Toy Story 4
This review contains spoilers
I'm a bit late to the party... but I did it. I finally got around to watching Toy Story 4 and it lived up to my expectations. If I had to pick one word to describe it, it would be "unnecessary". But hey, those new Woody/Buzz Lightyear/Bo Peep/Forky (shudders) toy action figures aren't going to sell themselves without a decent 100 minute-long advert.
Although the first scene of Toy Story 4 takes place "nine years earlier" to establish what happened to Bo Peep (who didn't make an appearance in the third film), there is no clear indicator of the amount of time that has passed since Toy Story 3. We can only assume Toy Story 4 is set not long after Andy donated his toys to Bonnie, as she is only just beginning kindergarten in this film.
Woody, who is often left in Bonnie's closet while she chooses to play with the other toys, feels aimless and clearly isn't over being one of Andy's favourite toys.
Bonnie's Dad warns her that her kindergarten orientation day will take place soon. This causes her a lot of anxiety, especially due to her Dad refusing to let her take a toy with her ("Toys don't go to kindergarten") Wow. A bit harsh.
In an effort to help her feel comfortable, Woody stows himself away in Bonnie's backpack and salvages some art and craft supplies one of her wasteful peers had thrown in the trash. Bonnie uses these supplies, as well as a discarded spork, to make Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), a handmade toy who instantly becomes her new favourite. However, after returning home from kindergarten, Forky immediately starts having an existential crisis (or an "existenutensil" crisis? Nevermind.), as he is convinced that he is trash and not a toy. He keeps attempting to throw himself away, but Woody keeps stopping him. After Bonnie and her parents set off for a road trip in a rented campervan, Forky manages to escape and Woody leaves the van to try and find him and return him to Bonnie; reuniting with Bo Peep and meeting some new characters along the way.
I loved the first two Toy Story films growing up; I even thought Toy Story 2 was a rare example of a sequel which managed to be even better than its fantastic predecessor (Shrek 2 and Paddington 2 being other examples of this). Toy Story 3 just felt like it was there to serve as the franchise's closing chapter... until Toy Story 4 came along. The "Character(s) leave(s) home, character(s) is/are thrown into strange and at times dangerous new environments, character(s) meet(s) weird and wonderful misfit characters" plot-line has been done to death by Pixar (Toy Story 1 - 4, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, Up, Inside Out etc) - and it was exactly what I was expecting going into this film. The film also meandered back and forth so many times between the carnival and the antiques store. It was easy to forget that Woody's journey to find and return Forky to Bonnie was all supposed to take place in one day.
Speaking of Forky, I kept asking myself this: If Forky's toy identity is at times ambiguous, then why is he animate and capable of interacting with Woody and the other toys? If Bonnie found a pen for example, called it Penny, stuck some googly eyes on it and started playing with it, would the pen stop being an inanimate object? Can any object be a toy, if one of the child characters decides it's a toy? Additionally, if Forky is convinced he's not a toy and is desperately trying to throw himself away, why would he freeze everytime a human walked into the same room? This was something I also noticed in the first Toy Story film. Surely if Buzz thought he was a Space Ranger and not a toy, he wouldn't keep pretending to be an inanimate object, would he?
I know some people may argue that these questions don't matter as it's "just a children's film", but just because a film is targeted towards children, doesn't mean that should be an excuse for inconsistencies in the film's universe. Of course I can suspend my disbelief to an extent and not accuse the film's central theme of toys coming to life when people are out of the room as being implausible. That would be ridiculous. I admire films that have fantasy elements, but it's also clear that the screenwriters have put a lot of thought into the logic behind these elements.
Regarding Bo Peep, I didn't think she added anything particularly new or different to the story. She's a "lost toy", or a toy without a child owner, who roams freely with other lost toys after wasting years gathering dust in the antiques store. In the first Toy Story she and Woody are clearly an item; her character is very flirtatious around him. But in Toy Story 4, Bo Peep and Woody's relationship feels incredibly awkward. It felt as if there was still supposed to be some chemistry, but nothing to prove they were romantically involved anymore. Maybe the writers were too afraid of relegating Bo Peep to a love interest again. Which I can understand, but beyond being a strong independent toy who don't need no kid, there really is just nothing else to say about Bo Peep's character.
However, there are some things I thought Toy Story 4 did well. For instance, the graphics are absolutely stunning. The toys' textures felt really convincing, like Bo Peep's shiny porcelain face or Forky's fluffy pipe cleaner hands. There is also a chase scene with a cat in the antiques store and there were a few brief shots where the cat looked impressively photo realistic.
At first I really wasn't sure about the plush carnival toys, Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele). I was worried they would quickly become annoying, but they didn't. They proved to be great comic relief and there were a few moments where I laughed out loud.
And then of course, there was the scene where vintage antiques store doll Gabby Gabby (the quasi-antagonist, voiced by Christina Hendricks) becomes the toy of a lost, crying girl at the carnival. Through Gabby Gabby, the girl gains the confidence to approach a security guard, who helps her reunite with her parents. I cried. Goddamn it. That five minute-long emotional sequence really resonated with me. In fact, the film's tearjerker ending didn't affect me as much as that scene. I felt really uninvested in Woody's character arc compared to this unnamed girl's.
I think the interesting thing about Toy Story 4 is that although Forky is the one considered to be having an existential crisis, it's really Woody who is in trouble. In one scene, Bo Peep is struggling to understand why Woody is going to so much trouble trying to return Forky to Bonnie. He finally admits it's because "he has nothing else to do" and that Bonnie is the only thing he has left. I think that moment epitomises the tone of the entire film. Why does it exist, beyond being a profitable product? Toy Story 3 felt like a satisfying conclusion to me. Now that Woody has joined Bo Peep in being a fellow lost toy, leaving the rest of the gang behind, I really hope this is the very last instalment in the franchise.
Over the last decade, Pixar has become a company that makes sequels, with very little to offer in terms of new intellectual property. It's very unclear where the future of Pixar's success lies.
You can only hang onto these beloved characters for so long, until you also, like Woody, start sounding like a broken record.