Pixar Tinkers with Toy Story and Comes Up with Another WinnerJun 19, 2019
All photos courtesy of Pixar/Disney
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Written by: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves
9 years have passed since the end of Toy Story 3. That entry in the series felt like a perfect and fitting conclusion to the story of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the gang. Their owner, Andy, is about to head off to college and his toys have been unintentionally donated to a daycare center. Their journey back home to reunite with Andy was filled with rich emotion and touched on some of the most profound questions of life, including death. The movie ends with Andy giving his toys to a little girl named Bonnie, introducing each one of them by name.
Toy Story 4 picks up with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) unhappily heading off to her first day of kindergarten. Woody (Tom Hanks) stows away in her backpack and helps her navigate the high emotions of that first day, helping her to create a new toy out of a spork, pipe cleaners, Play-Dough, and googly eyes. Bonnie names him Forky (Tom Hale) and bonds with him as the hero of her first day at kindergarten. The problem is that Forky believes he is trash and keeps trying to run off to the nearest trash can. It’s up to Woody and the rest of the gang to help Forky realize that at this particular point in time he is the most crucial toy in Bonnie’s life.
It’s a relatively simple story with plenty of subplots that give our old familiar friends a chance to shine. Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) discovers the wonders of listening to his inner voice and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) has morphed into an action hero on par with Black Widow (The Avengers) or Sarah Connor (The Terminator). We’re also introduced to a wonderful group of new characters including stuffed animals Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), talking doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), and Canadian motorcycle daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).
There have been (and always will be) some complaints over the past few summers about “sequel fatigue.” This summer’s box office numbers are low, and over the past few weeks some sequels have been near or total flops (I’m looking at you, X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Men in Black: International). To be honest, I don’t think it’s as much “sequel fatigue” as it is “bad movie fatigue.” There was a time when you could just slap a number on a movie, and the crowds would turn out in droves to see Jaws 3. Those days are gone. With so many great streaming options available these days, movie audiences have become much more picky about shelling out $10 a ticket and another $20 at the concession stand.
The folks at Pixar and Marvel are actually doing a pretty good job of delivering sequels. Hardly anybody was expecting a Toy Story 4, and even fewer people were expecting it to be as good as it is. While it may not be quite as strong as Toy Story 3, this is a glorious return to familiar friends and is filled with both belly-laugh and touching moments. Chalk up another home run for Pixar and Disney.
There’s one final thing that a lot of folks might take for granted. It has been 24 years since the first Toy Story wowed movie lovers. The richness of textures and the level of 3D animation technology are remarkable. We don’t notice these things as much because we’ve become accustomed to life-like computer imagery, but if you take the time to go back and watch the original Toy Story, you can’t help but marvel at what movie-makers can create these days. Besides, that first meeting between Woody and Buzz is always worth another look because it captures the magic of why Pixar has been so consistently successful with their animated films. The animation simply elevates what movie-lovers go to the cinema to see. It’s about characters and story first…and in this area Pixar clearly knows what they’re doing.