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Toy Story 4
★★★★☆
First run Theater cinema

Toy Story is the flagship series of Walt Disney Pictures collaboration with Pixar Animation Studios. The original Toy Story (1995) was a charming picture that, in the grand Disney tradition, bestowed human emotions, behaviors, and personalities on distinctly non-human entities. In this case, it was classic childhood toys that were brought to life. Aside from the terrific ensemble voice cast assembled for the movie, this simple tale of friendship and teamwork was most notable for being the first entirely computer-generated feature film. Its follow up, Toy Story 2 (1999), was even more successful and acclaimed but was a far cry from the original—suffering from a tediously thin villain and overwrought subtext. The third installment Toy Story 3 (2010) shocked everyone by not only being the best in the series, but one of the most emotionally powerful animated features of all time. It grossed more than the first and second pictures combined (making it the first animated movie to gross over $1 billion) and became the third animated film in history to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. More importantly, it achieved the most elusive thing in series entertainment, a fully satisfying conclusion that lived up to everything that came before. So the idea of returning for forth chapter seems risky, a cynical cash grab, or both. But while Toy Story 4 doesn’t come close to topping its illustrious predecessor, it is a worthy film on its own—every bit the equal of the first picture.

In addition to possessing a hilarious and perfectly structured screenplay, brilliant character interplay, and a villain who ranked with the best baddies in cinema history, Toy Story 3 literally took its protagonists to the brink of oblivion and forced them (and the audience) to confront mortality in a profound way that I never could have imagined in an animated kid’s movie. It also completed a solid narrative arc for its main character Sheriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), a floppy pull-string cowboy doll unflinchingly devoted to taking care of his kid, Andy. By that third film, Andy had outgrown his childhood toys and they faced a grim, uncertain future. The picture put its audience through an emotional wringer, which is one reason it played so well with adults, but ends with such simplicity and perfection it leaves the viewer feeling tremendously satisfied. The third chapter wraps up with Woody and his friends being turned over to a new kid, a little girl named Bonnie, which manages to say more about the circularity of life than Disney’s The Lion King ever could.

At the start of this fourth story, Woody has lost his special place as the favorite toy. He doesn’t seem too ashamed or broken up about it, but when Bonnie is scared to go to her first day of Kindergarten, he takes it upon himself to tag along and make sure everything goes OK. This initiates an adventure that takes Woody away from most of his fellow toys but reunites him with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), part of a porcelain lamp that helped Andy’s little sister get over her fear of the dark. Bo and Woody acknowledge the feelings they’ve always had for each other, but after years of being on her own, Bo Peep has developed a taste for the freedom and excitement that comes with being a “lost toy” without any responsibilities to a kid. Still, Bo, her sidekicks, and two stuffed animal prizes from a local fair (winningly voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) set out on a mission to reunite Bonnie with a beloved new homemade toy she created in kindergarten named Forky (Tony Hale).

The stakes and psychological content of this picture are far lower then Toy Story 3, and the new characters mean the brilliant ensemble nature of the rest of the series is regrettably absent this time. But there’s still a nice little adventure here with some clever antagonists, terrific character work (Keanu Reeves role voicing an Evel Knievelesque motorcycle toy named Duke Caboom is as wonderful as Michael Keaton’s go-for-broke turn as the Ken doll in Toy Story 3), and a rich but never heavy-handed subtext about identity, loyalty, and personal sovereignty. And, unlike so much franchised product on movie screens these days, a viewer totally unfamiliar with the previous installments of the series will have no trouble following this story, its character relationships and themes.

It goes without saying that the CGI animation here is first rate—though not as impressive as the previous film, which made all sorts of technical advances without looking fundamentally different from the relatively primitive designs and camera techniques of the 1995 original. Also, unlike so many contemporary animated studio pictures, the voice work in Disney/Pixar features is all about the characters rather than the actors. The movie stars are never billed above the title, and they seem to be hired for what they can bring to make an animated character come to life, not for their recognizable personalities. Indeed, apart from Hanks, co-star Tim Allen, and a couple of supporting players (Mel Brooks is unmistakable in a disposable role), we rarely think about the actors behind the microphones when we watch these movies. Instead, we become enchanted by the personalities of the individual toys on screen, and that, more than anything, is the great achievement of this series. We care about what happens to these toys. They touch something in us, and their feelings resonate with viewers at every stage of life.

Twitter Capsule:
Surprisingly strong 4th chapter to a trilogy that ended about as perfectly as anything in series entertainment. Lacks the wonderful ensemble work of the other entries and the profound emotional stakes of 3rd film, but creates rich new characters, ideas, and themes.  

Directed by Josh Cooley
Produced by Jonas Rivera and Mark Nielsen

Screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton
Story by John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, and Andrew Stanton

With: the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Lila Sage Bromley, Don Rickles, Jeff Garlin, Maliah Bargas-Good, Jack McGraw, Juliana Hansen, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, Steve Purcell, Mel Brooks, Alan Oppenheimer, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea, Melissa Villaseñor, Jeff Pidgeon, and John Morris

Cinematography: Patrick Lin and Jean-Claude Kalache
Editing: Axel Geddes
Music: Randy Newman

Runtime: 100 min
Release Date: 21 June 2019
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color