We don’t need a Toy story 4, although that doesn’t stop everyone at Pixar from trying. The problem with most of the fourth episodes in a row is that, while audiences enter the theater with good will, the uphill battle from the start doesn’t feel forced. The initial thrill of seeing Woody, Buzz, and the gang passes again once you realize you’ve already said goodbye to them there’s a movie. While Pixar’s latest is more ambitious than ever and oddly more in tune with adult sensibilities, it looks like a franchise that has gone beyond its welcome.
The story: Bonnie, the little girl who now owns all of Andy’s toys, grows up and starts kindergarten. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) acts as Bonnie’s protector, struggling to keep her childhood happy and keep the momentum going within her neurotic toy gang. The introduction of a new toy, a crudely done art project called “Forky,” shakes things up and wears out Woody’s patience.
Toy story 4 has a lot on his mind, but it’s also weird and scary, with jokes and emotional highs all too easily attainable. The new characters aren’t endearing, especially Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) and especially Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), the Talking Doll and Crazy Brain in an antique store. The script makes shocking changes to adjust our feelings for these characters but fails to truly humanize them. In addition to the lack of appeal of new cast members, some of them will be stressful for the kids. Gabby Gabby’s army of menacing ventriloquist dolls is an equal opportunity offender, providing a life of nightmarish fodder for children and their parents.
There is fun here, even if it comes in small doses and doesn’t mean much. A rescue that opens the film is imaginative and well staged. The scene where Woody observes Bonnie on her first day at school is the most truthful, even with the exaggerated angle of the toys that must be kept hidden.
The introduction of Keanu Reeves’ “Duke Kaboom” (a takeoff of an Evel Knievel action figure) is promising, until you realize the character is on hand to set up some silly jokes about the game. Canada. Annie Potts’ Bo Peep has a refreshing and interesting will: her mode of transport is new and I loved that Woody never learns the names of his sheep. Oddly enough, Buzz Lightyear was mostly written outside of the movie, with an unnecessary subplot involving finding his “inner voice” that feels like a busy job for actor Tim Allen.
The best gags and new character moments come from a pair of carnival prizes named Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele); their running gag (a riff on the track of a heist) is the most inventive in the film, both visually and narratively. The playful sides of Ducky and Bunny, clearly improvised by Key & Peele (at one point, one of them addresses a frog and says, “Hey you, Rainbow Connection!”) Is as good as that.
It is perhaps the most existential of Toy story films, because its story centers on the need to let go of those who define our past. The result is more akin to parental angst than childhood thinking, which is why it will work better for parents. It’s not really a compliment. There is an overly complicated quality to the script, both in its search for deeper meaning and in its charged, stormy narrative, that makes it slow down. While the final moments intend to close, nothing here reaches the considerable heights and / or emotionally devastating moments of Toy story 3.
Pixar geniuses never made a bad movie but this one left me disappointed. The first three in this series are animation milestones (the second movie is, at the moment, my 3 year old daughter’s favorite movie). Toy story 4 is with Finding Dory, Courageous, or any movie with the word “Cars” in the title, that rare, unsatisfying, disposable Pixar movie.
G rated / 100 min.
Photo courtesy IMDB