“Toy Story 4” keeps one of film’s greatest franchises at the top

toy story 4

“Toy Story 4” was directed by Josh Cooley and stars Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves. The film is about a new toy named “Forky” that is created by Bonnie, who creates trouble for the rest of the gang when he has no interest in staying with them, leading to an adventure that brings new toys, and some from the past, back in the mix.

The first three “Toy Story” movies are, in my opinion, the greatest trilogy of movies ever made. Not animated trilogy, any trilogy, and I have indeed seen “Lord of the Rings.” With that in mind, the idea of a fourth movie being tacked on nine years later, taking away a seemingly perfect end with the third film, terrified me, and the trailers for this film did not ease my worries. But, with the insanely great track record for the franchise, I came in hopeful, but still skeptical of a stepback for this near-perfect group of films.

The Good

Just to get this out of the way, “Toy Story 4” manages to not tarnish the name of its predecessors. It also somehow manages to not strictly be passable, which was how “Finding Dory” and “Incredibles 2” ended up feeling. No, this franchise, now 24 years old and with gaps of 11 and nine years between its last two entries, still finds ways to stay exciting, which is an astonishing feat in itself.

Something that has ramped up with each proceeding movie in this series has been the emotion, and while it is hard for any film to live up to the tear-jerking finale of “Toy Story 3,” this film comes quite close. Because of how spectacularly each of these movies have developed these toys in each and every outing, the attachment to whatever happens to them is higher than most human characters ever put on screen.

Due to this, the times where “Toy Story 4” goes for packing a punch, it all feels earned, and Cooley absolutely nails these moments down the final stretch.

The original cast, of course, is tremendous, especially Hanks, who has made Woody, again, a toy, one of the most fully-fleshed out characters I have ever seen. Potts is also great in her return as Bo Peep, bringing the movie a much needed extra layer to the plot that allowed for some great back and forth with the rest of her group, as well as Woody.

But the question marks for this movie came with the new characters: most importantly, Forky. The trailers did not do him justice, but I am here to gladly announce that Forky, and Hale’s performance, are a major highlight. This character brings a whole new element to the story of toys, and makes for a fantastic splash of humor when needed. Forky grew on me as the film progressed, and is a completely welcome addition to this quadrilogy.

Along with Forky, Reeves is excellent as Duke Caboom, though I just wish there were more scenes for him to shine. I also really liked Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s roles as Ducky and Bunny, who made up a large portion of the jokes that landed in the back half of the film.

I knew all these characters coming in, and they all turned out as good, or better, than I hoped, but the surprising X-factor for me was Hendricks’ role as Gabby Gabby. This character seems very similar to a Lotso from “Toy Story 3” at first, but the movie does such a great job with developing her that she became one of my favorite characters in the film, something that totally came as a pleasant surprise for me throughout my viewing.

The comedy is also still mostly fresh for this franchise, with Reeves, Key and Peele bringing the large majority of it, though I also love what Allen gives in Buzz’s “inner conscience” moments. Longtime Pixar vet Andrew Stanton and newcomer Stephany Folsom are partly to thank for that, combining to make a script that works incredibly well at doing everything that has been great for this franchise for a fourth time around.

Visually and sonically, “Toy Story 4” is at the top of Pixar’s game. The animation is gorgeous throughout, especially with the design of the carnival, which makes for some great moments of lighting. And of course, Randy Newman’s score is great, as it always is.

The Bad

One of the few things I found to be a stepback with “Toy Story 4” was with its believability. Before you get ready to attack me for insulting the believability of a film where toys come to life, it is a complaint that comes with the ground of the first three movies doing such a great job at showing clear opportunities for toys to get up or to hide and avoid being seen.

With the fourth installment, these toys are flying around in clear daylight all throughout a carnival full of people or an RV with a family, and it is just hard to believe nobody sees any of it happening.

I also wished there was more for the other members of the gang to do while Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep and all the new characters were in major plotlines. Any of the other toys pretty much sat in an RV for a full day waiting for things to do, which is sort of a bummer considering how great moments like the superstore in “Toy Story 2” and the play pit in the third movie were.

Conclusion

“Toy Story 4” did what I thought was close to impossible: it manages to keep the series of films atop as one of the greatest in film history. The emotion is still there, the comedy is still there and the characters I have grown up with and that have been so beautifully crafted to this point are still there, and it all works nearly as well as it ever has.

Is this the worst in the franchise? By default, I would probably say it is, but that is more of a compliment to the first three than it is an insult to the film in question. If this is the end, “Toy Story 4” is a fitting end to such a brilliant animated four-film set that deserves to be in the pantheon of the all-time great movie franchises, hitting hearts in all the right ways for longer than I have been alive.

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