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Movie Review: Toy Story 4

I didn't think Toy Story 4 was necessary. But then I saw it

Toy Story 4
Directed by Josh Cooley
In Theatres

I didn't think Toy Story 4 was necessary until I saw it. The Toy Story trilogy is one of the few perfect trilogies, where each subsequent chapter surpasses the one before it. And Toy Story 3 is like a textbook example of how to end a film franchise with emotional grace. The filmmakers steered that story to a near perfect landing. So why, other than to build themselves bathtubs made of gold, would Pixar return to Toy Story

Toy Story 4 is more like an epilogue than a new chapter. A funny, moving, surreal epilogue filled with existential angst. And completely necessary. 

The movie begins on the night Bo Peep, Woody's romantic interest from the first 2 films, was sold. Randy Newman sings, a montage of the years with Andy and then Bonnie, and we discover that Bonnie no longer wants to play with Woody. She has Jessie to pin the sheriff's badge onto. And with that, Toy Story 4 asks what do we do when we're no longer necessary. What do we do when we're not the centre of the universe we thought we were? Woody is driven by an obsessive need to prove himself useful. And now that he is a toy that is no longer played with, he spirals. We've seen hints of this neurosis in Woody before, like when Buzz replaced him as the favourite toy. But this time, in his desire to fix everything and make himself necessary to Bonnie's life, we see a Woody that is teetering on the edge of a full out psychic breakdown into depression. If he can't fix things, who is he? What does he have left? His ego won't let him just ride this out. 

Damn. Woody is far more fully realized and complex than most human film characters. 

Anyway. Things happen, Bonnie makes a new toy out of a spork and pipe cleaners and mismatched googly eyes and some odds and ends, and Forky comes to life. Forky is horrified by existence. Forky sees himself as disposable, as a single use item, and he matches Woody's obsessive need to help with an obsession to be trash. It's twist on the first movie, when Buzz first arrived unaware that he is a toy. But unlike Buzz's space ranger delusion, Forky, well, Forky wants to die. No easy way to say it. Forky doesn't want to be a toy, he is trash. So, yeah. Toy Story 4 is a movie with some serious psychological overtones. But it's funny and entertaining and moves fast. Really.

Stuff happens and Forky and Woody end up in a second hand shop where they meet Gabby Gabby, a doll from the same era as Woody. At first glance it may seem that she is another Lotso. But in the same way Forky is most definitely not a new Buzz, neither is Gabby a new Lotso. She just might be the creepiest, most sympathetic villain in the franchise. More stuff happens and Woody discovers that there are other options available to him. Bo Peep returns, not as the damsel-in-dristess figure we met in the first 2 movies, but as an independent butt-kicking force. She's been out on her own for years and she is the better for it. 

And I can't believe I am writing about characters named Woody and Forky and Buzz and Bo Peep. But this is what happens when you talk Toy Story.

Anyway. One of the great things about a Pixar film that is firing on all pistons is how the technological evolution matches the storytelling evolution. This is a movie about a very familiar character going through an existential crisis. That also features a suicidal spork. And touches on the loss of hope, the death of dreams. And it's for kids. And somehow, against all odds, the team at Pixar pull it off. This growth in storytelling sophistication matches the technological achievements in the film. Toy Story 4 is a wonder to behold. Not on the same scale as Coco or Inside Out, sure. But it's there when the cat stretches or the way the light reflects off of Bo Peep's porcelain.  

What I'm trying to get at here is that Toy Story 4 looks amazing. It really does. 

Let's talk about the performances now. Christina Hendricks does this low-key, understated thing as Gabby that is a stand out. When almost everyone else is going for the back row, she does this thing that makes you sit up and pay attention. She underplays her performance but never undersells the creepiness or the humour. She finds the perfect balance. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny are a marvel of riffing and false bravado but never take away from the story. And then there's Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, the most spectacular daredevil Canada has ever seen. He just needs to be experienced. He comes close to stealing the entire movie. And this is a movie that has cameos by Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, and Betty White. 

Look, the only negative I have for Toy Story 4 is the absence of the Toy Story supporting cast. I mean, they're there. They just don't have much to do for big chunks of the movie. As important as they were in the first 3 movies, I really wish they had more to do here. But that's it for the negatives. 

Like I wrote up top, I didn't think Toy Story 4 was necessary. But then I saw it.