Toy Story 4 review: Great sequel falls short of classic trilogy
Do we need Toy Story 4? After Woody and Buzz waved goodbye to Andy in Disney’s most devastating film since Bambi, there’s a more cynical eye hanging over this sequel which ventures beyond a perfect conclusion.
The cynicism is justified too. Disney Pixar’s reputation has taken a few knocks since Toy Story 3 in 2010. Instead of originals Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up, the studio has largely banked on safe, perfectly fine sequels over the past decade, from Monsters University, Finding Dory, to a double dose of Cars. There’s still high-points like Inside Out and Coco, but the studio isn’t in the same creative peak as the early 2000s.
They’ve taken an admirable risk, however, by giving first-time feature film director Josh Cooley, who helped write Inside Out, the keys for Toy Story 4. This dose of fresh talent, including new voice cast members Keanu Reeves, Tony Hale and Christina Hendricks, helps make this sequel distinctive, but it doesn’t quite manage to convince a fourth entry is truly necessary.
The film kicks off with an excellent flashback sequence to explain the absence of Bo Peep in Toy Story 3. After a brief catch-up with what’s happened since, as Andy passes his toys to Bonnie, we’re thrown into what feels like a franchise reset button. All the toys are enjoying life with their new owner, except for Woody (Tom Hanks), who is having a crisis from the closet after his previous status as Andy’s favourite toy.
Woody finds new purpose when Bonnie returns from kindergarten with Forky (Tony Hale) – a spork with googly-eyes and pipe-cleaner arms who has his own identity crisis. After Forky is captured while on a road trip, Woody makes it his mission to save him so Bonnie is reunited with her favourite toy once again.
While the current imperial phase of Keanu Reeves has stolen the media spotlight as stuntman Duke Caboom, it’s Tony Hale’s Forky who deserves the attention. As a toy crafted from rubbish, he poses a new set of rules for a world where toys come to life, while serving up the best comedic moments throughout.
There’s a much stronger lean on comedy this time. Previous films cleverly scattered memorable lines through an adventure without veering into straight-up zinger territory, but here certain scenes play out like sketches. Newcomers Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) are the backbone of this, who serve a relatively small role aside from playing a chaotic comedy double act literally stitched together.
While this lighter tone gives Toy Story 4 an identity of its own, it feels designed to compensate for a weaker story. The relationship between Woody and Bo Peep is the emotional thrust here, but there’s less dramatic weight with Andy out of the picture. At times, notably when this love story isn’t on screen, the film feels far less essential and more like an entertaining spin-off from what’s come before.
That isn’t entirely a bad thing. There’s still stellar moments to enjoy, from creepy ventriloquist dummies The Bensons who add dashes of horror, while the growing connection between Forky and Woody delights throughout – but the emotional punch never feels as crucial, or vital, compared to past highlights like the furnace scene, Jessie’s backstory, or Buzz’s downfall.
Toy Story 4 is a swift, funny, and touching continuation, but it’s closer to Monsters University than Monsters Inc. In the context of 2019’s dismal summer blockbuster line-up, it’s a breath of fresh air. Compared to a trilogy which borders cinematic perfection though, this outing doesn’t quite hit infinity and beyond.
Toy Story 4 releases in cinemas 21 June.
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