‘Toy Story 4’ adds to nearly perfect trilogy
The “Toy Story” franchise accomplished what many films aim for and what few accomplish: a near-perfect trilogy.
The first, which launched Pixar in 1995, ushered in a new age of computer-generated animation and became the touchstone by which many animated films that followed would be judged. Its sequel only improved on the original, not just with adventure, but with its characters’ emotional development.
And then, in 2010, Pixar stuck the landing with “Toy Story 3,” a wholly satisfying conclusion to the franchise that brought the saga to an overwhelmingly reassuring narrative and emotional finale.
When word came out a few years ago that a fourth mission was in development, I was perplexed and more than a bit dubious. Pixar’s return trips to the well with other films (“Monsters University,” “Finding Dory”) were nowhere near as satisfying as their predecessors, and the studio was doing just fine with its original content (“Coco,” “Inside Out”).
I am sure I was not alone in my fears of “too much of a good thing,” and tarnishing the nearly spotless “Toy Story” lustre, but within “Toy Story 4’s” first few minutes, those feelings quickly slid away. Like discovering a drawer of your childhood toys or grade-school poetry (rhyming patterns be damned, I still think “Skywalker” and “wry stalker” is genius!), I was swept up and ready for another outing with Woody, Buzz and the gang.
Following “3’s” conclusion, the group of toys had been gifted to young Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw). And while they’re still together, some of the formerly most-precious toys – Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) – have been relegated to taking up closet space while the others enjoy the spotlight.
On Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten, Woody stows away in her backpack to help her acclimate, and to give himself a sense of renewed purpose. While there, she creates a toy of her own, a mangled mess of a spork, pipe cleaner and glued-on googly eyes creatively named Forky (voiced lovingly by Tony Hale).
But since he was crafted from discarded elements in a school wastebasket, Forky never really grasps his higher calling as a toy and desperately wants to return to the trash. This leads the entire toy crew out into the world in an attempt to “rescue” Forky and bring him back to Bonnie.
Revealing the adventure would indeed spoil the inventive avenues “Toy Story 4” takes, but the filmmakers do manage to add to its already strong vocal cast, with Christine Hendricks as an antique talking baby doll, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a pair of stuffed carnival toys, and Keanu Reeves as a Canadian version of Evel Knievel's motorcycling stuntman.
Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), who was featured in the first two, but vanished for the third film, comes back with a vengeance not seen since Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2.”
This latest installment also has much to say, as did all the previous films, about our own place in the universe, as we watch Woody grappling with his transition from once being the center of attention to embarking on a future that is as uncertain as it is exciting.
Josh Cooley, a former intern at Pixar, directs here for his first time after serving in countless roles in the company for the past 15 years, and his affection and appreciation for the rhythm and flow of the previous films are obvious. It also marks the first time to the franchise for the film’s writers: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, and Stephany Folsom, who collectively capture the characters’ beats while adding several memorable new names to the “Toy Story” roster.
I am torn as to whether I want to see further adventures, for fear that they may stain the unblemished legacy, but I am also ever more confident that this team could absolutely make them work.