Toy Story 4 is a story about toys. Yes, that’s literally what the fourth film brings to the familiar franchise – with a refreshing take on a time-honoured Pixar perfect classic.
While the trilogy saw Woody, Buzz and the gang unified and unperturbed by introspective quandaries, eclipsed by the fundamental obligation of ‘being there for Andy’, Toy Story 4 turns the cogs in another direction that affords Woody his biggest character development yet.
Despite the concrete consensus that the third instalment was the consummate conclusion for the film series, fans of the franchise will be sanguinely surprised to find the continuation justified and duly deserved.
In a word, revelatory.
It coalesces something old, something new and something blue (let’s mention Bunny here to make that work) but we’ll get to him a little later. Because as the trailers had ingrained, one of the leading characters worth celebrating is of course, Forky, a spork (that’s a spoon and a fork made for soups, salads and “maybe chilli”). And Bonnie made this new friend at kindergarten orientation day. No she literally made him, out of trash. Anatomically assembled with red pipe cleaners for arms, a snapped lollipop stick for feet, modelling clay for facial features, googly eyes and of course, the spork for a body.
And Woody helped; much to Dolly’s (Bonnie Hunt) dismay, where she made her first appearance in Toy Story 3 as the resolute ragdoll and nominal chairwoman of the toddler’s playtime. But our sheriff is obdurate and duty bound to ensure Bonnie is well oriented on orientation day, despite her palpable objections. But the innate nobilities that fulfilled him before simply aren’t necessitated now. Admittedly, Dolly struck me vicariously when she had to remind Woody that ‘Bonnie isn’t Andy!’ – ouch Dolly, what are you really thinking?!
But the dialogue throughout is deep-seated with these poignant, hard-hitting, and wistful wisdoms that bestow many mature and melancholic moments that make the film worthy of a fourth in the first place.
In classic Toy Story style, the film picks up pace on a road trip, because we all know at some point, the toys are going to jump out of a moving vehicle, isn’t that right, Hamm? By his own volition, Woody is set on safeguarding Forky, because he is everythingto Bonnie now – and who better to teach loyaltoy, sorry, loyalty, than Woody. As the two talk until sunrise through romantic time lapse, Woody attempts to impart some of his altruisms. At first impatient, Woody exclaims, “You have to be there for Andy!” Where Forky queries: “Who’s Andy?” (cries). But the conversation develops and Forky questions: “Why do I have to be a toy?” To which Woody responds: “Because you have Bonnie’s name written on the bottom of your sticks!” Forky’s much to learn but gets the memo in time.
A little later, however, Woody finds himself at his own crossroads when the two come by an antique shop, in the vicinity of Bonnie’s dad’s parked RV and the carnival park. Despite clear accessibility to Bonnie, something in the shop window compels Woody inside.
The second act takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and sparkling spectacle, as we are tossed to-and-fro the kaleidoscopic colours of the carnival and the antique shop aglow with shimmering chandeliers and vintage keepsakes. The attention to detail here will astound. From the cobwebs and dust on sockets to the sunbeam’s rippling reflections of relics all around, you have to remind yourself you’re watching a CG animation.
Here we also meet our antagonist – I say with a questionable inflection. Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is a complex character, a talking doll that’s a little disoriented herself, not least her buddy or buddies, Benson, a terrifyingly mute ventriloquists dummy. But like every toy we know, they just want to be loved, IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK? Well yes, because it comes at the expense of something very valuable. At first staunch, but later benevolent, Woody learns certain sacrifices facilitate a more rewarding future.
Did I mention something old earlier? No spoiler here because she, like Forky, featured in the trailers and is another character we needto talk about. Welcome back, Bo Peep! There’s an early but essential sequence that answers her elusive and near decade disappearance. She may be perfectly porcelain but she’s no princess. When Woody and Bo reunite, their old flame is also ignites. But she’s amped up and autonomous now and Woody is introduced as heraccessory. She hasn’t forgotten the gang, she remembers Molly fondly, which is tender but she’s been a lost toy for nine years and she wasn’t about to sit in Second Chance Antiques just collecting dust. Her reversible satin silk skirt has doubled as a cloak, she’s broken free from her grassy base, took her sheep x3 and sought adventure of a life time.
She’s made new friends, broken her arm but mended it, made a getaway motor in the form of a skunk (genius) and basically become an example for ‘lost toys’. It’s Bo’s liberation that provides Woody with a much-needed new lease on life.
The film offers as many laughs as it does tears. With other new toys like Ducky and Bunny (Key and Peele), Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reaves), they pepper the plot with comedic brilliance and relevance.
We don’t get a lot of Buzz in this one; he seems to be lost in space. But the dynamic duo share a pensive moment in the RV where they consider their own ‘inner voice’ and Woody teaches Buzz about following your conscience and the film runs entirely on that. And Buzz literally runs on his own battery operated inner voice too, and it works.
Hardly a coincidence should the shop be called ‘Second Chance Antiques’, the toys pave their own way in personal ways for some second chances, because they’re about to become anything but antiques.