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.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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Netflix Review – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix spent three seasons adapting one of the most dark and interesting children’s series ever written.

SUMMARY

A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of the three Baudelaire Orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith/Tara Strong). Violet is a brilliant inventor and engineer, Klaus is a polymath with a love of reading, and Sunny… is a baby that bites things hard. After their parents are killed in a fire, the three are sent to live with their distant relative, the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a terrible actor who would never have been allowed to play Doogie Howser. Throughout the series, the Baudelaires try to find a place to hide safely from Count Olaf and his troupe of evil actors while making their way through the macabre world in which the series is set. All of the events are narrated from the future by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton).

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Real talk: Why is it so hard to get cast photos lately?

END SUMMARY

The series is basically divided into two types of adventures: Either the children are taken in by an eccentric/flat-out insane caretaker and attacked by a disguised Olaf or they’re on the run from Olaf and forced to hide in some insane location. The key is that nothing in this world quite operates on real logic, instead operating on the principle that basically everyone is off-kilter and, in most cases, anachronistic. The main characters are often the only sane people within any situation, pointing out that what most of the supporting characters are doing is either stupid or crazy, but, being children, they’re constantly ignored.

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Running gag is that these disguises actually fool people.

The setting for the series is intensely gothic, much in the style of Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfeld… but more the latter because he’s the one that produces the show. Colors are largely muted, buildings tend to be in the gothic style, and the music often is best described as “eerie as hell.” The time-period for the series is completely nonsensical, with black-and-white movies and telegraph lines being commonplace, while also having jokes about streaming internet services.

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Every building in the show was designed by Edgar Allen Poe.

The tone is one of the darkest forms of comedy that you can put in a show ostensibly for children. People die frequently in this show, often in horrifying ways, and yet the spin on their deaths is usually very comical, because most of the characters refuse to react to death rationally. It also helps that Lemony Snicket is constantly adding levity and sarcasm into the series by addressing the audience directly with some off-the-cuff and off-the-wall observation. Since Snicket’s observations were one of the signature elements of the book series, it’s nice that they managed to work it into the show fairly organically.

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He’s basically riffing on his own show.

The acting in the show is phenomenal, although the way that the dialogue is presented will turn some people off. Neil Patrick Harris is a standout, matching Jim Carrey’s fabulous performance from the film adaptation, while still managing not to duplicate it too much. Harris sings the great theme song to the series “Look Away” which he sings in a different voice whenever he portrays a character in the episode, with the lyrics changing from book to book. They also find some excuses for Harris to let out his broadway side, something that, while it does make it harder to believe Olaf is a terrible actor, is too entertaining to pass up.

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Out-of-Character? A little. Out-Freaking-Standing? Definitely.

The downsides, if they are downsides, of the show are that, because of the nature of the medium, there are fewer of the wonderful ambiguities and hidden messages that permeated the books. Things that in the book series were left up to the reader to deduce are almost all made explicit. Additionally, some of the added scenes and characters are actually more positive than the rest of the tone of the show, possibly because it’s just so depressing to watch something that’s absurdist and, largely, hopeless. Frankly, it didn’t bother me, but I have heard a few fans of the books complaining.

However, there are two things this show does differently than most series that I really hope lead to its success. First, the villains are the ones shunning knowledge, while the heroes are the ones who seek it. A problem with the recurring trope of a criminal mastermind is that you have to make the villain the smart one, which often results in them making the hero a brawny dumbass. Think Lex Luthor versus Superman or Loki versus Thor (though neither Superman nor Thor are stupid, they’re not as smart as their opponents). This show 100% goes the other way, saying that the act of reading, learning, and exploring inherently makes someone more empathetic and therefore more ethical. Btw, studies suggest that this is generally true, reading makes you more empathetic (though not always as everyone thinks).

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Scientist bad. Big Muscled Guy good. 

Second, the show ends up pointing out one of the most difficult truths in the world: People aren’t all good or all bad. People are almost all morally ambiguous, falling somewhere on the scale between “hero” and “villain” or, within the series, between “volunteer” and “villain.” Everyone tends to think they’re a hero of their own story, but that’s likely the product of their own moral relativism: we define good as what we do, rather than defining good as good and then doing it. The show does a great job of exploring this concept.

Overall, I loved this series and I’m sad that it’s over. It’s only 25 episodes, total, so you should take a weekend or a week to watch it.

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

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.