Movie Review | Toy Story 4
Movie summary: When a new toy called "Forky" joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy. (IMDb)
Toy Story 4 isn't really a movie that was needed at all, with the third film wrapping up things very nicely and yet here we are. While it's still a very, very good movie, that sense of feeling unimportant lingers and, while I imagine most people will still very much enjoy watching Toy Story 4, those who don't see it won't really miss out on anything.
In fact, this movie and the story it tells practically destroys the premise of the original three - that these are the adventures toys get up to when no-one's looking. It's something that was very slowly happening anyway, but goes into overdrive and practically legitimises toys as a new species with lives of their own that exist entirely independent of any owner.
Then there's Forky (Tony Hale), who's an entertaining character, but whose existence draws attention a little too closely to the underlying 'mechanics' of how toys come to life in this world. There's a lot of discussion about finding a purpose in life here - something a lot of younger audiences won't notice - but very little to explain why he's alive in the first place.
Some might say that Toy Story 4 is just a kids' movie, but it's just another irritating little inconsistency that might gnaw away at anyone paying attention. There are some toys that aren't alive at all despite being played with and some that have never been played with that are alive and desperate to find a child to play with them - a minor irritation, but something that persistently bugged me.
But this movie isn't even about Forky really, this is Woody's (Tom Hanks) movie and gives him an ending that felt similar to how things ended for Captain America in Avengers: Endgame. Despite trying to explain the purpose of a toy to Forky, he realises that he's not actually sure of his purpose anymore now that Bonnie's (Madeleine McGraw) stopped playing with him.
The events of this movie lead him to making a choice that is sad, yet fitting for his character considering where he starts this movie. Again, it doesn't really fit with the 'secret life of toys' premise the Toy Story series started with as Woody is pretty much a fully-fledged independent being with free will and self-determination - but so are most of the toys we see.
In fact, this is so much Woody's movie that Buzz (Tim Allen) - usually co-lead with Woody - is relegated to barely even a supporting character, with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) having the next biggest role after Woody, despite not featuring in Toy Story 3 at all. Bo's a great character, but pushing aside Buzz again pushes the series away from what it was.
Despite the characters already mentioned, it's three new arrivals in addition to Forky who are the most enjoyable elements of the movie. Keanu Reeves is Duke Caboom, a Canadian stunt-bike toy suffering from PTSD after not actually being able to perform the stunt shown in the adverts for the toy - Reeves is brilliant in the role and clearly having a lot of fun.
However, the two absolute favourite characters for me in Toy Story 4 are Ducky and Bunny, played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele respectively. If you like Key and Peele's humour, you'll love these two and they are responsible for all the biggest laughs in the movie as a pair of very aggressive fairground prize toys - especially with their battle-cry of 'Plush Rush!'
There are a couple of brilliant fantasy sequences that show us their plans in different situations that are equally hilarious, even if they are for entirely different reasons. The first involves them coming up with three plans that are effectively the same, but the second is them planning revenge against the guy who ran the fairground game they were a reward for winning.
It's that second scene that happily surprised me the most, thanks to veering really damn close to a horror movie for what in the UK is a U-rated movie (U is Universal, as in suitable for all ages). It's only brief and is followed by a brilliant reaction from Duke Caboom, but could prove an eye-opener for younger kids when the flames and screaming start!
Another plus point for me was the lack of a true villain this time around. One character is set up to be the main antagonist of the movie, but even they are presented sympathetically - in fact, their own character arc intersects beautifully with Woody's and, while initially selfish in their goals, you end up satisfied with where they end up too.
Honestly, if there's any 'villain' in Toy Story 4, it's Bonnie for not playing with Woody anymore. Just to clear things up, Bonnie behaves exactly as you'd expect a little kid to behave and is in no way acting maliciously, but her not caring about Woody in the way that the audience does will probably cause a little disconnect for some.
Then there's the visuals, which are light years beyond the first movie, but... feel like they shouldn't be? Some things are presented incredibly realistically, including an amazing CGI storm at the beginning of the movie, in addition to a lot of other elements which are - or verge on being - photo-realistic. There are some genuinely jaw-dropping visuals in this movie that put real life to shame.
On the other hand, the humans are still cartoonish and exaggerated caricatures that sometimes don't fit all that well with the world they live in. I know that a lot of people had this issue with The Good Dinosaur, that also contained a breath-taking world containing 'cartoon' characters and it's certainly noticeable here too - the balance between real and exaggerated is a little too wide at the moment.
As mentioned above, the ending features Woody making a choice that tears the group of toys apart and ensures nothing will be the same again. It's sad to see this happen, especially if you've seen the previous three movies, but it does make sense from a character viewpoint and Toy Story 4 is a pretty good example of how the series can continue even with this major change to the status quo.
In the end, a lot of minor issues end up holding back Toy Story 4 from being anything other than the least good ('worst' would make it sound like a bad movie) entry in the series, but is still great fun to watch and I would happily watch it again without hesitation. Yes, there a lot of minor issues, but there's also a lot of good - and new - stuff here too.
Toy Story 4 is a great movie that continues the standard of excellence this series is known for, even if if it's not as good as what we've already seen. It feels very much like an epilogue to the series and, much like an MCU movie, relies on the audience already being attached to the characters - although this helps make the new additions feel much more fun thanks to how fresh they feel.