'Toy Story 4' Exists For A Reason, THANK GOD
To get it out of the way right from the gate "Toy Story 4" isn't the forced shameless cash grab of a sequel we all adamantly feared after the emotional closure we felt from "Toy Story 3." As my fellow film critic told me on my podcast, "Pixar's motto has always been story first, animation later." From the opening scene of "Toy Story 4," I felt a sigh of relief as it doesn't pull an "Incredibles 2" rinse wash and repeat familiarity. There's no fantasy with the toys while Bonnie plays with them like Woody but rather a harsh view of reality from frame one. The motif of "Toy Story" has always been to hold onto your youth, keep the things you love the most. "Toy Story 4" takes an extremely bold approach informing its audience that it's time to grow up.
Known for its incredibly mature existential themes wrapped around the comforting image of a kid's film tied in a neat little bow "Toy Story 4" pulls no punches in disguising its sophistication. Bonnie creates Forky (played spectacularly by Tony Hale) out of trash. If anyone is familiar with "Toy Story 3," we all know the kind of shell shock flashbacks that would engulf our old plastic friend's memories regarding the garbage. Being made from what he is, Forky thinks of nothing but going back in the dumpster. The very essence of his birth is a facade to him. It's up to Woody (Tom Hanks but we all know that) to convince Forky the joys of why he was brought into this world.
Upon a successful rescue of Forky, Woody runs into Bo Peep (Annie Potts); this is where things get interesting. Pixar seems to have taken some note in their critique from Rashida Jones regarding diversity in their animation house, at least in my perception, with the welcome of female co-screenwriter Stephany Folsom who reintroduces Bo Peep as someone completely different from where we last left her. Bo brings an element to Woody's world he may never have thought imaginable, even grossly offensive. Rekindling with a lost love Bo has moved onto a better life without the need of the ownership of a child challenging the very fabric of a toy's existence. She went from an innocent glass doll to renegade soldier, determining her independence away from the ownership of a kid. The middle act goes through all the familiar "Toy Story" beats including prison breaks, the character's saving one another, multiple humorous situations, etc. But much like "Toy Story 3," the end is an emotional punch to the gut.
For all of the franchise's admiration of finality, "Toy Story 4" reminds us that in life, there is no real closure. It dares to question the meaning of our existence. Are we as unique as we percieves ourselves to be, or are we just another Forky made from the utensils that God or biology has given us? Are we predetermined towards an absolute destined path, or what does it mean to gain your independent presence beyond your own or other's perception? The final moments of "Toy Story 4" may leave some die-hard fans pulling on opposite ends regarding the choice some characters make. It's an open-ended finale that could be either the continuation or fitting end to someone (or something's) arc we never knew was necessary. Life is complicated, filled with more questions than answers. Pixar are the masters of making us tear up; you'll either be weeping, seething with anger, or both in its last moments.
Either way, "Toy Story 4" will spark discussions far after the credits roll. Much like how the themes of the "Toy Story" films have grown with its age, number four will resonate far more with the parents than their children, yet the kids will still love it, then enjoy it more when they reach their guardians' age. With that said, I could easily state that "Toy Story 4" exists for a reason other than the financial interests of Disney. THANK GOD! Does this mean that "Toy Story 4" is the best in the series? No, but it's close. "Toy Story 3" was a resounding emotional success that is a rare masterpiece in animated filmmaking which cannot be matched. So imagine the indescribable rage I felt when it was announced that a fourth film was going to be made. Somehow Pixar manages to go to infinity and beyond with their movies. I may even dare to say I would welcome a "Toy Story 5" but very trepidatiously. ***1/2