Gabby, a Talky Tina/Chatty Cathy surrogate, who lives in an antique store and never gets played with, something that breaks her heart. I will say, this movie did a great job with her because, even though she’s the villain, her motivations aren’t nearly as evil as Al from Toy Story 2 or Lotso from Toy Story 3. She never had a chance to do the one thing toys are supposed to do, play with children, so she’s spent her entire life trying to find a way to do that and, admittedly, has gone too far. Still, you definitely sympathize with her by the end.

Bo Peep’s character has changed and grown a lot since Toy Story 2 and I really appreciate how they’ve evolved her in the interim. Without a child to play with, she has had to find her own purpose and fulfillment and it’s really a great character arc, even if it mostly happened off-screen. 

Keanu Reeves is in the movie and while his character is only okay, he does deliver a trademark “whoa” and everything was right in the world for just a second. 

Lastly, small SPOILER WARNING here, the end of the film has Woody completing an entirely new arc for his character that somehow feels believable, even though it marks a major change. I have to give credit to Pixar for being willing to change a main character’s motivations in a believable way. Also, they never explain how toys come to life, and they even seem to flat-out tell us that they’re not going to explain it, and that’s awesome, because suck it Midi-chlorians.

Now to the Bad things:

This movie was completely unnecessary. There was nothing at the end of the third movie that suggested they needed to keep telling the story. I mean, technically at the end of Toy Story, everything seemed complete, but the nature of the premise of living toys always set the idea in the back of our minds of “what happens when the kid gets older.” At the end of Toy Story 3, we see multiple ways that toys deal with it, from going to schools for communal play to just finding a new kid. It answered the last question we really had. From the trailers, they seemed like they were going to answer the question that we probably shouldn’t have answered “how are the toys alive” and “when are things toys as opposed to something else,” but the movie makes a point of not answering that, so why did we need to have this film? The themes of the movie are pretty much the same as the themes in almost every other Toy Story, or even Pixar, film, so it’s not for those.

The plot goes in like 5 different directions at once and they don’t exactly mesh as well as they should. They also have characters change a little bit too easily when they need to get to the next stage in the film. The most blatant example is Forky who resolves his inner conflict the literal second that they find something else to move on to and it doesn’t feel natural.

The big thing here is that the humor isn’t as good as it was in some of the other films. One running gag is that Buzz Lightyear is trying to listen to his “inner voice,” which just results in him pushing his own buttons and following their orders. Sometimes it’s funny, but most of the time it just makes me go “Buzz, why are you suddenly an idiot?” I mean, in each movie Buzz has some weird thing, like believing he’s not a toy or meeting a duplicate Buzz or being reset to Spanish, but he’s never been actually portrayed as this type of idiot and it just doesn’t feel real. He eventually meets Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), who actually are funny at times, but most of the time just seem to be pointless. I’m not saying there aren’t laughs, I’m saying that they weren’t quite as good as in the other films. 

The same is true of the sincere moments. There are moments in the movie that are touching and emotional, but several of them fall flat, partially because they’re just re-treads of other, better, scenes Pixar has done before. I do admit there are two scenes with Gabby Gabby that will give you some feels in your heart-holes, but aside from that it’s still lacking.

The last thing is that the movie REALLY REALLY REALLY REEEEEEEEEAAAAAAALLLY has to suspend disbelief in exactly how much people are oblivious. I mean, the toys do so much in the open in this film and it’s so obvious at times that you just can’t imagine that nobody notices. 

Overall, it’s still a good movie, but it’s definitely the bottom of the Toy Story hierarchy. And for those of you who are saying “isn’t that Toy Story 2?” I say “DID YOU EVEN HEAR WHEN SHE LOVED ME?” Still, if you liked the first three, you’ll like this. Heck, little kids might even like it more than the others, since it’s very kinetic and colorful. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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