Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key. Directed by: Josh Cooley.
Making one good film is hard, making two is harder, making three is pretty much unheard of. To make four great films is a feat no one has ever truly managed. So, for Pixar to risk tarnishing their perfect Toy Story trilogy with a fourth is unacceptable in any walk of life.
Pixar state they never make a sequel for money though the lacklustre sequels to Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and The Incredibles might beg to differ – plus three pointless Cars movies that no one asked for.
Having finished Toy Story 3 on a happy if emotional ending in which Andy gives his toys to Bonnie so that they can be played with and create new memories, Pixar did release some fun short films that offered a window into their life via the short films Small Fry, Hawaiian Vacation and Partysaurus Rex, along with longer mini-movies Toy Story of Terror and Toy Story that Time Forgot.
Now we have Toy Story 4 that follows Bonnie as she takes the toys on a road trip along with new addition a handmade toy called Forky (Tony Hale) who has no concept of what it means to be a toy and plans to escape, leading Woody to contemplate his own place in this world.
From the off it’s dangerous for Pixar to risk undoing the magic of those three films, each with different looks into the living toy world, including three complex villains, and moreover, undoing that perfect closing scene from the third.
On the positive side it’s a beautifully realised film – it’s impossible to imagine Pixar animators could make an ugly film short of cutting their hands off and forcing them to bash the computer with their bloodied stumps – and even then it’d be at least interesting. Their lesser works like Cars or The Good Dinosaur look great while being narratively empty.
Toy Story 4 however suffers from possibly the worst crime of all – it feels pointless. The film goes over the same basic beats of the first three without ever really feeling like a cohesive film. The idea of making a toy and that coming to life and what that means is an interesting concept, even if an existential crisis might be a little too complex for the kids that want a running, jumping toy movie. There’s no real sense to be made of what makes a toy – technically Bo Peep is a lamp, and lamps are sentient in this universe, but that doesn’t explain how a spork knows what it is.
That said Tony Hale voices Forky with enthusiasm, perhaps best known for his turn as Buster Bluth in Arrested Development or Gary Walsh in Veep, his child-like innocence is played nicely against the more hardened, old hat turn of Woody. But, the escape adventure leads to numerous dead ends in the plot and the sidelining of everyone bar new characters and Woody.
Some new characters land brilliantly, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele as plush funfair prizes Ducky and Bunny are a fun double act, and play around with the idea of Carnival toys having their own lives, while Keanu Reeves as action hero Duke Caboom is so fun you wish there was a series of shorts about him being an all-action guy including his posing, and complaining about commercials not being accurate.
Even with that and the all-star voice cast assembled there’s nothing in this that makes it feel like a real film. Instead this could have been four or five fun short films that could have bought in Disney+ and made it a must get service. Bo Peep’s return could have been a fun short, the toys getting lost in an antique shop with scary dummies could have been a Halloween release, even Forky could have been a new short movie that introduced the platform.
As is the whole series of events in the Antique store feels like a chance for 101 easter eggs and Shining references rather than a narrative board to show the potential. Even the music by Randy Newman lacks any fun songs. The old stand out You’ve Got a Friend in Me doesn’t get a revamp like the Robert Goulet and Gypsy King versions, nor side songs like Strange Things, When Somebody Loved Me, Woody’s Round-up or We Belong Together. In fact, the film forgets to get a new song, or even have a villain instead opting for self-service that feels like a waste of time.
In the end, this is not the trailblazing part four one would hope for but like Forky himself an unholy mess of things stuck together to make something cute, but not proper. Better off as a series of shorts than one big film, Toy Story 4 disappoints more than it satisfies and feels like a pointless epilogue to a trilogy that perfectly sent off our childhoods into a brighter tomorrow. It turns out something beyond infinity isn’t worth finding.