Not only is this expression oft-referenced by Keanu Reeves, who continues his “Keanussance” by joining the cast of Toy Story 4 as Duke Caboom, an Evil Knievel-style motorcycle stuntman who was tossed away because his real abilities didn’t match the magic of a commercial, perfectly utilized within the film, but it also beautifully sums up the prolific way Pixar has managed to once again match the fun, cleverness and emotional depth of its own groundbreaking, original computer-animated feature.
As anyone can attest, it’s hard to maintain a consistent level of quality over the years. The longer a franchise spits out sequel after prequel, ideas begin to get long in the tooth, actors get worn-out, characters become inconsistent and redundancy becomes apparent (see last week’s review of Men In Black: International). But the producers at Pixar must have found the Midas touch, as we’re almost twenty-five years into the Toy Story franchise, and it seems no amount of meddling will ever lead to anything but magical gold.
The closing scene of Toy Story 3 could be considered one of the most perfect ends to a brilliantly-constructed trilogy. Andy is ready to leave his childhood toys behind as he prepares to leave for college; what better way to move forward but still honor your past than to give your favorite toys to someone who would cherish them for many years to come. Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a young preschooler who has already grown attached to his favorite toy cowboy, Woody (Tom Hanks), is the lucky recipient. His toys still have purpose. All is right with the world.
Not so, says John Lasseter, the visionary director of Toy Story who dreamed up this heartfelt new chapter. At least for Woody, who’s left in the closet to play with dust bunnies when Bonnie grows more attached to Jessie (Joan Cusack) to the point she transfers Woody’s sheriff badge to the young cowgirl during playtime. That doesn’t stop him from doing all he can to protect Bonnie the best way he knows how. Against the wishes of room monitor Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack on her first day of kindergarten to make sure she makes the transition smoothly.
It’s a good thing he did, as Bonnie doesn’t make friends easily. Not until Woody secretly provides her with the tools (aka a bunch of trash) to build what will become her new favorite toy and best friend, Forky (Tony Hale). Woody now has a new purpose — protect Forky at all costs. Long story short, when Bonnie and her family go on a road trip, Woody must rescue Forky from a baby doll named Gabby-Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her evil ventriloquist dummy minions before he’s lost to her forever.
The plot may sound very similar to previous outings, as each film in the franchise puts the toys in some sort of rescue mode. The differences between them, and what makes them so special, is how the characters react to the changes that the rescue missions bring about. The first film was about building new friendships with those you feel will threaten your way of life; the second was about exploring your past and what that means for the future; and the third was about finality and moving on.
This fourth installment digs much deeper into one specific element that is sewn into all four films, which is the fear of change and finding your true purpose. It’s no secret that Woody is afraid of change; it’s what essentially jump starts every one of the films. This time, though, that change is hitting him deeper than it ever has, and his ability to understand what he truly wants sits at the emotional core of the film. It turns out, what he truly wants is what we all want — love.
Toy Story 4 does a good job of filling in the gaps of what happened to Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and why she was conspicuously missing from the third film. When Woody finally reunites with his lady love, he struggles to make sense of her newfound love of being what amounts to a lost toy. Juxtapose this with Gabby Gabby’s one-and-only dream of becoming a child’s toy and you have a very well-executed dichotomy that fleshes out both characters really well and at the same time produces a conflict within Woody that isn’t easily resolved, but which the resolution is wonderfully acheived.
Because Woody’s story takes up most of the film, there isn’t a lot for the rest of the toys to do. The only one to get even a slightly extended storyline is Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who’s introduced to an interesting new way of thinking when he begins listening diligently to his inner voice — that is to say his voice box, another piece of the puzzle that becomes ingrained within the story as a way toys can feel not only complete, but confident in themselves.
The movie, if you already haven’t guessed, is another tearjerker, but just like the rest of the films, there’s plenty of clever wit and comedy throughout to keep your spirit soaring. The aforementioned Duke Caboom is a delightful new character who has to discover his own confidence, and although the addition of a couple of plush carnival toys, Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), give us some great lively moments, that’s about all they have going for them.
Over the years, I’ve come to rely pretty heavily on Pixar to deliver a great story with well-developed characters. Even when the trailer seems average or uninspired, I’ve learned to trust that they will deliver in the final product. It was hard to comprehend where the franchise could go after having such a heartfelt (and heartbreaking) finale in Toy Story 3, but they found a way to create yet another beautiful chapter in the Toy Story saga that not only lives up to its predecessors, but gives Woody some much needed closure while creating a whole new dynamic for a new generation.
My Grade: A
Unless you are an ardent fan of The Fifth Element, Luc Besson isn’t necessarily a household name, but with Anna, his newest high-octane spy-thriller, it’s clear he should be as he continues to develop films that buck the trends in whatever genre he’s working in. A-
I don’t know if it was Mindy Kaling’s well-written script or Emma Thompson’s magnetism (or a combination of both), but Thompson is at the top of her game in Late Night as a beleaguered host of a late-night show who tries to boost her ratings before she is ultimately fired. A
Next week, new movies include Annabelle Comes Home and Yesterday. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.