The very first Toy Story film made its debut back in 1995, and even without whipping out a calculator, one would have easily realized that the franchise is over two decades old. Even if an individual was born exactly in 1995, he or she is almost in the mid twenties now. So, how does an animated toy movie make itself relevant to its current group of audience without alienating that very group of adults who grew along with the cartoon franchise?
And by taking into consideration that Toy Story 4 is the directorial debut of veteran story-board artist Josh Cooley, it all started to sound a little risky. It kind of reminds me of how Fox appointed Simon Kinberg to direct Dark Phoenix, and, suffice to say that the outcome of the film was far from desirable. The only assurance that one can initially get is by knowing that Andrew Stanton did not abandon his role as the writer, and he continued to co-write for Toy Story 4 as he did in the first three films.
I won’t go into detail of each and every toy here due to the lengthy list, but it is safe to say that all your familiar toys are back in this installment, as with the iconic voices that bring each of them to life. Tom Hanks continued to provide his voice for Woody, as with Tim Allen, who voiced for Buzz Lightyear. But everyone knows that already, don’t they? Furthermore, at the epicentre of Keanussance, the focus has shifted to Duke Caboom, a Canadian, bike-riding, daredevil toy who is voiced by none other than Keanu Reeves himself.
The film begins with a quick look into an incident which predates all the story-line in the franchise. Woody was pulling off a rescue operation for an RC toy who was in grave danger of being swept away in a drain, and while the mission was successful, Woody and friends have to say an abrupt goodbye to one of the close friends, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), a caped, porcelain, staff-wielding toy who was being given away. Fast forward to the current time, the toy story picks up where it was left in Toy Story 3 (2010), where the toys are happily in the hands of Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), after Andy donated all of them to her before leaving for college. The toys seem to have found their sanctuary, when out of sudden Bonnie returns from kindergarten orientation with an “artificial” toy which she named Forky (Tony Hale). Together with their newfound peculiar friend, the toys are unknowingly pulled into in a haywire road-trip.
A quintessential animated toy film for adults, teenagers and children alike, there’s much to adore about Toy Story 4. One thing which quickly surprised me is how sensitive and grown up the dialogue scripts stood out, despite the juvenile outlook which might present itself as a childish endeavor. Often times, the characters felt a whole lot larger than that cutesy, toy “shells” that contain them. This is particularly true for characters who have been granted a lot of lines like Woody, Bo Peep and Gabby Gabby. The aged character of those toys blends perfectly well with the timeless approach which the film is presenting upon. It’s still bothering me that It’s damn hard to guess which year it is that Toy Story 4 takes place, given the absence of technological advancement hints like smartphones or drones. But, I suspect they are better to be left alone as intended by the screenwriters.
Running on a lean screen time of 100 minutes, Toy Story 4 feels lightweight and clearly suggests that the writers treat every screen estate which has been granted to them in utmost appreciation. It’s a fusion of carefully selected and cut scenes with such a restrictive filtration, that there’s virtually zero dull moments present in the film. The pace is consistent and tight, which makes following along the story a pleasure. I seriously doubt that the movie can be trimmed any further without degrading the overall delivery.
What’s even more fascinating is that despite the compressed structure, the story never at a single instance shortchange any of the new characters of a proper introduction. I mean, sure, Woody and gang does bump into Duke Caboom, Bunny and Ducky in the most casual and unexpected moments. But those mentioned characters never ever make me feel like they are an afterthought. Or exist solely to move sales figures, realistically speaking. They feel just as important and precious like any other buddy of Woody.
If so it happens that you come from a more demanding group of audience who’s not easily convinced, or easily entertained by the tightly sown-in comedic routines, then, the following differentiation of the film might keep it relevant to you. For instance, the plot blurs that commonly over-used hard line which separates the antagonists and protagonists in most animated films. If that still doesn’t do the trick, perhaps the story’s focus on more grown-up issues like sense of belonging, loyalty, and soul-searching will. Again, it’s not just about toys and their masters. The soul injected into the film is pretty real.
Unfortunately, by the end of the film, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the majority of the attention had shifted away from the less prominent “old toys”. Not saying that they have run out of juice, I believe that they have to inevitably step away from the spotlight to make room for the new characters to work their magic. Which they did. From the delusional Ducky and Bunny, to the insecure Duke Caboom, each of them has gracefully utilized their time under the spotlight and became memorable in their own ways.
Fret not. One thing for sure, is that the franchise will most likely bring back the old toys into action in future sequels. But until then, with a promising plot, and vivid, adorable characters zipping in and out of human sight tied in snappy action choreographs, Toy Story 4 offers a lot to remember until the sequel arrives.
Addict Verdict, AV:
Nine years is surely a long wait for a film sequel, but it seems that Toy Story 4 was well prepared to make a solid comeback, and so far, it didn’t disappoint. The film is eager to make its way to the theaters just as much as you do, and it definitely shows. The story matures appropriately and is narrated with utmost care and sensitivity, that I believe it will have no issues connecting with its audience, new and old ones alike. A blasting, road-trip adventure it definitely is, even with the story geared a little towards the conservative spectrum. Nevertheless, the ones that scored the most points are undoubtedly those new, adorable toys. Now, my heart is as good as melted ice cream.–The Film Addict