Movie Guru: “Toy Story 4” was surprisingly a new high for Pixar’s flagship franchise
Toy Story 4
Screenplay by: Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, original story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, and Stephany Folsom
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, and more
Grade: Four stars
The “Toy Story” series keeps getting better and better — and I’ll admit, I didn’t think they could pull it off.
When I first heard that Pixar was making yet another sequel to their flagship series, the cynical critic in me assumed it was a cash grab. I knew it would be decently entertaining, because Pixar is always good. I was also sure it would feel tired, a series stretched too far past its natural conclusion.
I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.
“Toy Story 4” is a masterpiece of a movie, ending one chapter and starting another one even more effectively than “Toy Story 3.” It’s also profoundly emotional, with a combination of voice acting and animation skill bringing nuanced, heartbreaking performances out of CGI toys. Though it’s still just as magical for kids as it ever was, this is the “Toy Story” movie that feels like it’s finally grown up.
The story starts with a flashback to 2010, back when the toys were still living with Andy, then jumps ahead to the current day with Bonnie. Woody is struggling a little in his new household, but feels he has to be responsible for a new toy named Forky. In the process of trying to keep Forky safe, he falls into a dangerous adventure that reunites him with an old friend. The central character struggle is pretty much the same: Can Woody save the day and figure out his real place in the world?
The movie expands and deepens the series’ themes in a profound way. Though “Toy Story 3” brought tears to the eyes of several adults in the audience, the biggest emotional punch was nostalgia for our lost childhoods. Here, though, the journey Woody and other characters go on will resonate with the audience’s actual life experiences. On some level, it makes the characters feel more real than they ever have before.
This is particularly true of Woody, who gets some of the best character development I’ve ever seen in a Pixar film. Tom Hanks and the animation team really knocked it out of the park on this one, enough to permanently deepen my image of the character. He’d never been my favorite before this, but he definitely is now.
On a more widespread level, this newest installment expands the mythology of the “Toy Story” universe in a delightful way by adding the Lost Toys. A sort of nomadic collection of rogue toys, they live out in the wild until they can find children to play with. It’s a fascinating universe, and one potentially enough to carry the weight of an entire movie on its own.
The newest, most hilarious addition to the family is Forky, a toy Bonnie makes from a spork and other things she found in a garbage can at school. He proceeds to have the most entertaining existential crisis I’ve ever seen on screen, and everything from his comic timing to the way his brain works is a treat.
But really, that’s true of the entire movie.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.