It seems like the Toy Story franchise has been in our lives forever. Still every time one emerges, we forget how long it has been since the last one. Toy Story 3 for example was nine years ago but still feels somewhat recent. It helps that these characters are part of a modern animated iconography and their stories of the imagined life of toys have been emotionally moving for many. For my part these have been entertaining but not amazing experiences. So my expectations for Toy Story 4 were measured and met, an entertaining movie that feels tired but whose new characters manage to breath some life into this dinosaur.
Toy Story 4 is an immediate sequel to the third. Molly, the new child/toy owner is overwhelmed as she faces the worry of starting kindergarten. Woody despite being ignored, still takes on the responsibility of leading Molly through her first day of kindergarten. That first day results in a crafted and now conscious new friend, Forky, who in existential angst runs away for the safety of trash. When on a road trip, Forky goes on one of these existential walkabouts, Woody with old and new friends must find him again.
There is something eerily familiar to the story, look and beats of Toy Story 4 that at time feel like compulsory and unnecessary motions. It seems at times forced and worn out. The pensive Woody, the risky Buzz and all the familiar toy like faces we have met along the way have been explored to their logical limits. The enduring care for a child and the left behind feeling of a toy have all been well worn, yet here they are again. I felt that How to Train Your Dragon 3 had this same problem of been here, done that.
The issue is that doesn’t make it a bad nor an un-entertaining movie. If it had of been this story and this style of animation it would have felt comfortable and even enjoyable especially for the fans. But in a world where Into the Spiderverse or Coco exist this feels like the older person reminding us of the good old days without actually presenting a convincing argument of why they were so good. In real terms it lessens the impact of the film. You really have to push yourself to stay fresh for the moments of import and resonance the film does have. There are great emotional beats but they are prone to being lost.
The good news is that this isn’t the totality of the film and some of the new characters are the best they have ever created. Forky’s quirky anxiety and childlike trust is a delight. But it is the slightly deranged Ducky and Bunny and the broken Duke Caboom that steal the show. The voice talent of Key and Peele, plus Keanu Reeves are show stealers and they bring a freshness to the movie that probably balances itself out. The problem is you want more of them the main characters.
Toy Story 4 Review Cheat Sheet
Toy Story 4 feels like an unnecessary but entertainingly familiar part of the franchise. It shines best when it is introducing new characters but makes you want them back when they are absent. Fans will enjoy but probably with diminishing returns greater than other films in the franchise.
+New Characters are amazing.
+Lots for fans to love.
-Franchise fatigue is present from the start.