Review: ‘Toy Story 4’ (the Movie of Misfit Toys returns again)

Now with more endings than a Stephen King novel.

After Andy’s toys were left with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), Woody (Tom Hanks) is eventually no longer her favorite toy, but he tries his best to look out for his child. At orientation for her first day of school, Bonnie makes a friend… literally: Forky (Tony Hale), who appears unable to grasp he is no longer trash but a fellow toy. When Forky escapes on-route, Woody goes after him before discovering an old antique shop on the way back, one with a familiar face and a few not-so familiar ones. While Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the other toys try to delay Bonnie’s family from leaving the tourist stop so everyone can get back, the clock is ticking… and toys go missing all the time.

When 1995’s Toy Story debuted as Pixar’s first feature film, it felt like a return to old magic in the same way Disney’s The Little Mermaid reinvigorated its animation division. Decades later, traditional animation has been completely replaced by CGI in theaters while Pixar competes with studios like Illumination for year-end awards. Toy Story 2 felt like a perfect ending… right up until Toy Story 3. Now with yet another sequel and another conclusion, it’s starting to feel as though we’ve gone to the well too many times. Is there any real demand for these films to continue, or just the desire to make more money off of these established properties?

As the saying goes, nobody doesn’t like Tom Hanks. The Toy Story movies always enchant with the plight of its needy toys, but the themes have been homogenized. Woody trying to be in charge even when he isn’t? Check. Another desperate toy either angry for being rejected or willing to do anything for acceptance? Check. Strange new and/or quirky characters able to use their limitations as advantages just in time to save the plot/day? Check. While the tech and details of the production are still cutting-edge and continue pushing the envelope to suspend disbelief, it doesn’t feel as important as it once did… while at the same time pretending it is. You can’t fault the filmmakers for bringing everything back to the table any more than shaking the feeling they’re wringing a few more dollars out of an old concept. Fun but oddly forgettable, it’s a sequel you didn’t ask for with an ending you’ll still enjoy.

Meeting the newest characters are what essentially fuels this sequel, but at least the changes made in this installment feel permanent; the needle is actually moved. While it’s obvious what parts Woody, Buzz, and everyone else will play, a paired carnival prize plushy aptly named Ducky and Bunny — voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele — are accomplished scene-stealers and easily the best part of the film. Let’s just say the pair has an overactive imagination and a killer sense of timing, much like the comedy duo lending their voices. There are a few favorites, too, as well as some classic recognizable old toys. For all the newness, however, there a sense it’s all been done before, safely drumming the same story beats.

The best news regarding Toy Story 4 is the recent announcement that, for now, Disney-Pixar won’t be devoting future resources to sequels of any kind. Upcoming projects include high-concept films like Onward (elf brothers in a technological society questing to see if there’s any magic left in their once-fantasy world) and the mysteriously named Soul. Yes, audiences enjoy comfort films, but if anything has become crystal clear in 2019, the only thing worse than than a case of sequelitis is franchise fatigue; please give us something new to chew on.

Toy Story 4 is rated G for general audiences. Wow, really? Nothing for scary sequences of implied violence, plushy terror attacks, or eviscerated fluff?

Three skull recommendation out of four

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