The fourth entry in Pixar's best franchise will change how you feel about the previous films - and that's okay
When Toy Story 3 landed back in 2010, you would have been hard-pressed to find somebody who deemed it anything less than the perfect ending to a flawless trilogy. It was the film’s final scene, which saw a teenage Andy playing with Woody, Buzz, and the rest of his toys for one last time before passing them onto young Bonnie, which proved to be its masterstroke – a moment of unashamed nostalgia porn that reduced everyone who’d grown up watching the Toy Story films to floods of tears. It wasn’t just Andy saying goodbye to his toys. We were each saying goodbye to our own childhoods.
The arrival of Toy Story 4, then, is inherently jarring. It’s a movie that – by simply existing – threatens to reshape the genius of what came before. But look closer at Toy Story 3′s “happy” ending and it becomes clear that there was always an element of delusion involved in both our own and in Woody’s attempts to ignore the obvious. A cynic might argue Woody’s happiness with Bonnie can only be temporary. That she, too, will grow up and abandon him, just like Andy. In other words: he’s trapped in a never-ending cycle.
With Toy Story 4, director Josh Cooley ploughs the underlying melancholy in Toy Story 3‘s ending and creates from it what is perhaps the strangest Pixar entry to date – one that probes even further into not only what it means to be a toy, but to exist. Instead of stomping all over this great franchise, however, this fourth chapter enriches the series, offering up a new ending that – although less emotionally satisfying than its predecessors – feels a lot more like the truth.
Toy Story 4 opens with a dreaded flashback, as we discover how Bo Beep – who was absent in Toy Story 3 – went missing nine years previously. As Woody says goodbye, however, Bo is quietly accepting of her fate, a notion that goes against everything Woody believes in. Back in the present day, however, it’s happening all over again: Bonnie is losing interest in Woody, having found a new best pal in a “toy” she made out of trash called “Forky.”
You can’t pass comment on Toy Story 4 without addressing the craziness that is Forky. Much of the runtime is dedicated to Woody’s misguided belief that Bonnie “needs” Forky, a manifestation of his own anxieties. But Forky doesn’t want to be a toy, and it’s his attempt to escape that leads Woody and company on a road trip that unites them with a band of “Lost Toys” living a less-privileged life on the borders of society. For the most part Toy Story 4 thrives in its handling of this tale, switching effortlessly between the frantic fun and emotional moments that have long made this series great – especially in its final act.
That’s not to say the film is perfect. There is an underlying feeling of mild rehashing, as themes better explored in the early movies are mined to lesser effect. There are no particularly memorable set-pieces to compare with those of previous instalments, either. Nothing to rival the escape from Sid’s house in the original, or the apocalyptic terror of Toy Story 3‘s now infamous furnace sequence. Toy Story 4 also lacks a sense of true cohesion, in that the dual storylines never come together in that magical Pixar fashion (I was also a bit disappointed that they didn’t delve even deeper into Forky’s existential crisis).
But this all comes as a result of what is a smaller, more intimate film. With its coda-like feel, Toy Story 4 might have been better titled “Woody.” The focus here falls squarely on him, as other characters – including Buzz Lightyear – are sidelined. Woody has always been the series’ most complicated player, though, forever torn between his duties as a toy and the underlying knowledge that one day he will be abandoned. It seems only right that it all ends with him. Just like Forky, Toy Story 4 originally appeared to have no real or justifiable reason to exist. Now that it does, it’s hard to imagine the series without it.
By: Tom Barnard
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This post was categorised in Reviews.