Thursday, June 20, 2019

Toy Story 4 - Review

After a near perfect conclusion to a near perfect trilogy, it seemed greedy of Pixar to even contemplate a Toy Story 4. The studio’s identity as a hotbed for originality has been fading over the years, seven of the last eleven films from the animation giant have been either a sequel or prequel, and bringing back characters that had such an emotional sendoff is very ill-advised on paper. But Pixar is Pixar, and somehow, someway, they manage to knock it out of the park once again.

Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang embark on a road trip with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) and a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale). The adventurous journey turns into an unexpected reunion as Woody's slight detour leads him to his long-lost friend Bo Peep (Annie Potts). As Woody and Bo discuss the old days, they soon start to realize that they're worlds apart when it comes to what they want from life as a toy.

Toy Story 4 is able justify its existence within the first five to ten minutes of the film, and pack a pretty solid emotional punch at the same time. Andy may be gone, but the characters that audiences have loved for twenty four years are still here and, arguably, better than ever. It never tries to be bigger than it is, focusing on the emotional moments and heart that the series is known for, and proving why the Toy Story franchise remains Pixar’s crown jewel.

The voice work, from top to bottom, is phenomenal. The returning members of the cast are so closely associated with the role, you barely even think about who they actually are removed from the setting of the film despite having recognizable voices. The return of Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts, provides a fantastic jolt and a great new spin on the character from the first two films.

However, the true newcomers cannot be overlooked either, particularly for the laugh out loud moments they provide. Whether it's Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as the ever hilarious Bunny and Ducky, a pair of carnival prize stuffed animals whose comedic contortions bring numerous laughs. Or the Canadian stuntman toy Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves, who postures and poses to wonderful comedic effect in even the brief amount of time he gets.

Even with the terrific beats hit by every member of the cast, it can’t be complete without talking about Forky, the spork that starts the adventure in the most unusual of ways. Voiced by Tony Hale, the character is completely ridiculous from the start, seeking a warm and cozy trash can for due to his disposable nature. It’s a weird character entirely, there is no doubt about that, but somehow watching a spork with google eyes and pipe cleaner arms come to terms with his new purpose somehow works.

The whole film surprisingly works to be completely honest. A fourth entry in a franchise is usually doomed to irrelevance, but Toy Story 4 actually delves into some really meaningful themes of loyalty, purpose, and what it all means. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the animation by the Pixar machine is elevated with each new release. The toys themselves get a noticeable upgrade, the scenery is bright and colorful, and the design of this world is exquisitely crafted. Toy Story 4 may not have been necessary, but Pixar certainly did not hold anything back either.

Toy Story 4 continues the franchise is a heartfelt way that didn’t seem possible after a fitting conclusion in part three. The story of the gang being Andy’s toys is over, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fulfill their purpose, or whatever they view as their purpose, and it doesn’t mean the audience isn’t going to cry any less. If the franchise is truly bowing out, it’s doing so with another stellar entry that seems like a minor miracle, a near perfect conclusion to an expedition that started with a sheriff and space ranger back in 1995.

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