Saturday, June 22, 2019

Toy Story 4 - To Infinity and Beyond

Following the success of the original Toy Story (1995), Pixar made a name for themselves in the world of animation and continued to pump out multiple successful movies, which, of course, included two sequels to the first film, Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Now, about 24 years later, Pixar has released what seemed like an unnecessary sequel in the form of Toy Story 4. I didn’t feel very enthusiastic about this one going in, as I had thought that Toy Story 3 served as a good conclusion emotionally and had no idea how they could continue the story. Well, as it turns out, they found a way to do that and make a surprisingly good movie out of it.

Two years after the events of Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks) and the others have grown accustomed to life with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). However, Woody has been neglected by Bonnie and sneaks into her backpack to help get her through her first day of kindergarten. When Woody returns, he introduces the other toys to Forky (Tony Hale), a spork that Bonnie had made into a toy. The toys soon embark on a road trip with Bonnie, but Forky, who believes he’s nothing but trash, escapes the RV and Woody has to go after him. On their way back to Bonnie, however, Woody becomes distracted by the possibility of finding an old friend.

In many ways, this film is mainly about Woody. He’s been neglected by his kid and feels as though he’s lost his purpose in life. His attempts to feel useful, however, have consequences that he, naturally, takes a little too long to notice. The story that's written around this is told very well and builds up to a very emotional conclusion that I now have absolutely no idea how a future installment could possibly follow up on. There was one thing that did bother me about what’s required to help make part of this conclusion occur, but I’d like this review to remain as spoiler-free as possible.

Woody (Tom Hanks, left) tries to find his purpose while trying to
teach Forky (Tony Hale, right) the meaning of being a toy.

Of course, there are two other major character arcs throughout the film, both of which were pulled off in fairly clever ways. Forky slowly comes to terms with the fact that he’s, in fact, a toy to Bonnie and not just random garbage. Meanwhile, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) discovers the concept of a conscience, an internal guiding voice, and explores this during his search for a missing Woody. In Buzz’s case, he uses his built-in phrases to help make decisions, which also provided a good source of humor at times.

On that subject, this film notably features Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in respective roles as Ducky and Bunny, a stuffed animal duo at a carnival. Ducky and Bunny are easily the funniest characters and almost steal the whole movie, though thankfully Pixar managed to give them just enough screen time to avoid them overshadowing everything else.

Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key, left) and Bunny (Jordan Peele, right) nearly steal the show.

Watching the original Toy Story right before this one allowed me to better appreciate the leaps in animation that Pixar has made for their feature films over the last 24 years of the franchise. The lighting and weather effects are breathtaking, especially when multiple light sources are in play, and Pixar has certainly gotten a lot better at animating human characters. Where Pixar’s humans were relatively uglier in the original film, more so on younger characters, they are now much easier to look at, a good advancement considering the large number of human characters onscreen at any one time in this film. There is an early flashback where a younger Andy is depicted in the current style that feels different from when he appeared in earlier films, but I didn’t mind the change, as it kept him more in line with his college-aged counterpart in Toy Story 3. On a similar note, Pixar has managed to improve on its depictions of the various styles of toys in the movie, including how the environment affects them.

Toy Story 4 is an unnecessary movie, but a very good one. The story provides Woody’s arc with a satisfying and emotional conclusion and is balanced well with a good sense of humor and backed by stellar animation. If you’re a Toy Story or Pixar fan, there’s really no reason not to see Toy Story 4. I’m sure in the future Pixar will try to find a way to continue the Toy Story franchise, especially considering how successful it is, but right now they could easily just end the films here and let it go out on a high note.

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