I went into this movie with a lot of trepidation because I love Toy Story 3 so deeply that I was sure any further entry was bound to fail. I was wrong. Toy Story 4 achieves the impossible by topping what was already a perfect ending to a trilogy as well as a perfect film in and of itself. I laughed and I cried more than I have at any other movie that I can remember and I adored the themes and reversals of expectation the film constantly hit me with. I don’t think I’ll see a better movie this year.
In this entry, Bonnie (the child owner of the toys) builds a new toy made out of trash in arts and crafts at kindergarten. Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) suffers an identity crisis, thinking himself trash, and Woody (Tom Hanks) takes it on as his mission to help Forky understand his importance to Bonnie as her new favourite toy. The family goes on a road trip and Forky jumps out the window of the moving RV, followed by Woody who will not let Bonnie down, determined to find Forky and bring him back to her. The two end up in an antique store where old toys nobody wants have turned somewhat sinister. Woody escapes and runs into Bo Peep (Annie Potts) who was absent from the last film for reasons explained in this film’s prologue. Since then she has become a Lost Toy with a fiercely independent streak and helps Woody rescue Forky, with the rest of the gang pitching in.
I found the movie to be an emotional roller-coaster. It starts innocuously enough with a heart-warming montage of Woody’s life but then begins to tread on some existential territory with Forky’s difficulty in accepting what he is, which is like an external metaphor for the issues Woody has to face. There are even questions asked like “what does it mean to be a toy” and “why are we alive?” which took me by surprise, being in a family film, and I really liked the positive theme of compassion running throughout, especially where it concerned the supposed villain of the film, Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), who wants to replace her defective talk-box with Woody’s. Some of her scenes were the heaviest, emotionally.
The real stand-out for me is Bo Peep’s character. Her agency and her independence reminded me a lot of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, including such details as having a detachable right arm and driving a vaguely Max-universe vehicle. She’s amazing, especially with Annie Potts’ great self-assurance in her delivery, just a beautifully realized character.
The other winner of my admiration is Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), Canada’s Greatest Stuntman, a vainglorious motorcycle stunt-toy in the mold of Evil Kenevil, but wearing a white cape and jumpsuit emblazoned with a red maple leaf. I adore good-hearted glory hounds who lack self-awareness and every scene he was in was a ton of fun. I particularly loved his catch-phrase, “Yes, I Can-ada!”
The visuals in the movie are tremendously sophisticated and treading on photo-real at times with things like the storm sequence in the prologue. There’s no question Pixar renders amazing images, but there are so many wonderfully framed shots and visual metaphors laced throughout the movie that it makes you marvel at the amount of thought and care that had to have gone into everything, which is always in support of that theme of compassion that elevates the movie to astounding heights.
I really, really loved Toy Story 4 and I think it is even better than the third because, whereas the third saved all of its heart and brains for the payoff, this movie keeps on surprising you with the twists and turns of the plot as much as its emotional ups-and-downs. All of the characters have wonderful depth and agency, with Woody and Bo Peep forming the best on-screen couple since Max and Furiosa, or Ripley and Hicks before them. The themes of compassion and responsibility are really powerful and balanced marvelously by the humour and visual gags. It’s an amazingly well-made movie and probably my favourite film of 2019.