Sam Hamilton takes a look at the next episode in the much-loved Pixar franchise.
The fourth entry in Pixar’s flagship franchise starts and ends, like its predecessors, with Randy Newman’s score. It is nothing short of remarkable (and fitting) that Toy Story 4’s audio design meets every single beat with the appropriate note, whether gleeful, melancholic, poignant, or silent, to form an audiovisual whole that moves its audience wordlessly. Pixar’s recent track record displays a penchant for this kind of traditional moviegoing experience – Up, WALL-E, Finding Nemo, or the “When She Loved Me” sequence from Toy Story 2 place equal importance on sound and visuals. Toy Story 4 continues this trend.
In a similar tearjerking ilk to The Red Turtle (2016), Toy Story 4 makes for delightful entertainment, managing in ninety minutes to achieve an emotional depth far beyond that of other Disney products. It is no coincidence that the ‘original story by’ credit extends to eight names; we’re exposed to a finely tuned, endlessly multifaceted narrative that seems to deepen at every turn. Without venturing into the spoiler zone, this was always expected to be the concluding chapter of the Toy Story franchise and, providing it is, we fade out on a spectacular four-film dynasty that will surely set the family film benchmark for time to come. It is the end to the fable of loyal Sheriff Woody and his shepherdess-turned-Sarah-Connor amour Bo Peep, drawing the curtain on series icons like Buzz Lightyear, Rex, and Mister Potato Head. But the celebration of female characters Bo and villain Gabby Gabby forms Toy Story 4’s narrative heartbeat, effortlessly centering their ups, downs, and evolutions.
Once again, the story beings with a young child’s craving for a friend; in this case, a friend crafted by the hand of kindergarten-aged Bonnie with throwaway items. Brought to life in magnificent style by Tony Hale, the wacky character Forky is horrified by his own existence to the extent of believing he is not a toy, but trash. Forky’s addition to the gang turns out to be a literal fork in the road for Woody, a now sidelined character in Bonnie’s toy entourage replaced by the ever-cool Sheriff Jessie. Feeling overtaken – even emasculated – by his lack of purpose, Woody takes it upon himself to usher Forky into the realisation that everyone loves him deeply, a theme that continues to pervade the Toy Story extended metaphor. For a series that has always been ripe with intelligent imagery, Toy Story 4 unravels into a story so loaded with subtext that it could explode at any moment – not with complication, but with sheer compositional brilliance.
However, all this talk of imagery and endings treads over the irresistible charm of the script. Negotiating an ever-growing cast of stuffed, porcelain, and human characters is a task writers Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton approach with ease, peppering a clockwork-like structure with countless laughs. Pitch-perfect roles for comedy duo Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele ignite the second act with humor before a beautifully ironic Keanu Reeves cameo steals an entire scene later on. But Toy Story 4’s euphoric highs are often punctuated by ripples of concern, fear, and/or genuine sadness that weave into one other to create a realism that exceeds previous entries. These twists and turns of sentiment occur within individual scenes but never seem conflicted. Altogether, they make the runtime sweep by in a flurry of giggling joy and profound emotion.
So if you want heartwarming, you got it. If you want references to pop culture, Pixar films, and cinema history at large, you got that too. But as for the technical stuff? Simply put, the old cat is back. John Lasseter’s first entry, back in 1995, revolutionised mainstream animation by input of computer processing. It feels entirely appropriate that Toy Story 4 should once again make Pixar the poster boy for animation everywhere. Inside Out (2015) director Josh Cooley and cinematographers Justin Lin and Jean-Claude Kalache are all over this thing, and they want you to know it. From the very first shot of a worn-tarmacked Elm Street (the one where Andy lives, not Freddy Krueger) to the outstandingly picturesque finale, this is a visual tour de force to be watched, savoured, and watched again.
By the time the sun sets on Toy Story and the lights rise in the theatre, it becomes clear that the hesitant few who suspected this fourth entry to be an unnecessary extension to a perfect trilogy, it is a happy loss. This is the ending we never knew we needed – an instant Disney classic.