21st Jun2019

‘Toy Story 4′ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea | Written by Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom | Directed by Josh Cooley

toy-story-4-poster

Generally speaking, a fourth entry in a franchise isn’t usually something to get excited about – for every Avengers: Endgame and Mad Max: Fury Road, there’s a Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a Jaws: The Revenge or a Men In Black: International. In the case of the Toy Story movies, the previous film already gave Woody and co a perfect ending, so what could a fourth instalment possibly bring to the table? Happily, Toy Story 4 puts all such worries to rest, delivering a fourquel that’s more than worthy of standing alongside its predecessors, thanks to a healthy dose of the old Pixar magic.

The story begins with Woody feeling increasingly obsolete as new kid Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) prefers to play with her other toys instead. After Bonnie brings home Forky (Tony Hale) – a plastic spork with googly eyes she stuck on at kindergarten – Woody takes it upon himself to look after Bonnie’s new favourite toy, which isn’t easy when the panicky former utensil keeps trying to throw himself in the trash.

When Bonnie’s mother and father take her on a road trip, she takes her toys along and Forky escapes, forcing Woody to go after him. They wind up at an antique shop, where Woody comes face-to-face with his old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who has reinvented herself and is living life without a child. However, Woody barely has time to react before he’s targeted by Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a pull-string doll who sees Woody’s voicebox as her only chance to win the love of a child. Meanwhile, Buzz (Tim Allen) sets out to rescue Woody, with the aid of conjoined carnival plushies Bunny and Ducky (comedy duo Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key).

As directed by Josh Cooley (who co-wrote Inside Out), Toy Story 4 doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel, instead sticking closely to the established formula for the franchise. To wit: loveable characters (old and new), a spot of separation anxiety, some mild peril, a handful of actual scares, plus powerful emotion, lots of great gags and themes that are cleverly designed to resonate with both adults and children, albeit on different levels.

To that end, Toy Story 4 ticks all the right boxes. The new characters are great fun and there’s terrific voice work from Hendricks (who makes Gabby Gabby simultaneously sympathetic and scary) and a brilliantly cast Hale as identity-conflicted Forky (the fact that he’s neither spoon nor fork is just too perfect). Key and Peele are good too, but the supporting honours are nimbly stolen by none other than Keanu Reeves, who turns in a hilarious performance as traumatised motorcycle stunt rider Duke Caboom, who keeps trying to atone for his life-ruining failure to live up to his own TV ad.

Similarly, the film maintains a high level of tension through constant separation, setbacks and against-the-clock deadlines, while the scares are genuinely chilling – Gabby Gabby’s army of silent, clicking ventriloquist dummies are officially more terrifying than anything in the Annabelle franchise.

On top of that, the film is packed with laugh-out-loud gags, both visual and verbal, while the script packs the expected emotional wallop with moving themes centred on the question of what to do when “your child” no longer needs you (there are multiple variations on “Oh, you have a kid?” throughout the movie, and the clever script finds ways to give the phrase subtly different meanings each time). Finally, without giving too much away, the film pulls off a powerfully emotional ending that feels entirely correct.

Naturally, the animation is jaw-droppingly gorgeous throughout, with a level of detail that’s close to photo-realistic, especially in an early rainstorm sequence. That level of detail also extends to the sound design, which goes above and beyond here, right down to little things like getting the sound of Forky’s lolly stick feet right on a stretch of highway.

In short, Pixar have done it again, as Toy Story 4 is a delight from start to finish. Admittedly, it doesn’t quite hit the emotional heights of its three predecessors, but it’s still a thunderously good time for ages 4 to 44 upwards.

**** 4/5

Toy Story 4 is in cinemas now.

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