Toy Story 4

Slapstick humour, body horror and existential toy angst combine in this fourth adventure with Woody, Buzz and co

Film Review by Joseph Walsh | 17 Jun 2019
  • Toy Story 4
Film title: Toy Story 4
Director: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key
Release date: 21 Jun
Certificate: U

Toy Story 4 grabs you from the off, triggering a warm, fuzzy feeling as the opening bars of Randy Newman’s iconic You’ve Got a Friend in Me come in. We're on familiar ground. But then a magnificent photorealistic backdrop falls into view, populated with the friendly, rounded features of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang. Your jaw slackens, your eyes widen, and you realise how far Pixar has come since 1995. Then, before you can catch your breath, we are off on another adventure.

It’s understandable that the arrival of a fourth in the series would be met with trepidation. Toy Story 3 gave audiences such a satisfying conclusion, and as a trilogy of films, it remains on the same hallowed ground as the Before and Apu trilogies. How could new director Josh Cooley surpass what came before?

In Toy Story 3, Lotso says, “Face it, we’re just trash,” and he’s right. The love and joy toys bring is temporary. Toy Story 4 returns to and redevelops this theme. A night light – like Bo-Peep (Annie Potts) and her sheep Billy, Goat and Gruff – are only necessary while a child is still scared of the dark. When their purpose is served, they have to go. But where to, and to do what?

These are the sort of absurdist, existential questions at the heart of this fourth instalment. As ridiculous as the concepts sound, in Pixar’s hands, the film has an emotional truth and psychological richness that comes close to the studio’s most recent masterwork, Inside Out.

At their heart, the Toy Story films are about the joy and power of play and how we might even love these cheap, plastic playthings. Of course, these toys go hand-in-hand with the power of a child’s imagination, which can lead to bizarre creations and outlandish stories. Take the new character Forky (Tony Hale), a cutlery-based Franken-toy consisting of a spork, googly eyes and pipe-cleaners, who has a suicidal desire to return to the trash from whence he came. He turns out to be the most cherished toy belonging to Bonnie (the kid who inherited Andy’s toys at the end of Toy Story 3), so much so that she hugs him while she sleeps.

Conversely, there's Gaby-Gaby (Christina Hendricks), a 50s dolly with a defective voice box, who remains unloved, trapped within an antique cabinet. Or Bo, who is forced to go feral, finding love where she can playing with multiple children who visit a local carnival. These characters show the fate of toys that have become trash and must find their own rationale to exist. One wallows in rejection, the other finds a new joie de vivre.

Toy Story 4 begs, borrows and steals from the previous three films in the series (perhaps a little too much), but also builds on them. It’s full of slapstick humour, adventure, and jokes about inner voices that lead Buzz on a self-reflective journey. Then there’s also the horror (something the films have played with since Sid’s monstrous bedroom), supplied here by creepy voiceless ventriloquist dolls.

It feels ridiculous that a film about the secret lives of toys could teach us so much about the dynamics of love, materialism, and psychological development, but here we have it. Toy Story 4 is visually magnificent, loaded with robust storytelling, reuniting us with characters we love, showing us their life for toys beyond the toy box – they are just waiting for the right person to love them again.

Released 21 Jun by Walt Disney Studios