Toy Story 4 Movie Review: A stunning addition to a glorious franchise
With great writing and lovely animation, Toy Story 4 makes its terrific set of characters as relevant and relatable now as they were when they debuted 25 years ago
There's a poem in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Ring that goes, "All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost." It's a riddle posing as a poem that eventually reveals a crucial piece of information. As with all great pieces of literature, these lines stayed with me for years, and at the end of Toy Story 4, once again came to the fore.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks
Director: Josh Cooley
The title credits open with a beautiful montage that takes us through the events of Toy Story from the first film to the third over Randy Newman's nostalgia inducing tear jerker You've Got a Friend in Me. The frame is firmly fixed on Woody (Tom Hanks) and his large beady eyes during this sequence. He is the friend who is always there — for Andy then and for Bonnie now. But who cares for the person who cares for everyone else? Woody is devastated when Bonnie takes off his sheriff badge, pins it on Jessie the cowgirl, and pushes him back to the closet. Yet he still looks out for the young kid on her first day at kindergarten where she makes a new toy, Forky, out of a piece of spork with pipe handlers for hands, and a broken ice cream stick for legs. Forky (a delightful Tony Hale) comes alive in the presence of Woody and keeps rushing to the nearest piece of trash can only to be stopped by the latter. Why? Because Forky identifies himself as trash and not a toy. The trash can is a place where he feels warm, cozy, and safe. Over an inspired song — I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away — Woody and Forky have a delightful tangle that uses all the props around them innovatively and comedically, in the true spirit of the franchise. But it's after this sequence, when the two have their respective epiphany and existential crises triggered, that we understand that all that is gold does not glitter.
As much as Woody anchors Toy Story 4, it is also the first film since the first one to give almost equal time to multiple characters. After not being seen in Toy Story 3, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) returns with her three-headed sheep. We get to see her backstory this time and she isn't just the demure love interest of Woody. She has her own personality thanks to being a 'lost toy' now. That she is a shepherdess who leads other lost toys to their promised land lends her an almost godly aura. She leads fearlessly, by example, and if she loses an arm in the process, she just tapes it back. She wears her scars proudly. Is a toy meant to be chained inside a room with just one or two masters for the entirety of life? Is freedom something that comes by choice or by chance? Such questions when looked at from a female gaze are all the more philosophical and Toy Story 4 thus reinforces that not all those who wander are lost.
But what about those who truly are lost — physically and mentally? Toy Story 4 introduces us to Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a toy sitting on the shelf of an antique store with its dream shattered thanks to a defective voicebox. All she wanted, from when she came out of the box, was to be a friend to someone in need, a toy for a child. But to fulfil her dream, someone must lose theirs — someone who can derive strength from a bottomless well of courage, someone who believes in the greater good. For, the old that is strong does not wither.
Over 25 years of storytelling, Pixar has understood its core strength, and it's the melancholic treatment of the Toy Story movies that has made them range from excellent to near perfection. Yes, the average eight-year-old is going to be happy with the antics unfolding on the screen, smile at the bright colour palette, and learn how important friendship is, as I did when I watched the first film in 1995. But Toy Story 4 is also aimed at the adult who will scream for Keanu Reeves' Duke Caboom, a daredevil stuntsman; identify and chuckle at all the puns that constantly roll out from Ducky and Bunny, two dolls voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, respectively; identify how strong friendships are when Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) goes on a fantastic rescue mission. But most importantly, it is aimed at the franchise faithful who thought they had the most bittersweet ending with Toy Story 3. When the credits rolled, and I found myself bawling my eyes out, I realised that Tolkien's last line too applies here. Even nine years later, the connection to this franchise remains. Deep roots, truly, are not reached by the frost.