JUNE 22 ― When it comes to sequels, especially those made by big Hollywood studios, the general rule is and will always be that more often than not, the law of diminishing returns will make its presence felt as the number of sequels add up.
Even for a studio as famous for its dedication to quality storytelling as Pixar, that rule has more or less been true with the Cars, Finding Nemo and even The Incredibles sequels generally slightly lacking the spark that made the first movies so beloved.
But somehow, the Toy Story franchise did the impossible as a trilogy, with every new installment being better than the one before, and Toy Story 3 its absolute zenith and the franchise’s gold standard, providing as perfect a narrative and emotional closure as can be found in any movie trilogy, let alone a Hollywood movie trilogy.
With that much excellence and perfection already in place, one would reasonably expect that to be the end of the franchise, with no possible way of making a new film without inviting the words “unnecessary” or “cash grab” to the discussion.
But Toy Story 4 is here upon us now, and I’m sure fans of the trilogy will be approaching this new installment with those exact words in mind.
That’s what I feared as well when I entered the cinema to see it.
But my oh my, Pixar has done it again. I’m still hesitant to say that it’s a better film than Toy Story 3, maybe a second or third viewing will change that, but I’m more than confident to say that Toy Story 4 is a deeper and even more adult-friendly movie than the already very adult Toy Story 3.
But don’t let this fact dissuade you from bringing your kids to see this, because like all great Pixar movies, the film-makers have not forgotten to make at least the surface hugely appealing and enjoyable to kids, and this one’s no different.
Its basic story is still the standard “toy saving mission” that’s become the trademark of this franchise, which means there are plenty of action, suspense and thrills, all presented in expertly staged and animated sequences.
The toy that needs saving this time is Forky, a brilliant new addition to the franchise’s cast of toys that more or less steals the movie, a kind of casually concocted arts and crafts project by Bonnie (the kid from the end of Toy Story 3, who inherited the toys from Andy) as she attends pre-school for the first time.
Made from a spork, some play dough, mismatched googly eyes and a popsicle stick as legs, which quickly became Bonnie’s new favourite toy.
Woody (as always, excellently voiced by Tom Hanks), who is by now relegated to almost an afterthought in Bonnie’s affections and playtime (she even plucks out Woody’s sheriff badge and pins it on Jessie the cowgirl), is still who he’s always been in the series ― fully devoted to his “kid” (now Bonnie, formerly Andy) and willing to do anything to ensure the happiness of the child.
If it means making sure Forky accepts his new fate as a toy (instead of the “trash” that he believes himself to be) and ensuring Forky’s presence in Bonnie’s life, then he’ll do anything to make that happen, even if Woody himself is not Bonnie’s favourite toy now.
That’s basically the whole plot of the movie ― Woody trying to ensure that Bonnie is not separated from Forky as her family goes on a road trip.
A road trip, of course, is always a good excuse to connect a series of random and unconnected elements, like putting Bo Peep (whose absence from Toy Story 3 is touchingly explained at this movie’s beginning) back into Woody’s orbit, a carnival, and an antique shop called Second Chances (everything in this movie is rich with potential meanings and subtext, like this shop’s name), which is home to the movie’s chief villain (and another new character) ― Gabby Gabby, a doll.
I won’t say much about this character, except that its character development was just so beautifully handled.
Energetically paced, the movie will never bore the little ones, and is full of really funny jokes and very exciting action set-pieces, but to these eyes and ears (and heart), the real value of this movie lies in its rich subtext and allegory.
It was fairly clear in Toy Story 3 that the relationship between the toys and their kid is that of a parent and their children, in which a parent needs to learn how to let go.
There were even serious questions raised about the toys’ obsolescence (ie. their mortality) and Toy Story 4 explores these even further, taking things even to the realm of existential crisis for Woody.
If you want to read it that way, which I did anyway, there are even questions raised here about the validity and happiness of life outside the typical “nuclear family” unit (the “family” here of course being represented by the relationship between the toy and their kid), as the “lost toys” here make a case for their own happiness without having to have a kid of their own.
And if you think that Toy Story 3’s ending already destroyed you, Toy Story 4’s ending will finish you emotionally, so I will not even dream of spoiling that.
With so much to chew on, should you want to do so, Toy Story 4 is without doubt another feather in the cap for Pixar.
A movie that the little ones will undoubtedly enjoy, but will also provide rich emotional fulfillment for the adults accompanying them. I can’t wait to see it again.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.