TOY STORY 4 / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: JOSH COOLEY / SCREENPLAY: STEPHANY FOLSOM, ANDREW STANTON / STARRING: TOM HANKS, TIM ALLEN, KEANU REEVES, ANNIE POTTS, TONY HALE, JORDAN PEELE, CHRISTINA HENDRICKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Let’s face it, even the most popular movie franchises are pushing it a bit if they chance their arm on a fourth instalment. Just ask Men in Black: International. Ouch. Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy (1995-2010) is not only one of the most beloved series of films in cinema history, it’s also widely regarded as pretty much faultless. It’s the one franchise that never dropped the ball, never faltered, and never made that groan-inducing misstep or poor judgement call. Everyone loves Toy Story and Toy Story makes the world seem like a slightly better place. News that a fourth instalment was being planned - and was eventually in production - caused a lot of brow-furrowing and anxiety. Were Pixar chancing their arm by going back to a well that seemed to have been so wonderfully mined - and brought to such a joyous, uplifting ending with Toy Story 3? Was Toy Story 4 just going to be a cheap cash crab, exploiting the goodwill of the original trilogy and despoiling its legacy of loveliness?
Of course not. Pixar is far too sharp to clumsily kill the golden goose that launch a new era in computer animation and made them the front runners in this exciting new cinematic art form. Breathe easy, relax. Toy Story 4 not only doesn’t let the side down, it serves as a charming, colourful, wonderful coda to the original trilogy - with the proviso that this really is and should be the full stop. Toy Story 4 ties up loose ends we probably hadn’t realised existed and manages to send our heroes off on a wild new adventure whilst introducing some new characters who are sure to quickly become as memorable and iconic as Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang.
At the end of Toy Story 3, nine long years ago, Woody and co., abandoned by the college-bound Andy, found a new life in the adoring hands of Bonnie, their new owner. But times are changing again. Woody is being neglected by Bonnie and, when she attends kindergarten orientation, Woody, worried that the young girl will be overwhelmed by the new experience, sneaks into her backpack and encourages her to make a new toy out of a discarded ‘spork’ and others bits and pieces. ‘Forky’ (brilliantly voiced by Tony Hale) is convinced he is ‘trash’ and wanders off on a mission of self-destruction, Woody goes in hot pursuit desperate to save Bonnie’s beloved new plaything. Bonnie’s family set off on a road trip in a rented CV, which is where the adventure really begins. At an antique toy store, Woody is reunited with an old friend and meets up with the apparently-malevolent doll Gabby Gabby (Hendricks) and her quartet of genuinely-creepy ventriloquist-style dummies. Buzz, meanwhile, is off on his own mission to find Woody with the help of joined-at-the-wrist plush toys Ducky and Bunny and entirely self-unaware Canadian stunt toy Duke Kaboom (unmistakably Keanu Reeves).
In truth, it takes a little while for Toy Story 4 to find its feet and convince us that it has a real raison d’etre. The first act suggests a film happy to revisit former glories without offering anything new, but the series’ beating heart restarts when we meet the ultimately rather tragic Gabby Gabby, and Woody is reunited with his soulmate Bo Peep (Annie Potts). The stunts and adventures are fast and furious and dizzyingly inventive, the animation is now beyond state-of-the-art and the moral is as front and centre here as it’s always been since the first film way back in 1995.
Does Toy Story 4 tug at the heartstrings in the same way as its predecessors - especially Toy Story 3? In truth, no it doesn’t; there are a handful of lump-in-the-throat, eye-moistening moments that remind us why we love the series, but they themselves don’t really tread new ground, they revisit familiar territory by coming at it from a slightly different angle. There is, though, a very definitive feeling that this is the end; that things are now as they should be and that the last Toy Story that might have needed to be told has now been told. It’s a sweet, tender ending, which brings down the curtain with class and style on a series that, thankfully, never compromised on its creative integrity and never let down the audience that grew up with it and cherished it. Toy Story 4 is a delight… and that alone is more than we could have reasonably expected of it and more than enough reason for it to exist at all. Friends indeed.