When Pixar Animation Studios released the animated feature Toy Story on November 22, 1995, it probably could not have imagined in its wildest dreams that the animation studio would be acquired by Walt Disney Studios, and would be releasing its fourth Toy Story movie, Toy Story 4, after the first three films received universal acclaim from critics and fans alike and made close to 2 billion dollars in the worldwide box office. Fortunately for Pixar President Jim Morris, and Pixar Chief Creative Officer (and Minnesota native) Pete Docter, all of these things did come true, and the release of the last Toy Story film, Toy Story 4, could not have come at a more perfect time.
Pixar has become synonymous with genuinely heartfelt, often hilarious, high-quality animated entertainment. And Toy Story 4 delivers just that for the Disney-owned animation studio. It’s a sequel to the massively successful Toy Story 3 movie of 2010, following the adventures of Sheriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), among other toys who reside with their human child owners, and try to bring them as much joy and laughter as possible.
While we did not review any of the previous Toy Story movies here, back in 2016 blog owner Ruth Maramis did a weekend roundup after having just watched The Secret Life Of Pets and re-watched Toy Story 3, where she said she was “blown away by how good and emotionally-compelling it was. It’s definitely much more than just a fun, feel-good kids movie. The Toy Story trilogy still reign supreme as the best animated movies ever, it won’t be a hyperbole to call it Pixar’s masterpiece.” Well I have good news for you, Ruth! Toy Story is no longer a trilogy but rather a list of feature film series with four entries (and probably one of – if not the – best four animated feature film series) and its will most definitely NOT be a hyperbole to call the Toy Story franchise Pixar’s masterpiece. In fact, Toy Story 4 could be considered the crown jewel of the franchise because it manages to maintain its superb animation qualities and the emotional complexities of its predecessors, while adding a major element of humor to its repertoire.
By adding the strong comedic writing style of Rashida Jones, among other writers, Director Josh Cooley added new toy characters such as Ducky and Bunny (voiced respectively by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) to a freshen up the animated toys used in the franchise. These two – a duck named Ducky and a rabbit named Bunny – make friends with Buzz Lightyear after he finds himself as a prize in a carnival booth. They exist simply for being plush toy prizes, and not belonging to any child. They long for the chance to escape their monotonous existence on the wall of a carnival booth someday and get the shot at an exciting life, belonging to a child, and of being a part of a family of toys. These are just two of the new and exciting toys in Toy Story 4, but probably the most ordinary yet magical new toys is Forky (voiced by Tony Hale). Forky was created by new child Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw) when she goes to kindergarten for an orientation. Bonnie instantly falls in love with Forky and it is the only toy she can ever think of when she wants a friend. But Forky… well Forky is much interested in the simpler life, one where he is quite simply trash. He was made from trash, and feels most comfortable when in the trash can. In fact, Woody spends the majority of the first half of the movie trying to keep Forky from ditching Bonnie for a less exiting existence in the trash. But by doing so, Woody also finds meaning to his own existence and understands that not all toys are meant to belong to just one single child.
One of the most exiting toys that I’m sure will be talked about long after Toy Story 4 finishes its theatrical run is named Duke Caboom and he’s voiced by Keanu Reeves. Duke Caboom may just be a Canadian daredevil toy with a white outfit, a mustache, and a toy motorcycle. But Duke Caboom is also a major hero, where he risks everything just so the toys he just met could be saved. You see, Duke suffers from low self-esteem due to believing that he let down his previous owner (a Canadian child), unable to do the stunts that his commercial ads had promised. His current state is that of being confined to the shelved as an antique, but his backstory is equally tragic. When Woody and Bo Peep (voice by Annie Potts) meet Duke in pinball machine inside the spooky antique shop, the daredevil openly pines for what he once lived and lost. He tells them “You have a kid? I had a kid. I let him down!” You see, he wasn’t able to perform the stunts that his TV commercial promised. But he is given the chance to redeem himself and boy does he ever. You could say that Duke Caboom is my favorite new toy to appear in Toy Story 4.
The main arc of the story also introduces us to a doll named Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks). While at first, Gabby Gabby and her henchmen at the antique store (a group called the Bensons, who are silent but sentient puppets) aren’t very friendly to Woody and Forky. We learn that there is a very good reason Gabby Gabby is interested in Woody and taking something that is very personal to him. But Gabby Gabby is a vintage 1950’s doll that doesn’t get almost any attention from children, and this is what motivates her to take her existence into her own hands and find the one child who will love her like she deserves. This helps Woody, Bo, Buzz and the whole gang to ultimately find their place in life, whether it’s with one child or one that helps other toys, sometimes lost toys, to find their owners. This is where Toy Story 4 succeeds. It doesn’t try to be overly sentimental in its approach to humanizing these animated toys, but rather it draws on the emotions we feel as human beings on a daily basis; the desire to belong, to be loved, to help others. I think this will be the legacy that the Toy Story franchise leaves its admirers – to accept others and treat others like you want to be treated.
There is a touching tribute at the end of the credits – to thank and acknowledge the passing of actor Don Rickles, who voiced Mr. Potato Head in the previous movies. Also stay in your seats after the credits for a special bit involving the Pixar Logo and Duke Caboom. I can’t tell you more but I promise you that you won’t regret it. Overall, Toy Story 4 succeeds where the other three Toy Story movies also succeeded, but it also builds upon the franchise with great humor and a great ending. Perhaps the Disney and Pixar bosses will try to make a fifth movie in this franchise (just take a look at what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise) but it would be beneficial for everyone if they just let Toy Story 4 be the movie that concludes the franchise. Maybe take some time and reflect on the Toy Story legacy, and what it brought adults and children alike in the past 24 years. Then take another one of Pixar’s troves of films (maybe Inside Out 2?) or just go with an original concept (what a novelty!) and hope that it turns into Disney and Pixar’s next animated perfection and makes them “a bajillion dollars” in the process. Because by this time, you would be foolish to ever doubt Pixar, wouldn’t you?
Have you seen TOY STORY 4? Well, what did you think?