Pixar has given me reason after reason not to trust them anymore. But, much like my relationship with Starbucks, no matter how many times they wrong me and how much of my money they take, I go running back like an addict. In the case of Toy Story 4, I should have just trusted Pixar. This movie had no right to be good. I have been so skeptical about the creation of this project since I first heard about it. In my opinion, Toy Story 3 ended in the perfect way. It was emotional and provided the closure that adults like me who grew up with these toys so desperately desired. When Toy Story 4 started getting good reviews, we reluctantly bought tickets for the latest show in an attempt to avoid as many children as possible (It didn’t work. Do kids not have bed times anymore??) As I eluded to before, I could not have been more pleasantly surprised by the viewing experience that this film provided.
Let’s start with the animation. This was a downright beautiful film to look at. The original Toy Story broke boundaries with the animation techniques that they used. For the record, I don’t watch a lot of animated films, so I don’t have a lot of recent films to compare it to. However, as a stand-alone, there really is no one adjective to use other than stunning. One of the more interesting things about the composition of this film is the choice to use such a bright color palette despite the darker emotions that some of the main characters are dealing with.
As I stated before, I was a firm believer that Toy Story 3 ended the story perfectly. I honestly didn’t think there was anything left to explore within these characters. But boy was I wrong. I promise not to spoil anything. While the script did a great job at introducing new characters (more on that later), this installment was really about completing Woody’s character arc. For the first half of story you are led to believe that it is about growing into your own and being proud of who you are. There is a specific point though where you realize that it’s about a lot more than that. I don’t want to say anything more to avoid spoilers.
A really gutsy decision was made by focusing on Woody, Bo Peep, and a cast of new characters. The toys we remember from our childhood are of course present, but they don’t serve a large purpose in the broader scope of the story. But let’s talk about Bo Peep! In the original, she is very much a lady. We see her in dress, she is quite docile, and she serves only as a romantic counterpart to Woody. You may also remember that she was not in Toy Story 3. At the beginning of this film, they explain what happened to her. I was a little worried about this story line when it first started. Again though, always trust Pixar. The way she is reintroduced is perfect and she is the feminist bad ass that this series needed from the beginning. Her time without a kid seems to have hardened Bo a bit. She wears pants, she is very much in charge, and for once Woody isn’t the one with a plan. It was refreshing to see this character reinvented in the way that she was.
There are many interesting new characters. Forky (Tony Hale) is a “toy” that Bonnie makes during her kindergarten orientation. He had the potential to be the most annoying thing I have ever encountered. That wasn’t the case though. He was endearing rather than annoying. A lot of the humor in this film is derived from his character. It was nice to sit in a theater full of adults and children and hear everyone laugh at the same jokes. Even though there was adult humor, there was a nice balance and a lot of that had to do with Forky.
The other new character that really made this film what it was is Gabby Gabby. She is a doll in an antique shop that the toys encounter. This character is great for a couple of different reasons. First, she is a great villain. The creation of this character allows the filmmakers to use some of the same horror techniques that were used in the original Toy Story. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between some scenes in this film and the scenes with Sid in the original. Second, her character really does have a complete arc. Again, I promise not to spoil anything, just know that you will not see where this character is going and it is brilliant.
There are approximately a million other things that I would like to address about the latest installment in this series. I admit I walked into the theatre more than prepared to write a negative review when we left. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised by this viewing experience. It was fun, nostalgic but not derivative, and the end packs a punch that you aren’t expecting. I was so enamored by the storytelling and character development that I have honestly forgotten anything negative that I had to say. I am just hoping that Pixar will know when to leave well enough alone.