Toy Story 4 stands out amongst the crowd of contemporary wide release films.
I felt nothing going into the newest Pixar film Toy Story 4. Truthfully my reaction to Pixar films has been exceptionally cold since Toy Story 3 was released nearly a decade ago. Other than the exceptionally well done Inside Out and the beautifully well made if somewhat forgettable Coco their output just hasn’t been up to snuff. Brave was basically fine for an alternative take on the Disney princess archetype a la Pixar’s brand of progressivism. Monster’s U, Finding Dory and Cars 3 are irrelevant and regrettably, even The Incredibles 2 is barely memorable after only a year.
Sadly nothing in their recent output has really been up to snuff with their incredible god-mode run of films from 2004-2010: The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Wall-E and finally Toy Story 3 film. I had every reason to believe that a fourth Toy Story film would be the most cynical thing ever to come out of this studio. At the very least it would be sacrilege to reopen the book on this saga after the amazing trilogy conclusion in the third movie.
To my utter shock, Toy Story 4 is actually quite excellent. I might even like it more than the third film even though I’d personally admit it’s predecessor is a better film overall. If this movie gets one thing absolutely wrong about Toy Story as a series it’s that it focuses almost entirely on Woody while giving the huge cast of toy characters almost nothing to do. Even Buzz Lightyear and Jessie get mostly sidelined for Woody’s story. That story though is so immensely compelling though that it almost validities the attention it gets.
That story follows the events of Toy Story 3 wherein the entire cast of toys now live with the younger child Bonnie as she’s going through a difficult transition as she’s starting Kindergarten. Woody as a toy is starting to be mostly sidelined in favor of other toys and begins desperately shifting his attention to attempting to help Bonnie any way he can. As such, he becomes the de facto protector of a new toy named Forkie.
Forkie is an arts and crafts project brought to life by Bonnie’s need for friendship and comfort with massively suicidal ideation who just wants to fulfill his purpose as a spork and be properly disposed of in the trash. When Forkie briefly succeeds in escaping the family’s RV during a vacation, Woody is left to go on a brief rescue mission to get him back so that he can fulfill his purpose by helping Bonnie even indirectly.
The theme of purpose is a huge one in the film. Every one of the toys’ primary motivations is the existential desire to love, be loved and help console a child, fulfilling their purpose as a toy. Since most of Andy’s toys are existing in toy nirvana with Bonnie, their role in the story isn’t necessary. For Woody though, he’s the odd man out in Bonnie’s world. His journey in the film after being borderline abandoned by Bonnie is thus his journey to trying to figure out a way he can better fulfill his purpose in life.
Without spoiling, the film’s answer by the end of the story is quite impactful. The movie’s ending isn’t as overtly over-the-top emotional as the ending of the third film but it reflects a different sort of ending for these characters. It’s a story about adapting and overcoming change and so the ending reflects that with one of the sweetest, most heart-wrenching moments of the entire series. Thankfully this ending rather definitely closes the book on the franchise so hopefully, we aren’t doomed for a fifth film a decade from now.
In a contemporary blockbuster season that’s managed to drop more critical and financial misfires than I’ve seen in years (Godzilla 2, Dark Phoenix, Aladdin, Shaft, Men in Black International, etc), Toy Story 4 stands out amongst the crowd of contemporary wide release films. In another year it might’ve slipped by much as Coco did in the extremely busy release schedule of 2017. In this dumpster fire of a movie season, it’s a breath of fresh air. Until the more interesting Oscar dramas start releasing later this year (See: The Irishman, Ad Astra, Ford v. Ferrari, The Lighthouse, Knives Out, Little Women), this and S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete are my favorite films of the year so far!
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