The Adventure Of A Lifetime
Set shortly after the events in Toy Story 3, Bonnie [McGraw] is being inducted into kindergarten but feeling that the orientation may be too overwhelming for her, Woody [Hanks] stows away in her backpack. While experiencing school for the first time, Bonnie creates a toy from rubbish, naming her creation Sporky [Hale]. Upon return to Bonnie’s room, Woody introduces the other toys to this new creation who is somehow alive and unsure what his purpose is, aside from being trash, to be disposed of. Before her full term at kindergarten starts, Bonnie’s parents take their RV on a road trip, leaving Woody in charge of the frankly suicidal new addition, who is evidently very important to his maker. En route to a carnival, Woody and Sporks are separated from the group and Woody reunites with a long lost friend, Bo Peep [Potts].
It’s hard to remember what Toy Story was like when first released in 1995. CGI animation was largely in its infancy and to revisit it now shows just how far this technology and art-form have come. As a flagship series, Toy Story has always pushed the envelope but with their simple toy designs and rosy retrospection, it’s never exactly apparent until a direct comparison is made but when looking at the environment and natural elements like water and light, the result is truly stunning. Another overlooked factor to these films is the oddity that is Randy Newman. I find his songs mind-numbingly vanilla and lacking in all subtlety. On the other hand, his orchestral score work is absolutely pitch-perfect and magnificently touching in the purest of ways. If you don’t believe me just listen to “Gabby Gabby’s Most Noble Thing”; it’s an astounding piece of music that, even separate from the imagery, is charged with an impressive flowing range of emotion. Then there’s the writing. The synopses of these movies have never been too grand in scope because the scale is minute; the drama and risk for the toys being discovered or abandoned is such that we don’t need some globe-trotting outing. What stood out about this instalment though is that it is, quite surprisingly, the funniest Toy Story. It goes without saying that these movies have always been so blisteringly charming but the dialogue and improv work on display here is so consistently and intentionally funny from start to finish.
If it were ever in any doubt, this film confirms that Toy Story is entirely Woody’s tale; the eponymous toy in question is the cowboy and Hanks continues to prove he is one of western cinema’s greatest treasures, up there with some of the untouchable all-time icons. But if we step aside from him for a moment, the character roster gets a bit messy. Introducing new individuals in a “final” chapter is always tricky because for space purposes alone, you will end up shuffling favourites to the background in favour of bringing new faces to the fore. One of the most surprising casualties is Buzz Lightyear [Allen] who, along with many of the original cast, is relegated to a minor support. The crushing thing is that I didn’t miss him. His arc (along with the other classics) was pretty much complete, while this tale focuses on “how do you fix a problem like Bo Peep?” Bo’s absence was very much noted in Toy Story 3 and this entire feature feels like an apologetic send-off to a character who was dealt a poor hand. She is given a much more fleshed-out personality and the prologue gifts her with retroactive agency and skills that were not present in the other films. Rather than a complaint – because I’m all for better utilisation of a film’s established creations and Potts’ performance gives everyone a run for their money – it’s a slight lamentation that this entire release feels like an afterthought. But I’ll expand on that later.
There are plenty of new toys in this film, all of which came across rather dry in the marketing but every single one of them endeared themselves to me by the end of the film. The two prominent additions to discuss are Sporky and Gabby [Hendricks]. From the animation of his movements to Hale’s hysterical whimsy and naivety, Sporky is a complete delight. More than that, he is a great pairing for Woody, offering so much introspection on matters of existence and purpose that are so often absent from family films but which Disney (and Pixar specifically) are known for tackling head-on. Gabby is also a fascinating part if only because she is clearly billed as the antagonist (and for a time she kind of is) but the truth is that this movie doesn’t have a villain, only the harsh, crushing beats of reality.
Is Toy Story 4 an emotionally-charged, heart-warming, thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema? Of course it is. In that regard it’s as much of a triumph as the previous instalments. Was it a necessary addition that created a more pleasing ending than Toy Story 3’s already established close? No. And this is the uncomfortable feeling I left the cinema with. Certain properties, while still functional, are considered sacrosanct until they are run into the ground and ruined. Thus far, these films have returned with great, engaging stories that continue the narrative while acting as standalones. But that lack of diminishing returns is a frail rope bridge and eventually it will collapse. Having said that, these fears and concerns were somewhat dashed when I remembered the other animated movies advertised to the audience before the film started and when held in comparison to that dross, the minor gripes might as well be non-existent.
21st June 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers for the final scene**
At the end of the movie (which I won’t discuss in too much detail) Bonnie returns from school once again with yet another new Frankenstein-esque creation. Naturally, there is a connection between Sporky and this new utensil-based invention. Having come to terms with what it means to be a toy, Sporky explains that everything will be alright. He is then asked, “How am I alive?” and for a brief moment, the movie teases a reveal on the mechanics of the entire franchise but all he says in response is, “I don’t know” and with that, the film continues its refusal to explain the universe because we all know that would utterly ruin it. Simple but very effective.
One toy I forgot to mention is the heightened and ridiculous Canadian stunt motorcyclist Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves. Caboom is 100% comic relief from start to end. Whether fearful, optimistic, brave, jealous, sad or happy, every line is given a comedic twist. The same could be said for Key and Peele’s incredibly funny duo, Ducky and Bunny but there was something strikingly silly about Caboom that made him a joy to watch.
“Oh yeah! Combat Carl’s gonna get played with!”
In A Few Words:
“While it doesn’t bring anything especially new to the table, Toy Story 4 more than justifies its own existence with a positively splendid adventure”