The summer of 2019 has been all about testing the sanctity of my childhood. First “Avengers: Endgame” was made for my kid at heart, then they did a live-action remake of “Aladdin” (with “Lion King” still to come) and now we have a sequel to the assumed-“Toy Story” trilogy. We must proceed with caution.
“Toy Story 4” is the fourth film in the famed animated series that began in 1995. It is a direct sequel to the 2010 third film, and follows Woody (Tom Hanks) as he and the other toys set out to save a talking spork (Tony Hale) created by their owner. Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves and Joan Cusack also lend their voices as Josh Cooley makes his feature directorial debut.
Like most (all?) people, I saw the return and conclusion of the “Toy Story” series in 2010 as a warm welcome but a fitting sendoff. There were 11 years between the second and third film, and in that gap the world had shifted from computer animated films being rare and unique (remember when “Shark Tale” was considered good enough to earn one of the first Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations?) to dominating the marketplace (trailers for “Trolls 2” and “The Angry Birds 2” played before this today and it depressed me). But because we live in a world where audiences claim to want fresh ideas but only pay to see known IPs, Disney wasn’t done with the “Toy Story” saga yet. So here we are, and while there is an overall sense of “why?” the final results could have been much worse.
As with the first three films, Tom Hanks’ nervous cowboy Woody is our star. Hanks is so talented and likeable that he is able to convey many emotions through tones, while the animators can break or warm our hearts just by Woody’s glances, or lack thereof. Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear is kind of put on the backburner this time around, but his arc was really completed in the first two films; he is given a side-quest here but it really doesn’t affect the plot much.
Newcomers Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key (you know, Key & Peele) will likely steal the show for most audiences and rightfully so. The pair have such good give-and-take and are presented with the best jokes of the film, it’s easy to believe they were able to improv some of their bits. Keanu Reeves voices a Canadian stuntman toy, and in the year of our Lord and Savior Keanu 2019 the man continues his hot streak, giving some quick catchphrases and expected over-acting.
The animation is of course gorgeous, but what else have we come to expect from Pixar. Unlike other animation studios like Illumination, Pixar focuses on every detail, every character, so even the toys and humans passing in the background are given hair that flows or a paintjob that stands out.
One of the great things about the “Toy Story” films is they play to adults as well as kids, with both jokes and some visual cues. While there are some to be found here, this film to me played more mainstream kid than the others. The previous installments have incredible “Star Wars” parodies and references to atomic bombs, both things that young kids won’t get but parents will love. This film doesn’t really have much of that, although there are some creepy ventriloquist dummy sequences that should provide some entertainment.
Overall, this film is solid but just has a lingering sense that it has no true purpose outside entertaining children. Nostalgia is nice but “Toy Story 3” ended on such a perfect note that if I was every really getting an itch to see more Sherriff Woody adventures I could just pop in one of those films. I have seen the first, second and third “Toy Story” films dozens of times and I can’t say I will ever get the urge to watch this one again. But it is better than probably any other Pixar sequel (however high/low that bar is for you) and has some laugh-out-loud moments and emotional tugs, and when the worst installment of your four-film franchise is “just” good, you’ve done your job.
Critic’s Rating: 7/10