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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 is the latest sequel we've had this summer that we probably didn't need in the first place, but with a difference.  We may not have needed this, but it's still worth watching, thanks to a clever and funny script that helps make a return to these characters and their world an entertaining one.  It's a sequel that's been well thought out and executed.

If the purpose behind 2010's Toy Story 3 was to wrap up the storyline as a whole, then the whole purpose behind this latest entry in Pixar's flagship franchise seems to be to answer a question that I doubt anyone was asking - What happened to Bo Peep, the little porcelain figurine voiced by Annie Potts, who served as the love interest for Woody the pull string cowboy in the first two movies, but was curiously missing from the third?  For those of you who have been wondering, I'm sure you'll be happy to know that she's been happy living on her own as a "lost toy" out in the open world.  In a flashback that opens this film, we learn how Bo Peep was given away to someone, and eventually found her way to an antique store.  Not content living on a shelf, waiting for someone to buy her, Bo took her fate into her own hands, and set out into the world with her sheep.  This is how we find her when she is reunited with Woody (once again voiced by Tom Hanks).

Woody, if you remember from the ending of the last film, has found a new home with a new kid named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), and all of his toy friends, including Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen).  As the film opens, he's dealing with the fact that he's not Bonnie's favorite toy, and is sometimes left in the closet while she plays with the others.  It's a stark difference for the somewhat-neurotic cowboy to deal with, after years of being the top toy of his previous owner, Andy.  However, he gets the chance to take charge once again when little Bonnie makes a toy of her own at school out of a spork and some google eyes, which she calls Forky (Tony Hale).  Little Forky is the film's most interesting creation, as he does not see himself as a child's plaything.  He was designed to be thrown away after a meal, so he is constantly trying to toss himself in the trash.  Woody makes it his personal mission to try to convince Forky how important he is to Bonnie, being a toy she created herself.  But the odd little guy won't listen, and tries to make an escape by leaping out the window of an R.V. during a family road trip.

Woody follows Forky out into the open world to look for him, and encounters not only Bo Peep, but many other new toy characters as well.  There's the somewhat creepy talking doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who rules over an antique store with an army of even creepier living ventriloquist dummies.  A visit to a local carnival introduces us to the comedic team of Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), a pair of plush prizes who have somewhat of a mean streak.  Finally, there is Duke Caboom (a very funny Keanu Reeves), who makes the strongest impression outside of Forky when it comes to the new characters.  He's a toy modeled after Canada's greatest stuntman who was shunned by his former child owner when he couldn't do motorcycle stunts like advertised in his commercial.  Now he wrestles constantly with self doubt, all the while performing wicked stunts and poses atop his bike.

It's these memorable new characters that make Toy Story 4 worth watching, especially since many of the returning toys are given little to do this time around, aside from Woody and Bo.  And while the storyline here isn't quite as compelling as previous entries, the warmth, heart and emotion that has been present since the 1995 original is still strong.  The creates a somewhat odd film that probably didn't need to be made, but at the same time, you're glad they did.  It's a movie that feels familiar and welcoming, but nothing groundbreaking.  It doesn't really do anything that we haven't seen in the previous films, but we're glad to be watching it again, due to the care that the filmmakers and writers have given the project.  This was apparently a hard film for the studio to put together, as it went through many hands, and at one point had over 70% of its script thrown out and rewritten in the middle of production.

Whatever problems plagued this film behind the scenes do not show in the final product, as the script feels as fresh as the classic entries that many have grown up on.  In contrast to Toy Story 3, this is a much lighter and funnier film.  And the many memorable new characters at least make this not feel like a retread.  At the same time, you can also see how this film had Pixar stumped for a while, as the plot seems a bit thin for a feature length film.  The characters and the gags do keep it afloat, but the narrative does seem a bit dragged out at 100 minutes.  But then, that only makes this film's success greater.  It still works, these characters are still wonderful to watch, and the movie is still a lot of fun, even if it doesn't really seem to be stretching the limits of modern day computer animation.

I think it's safe to assume that Toy Story 4 will be our last visit from Woody and his friends, outside of the occasional short or TV special.  I just don't see how they can get any more out of this beyond where this entry ends.  But hey, everyone said that about the last one, which was the proper send off to these characters.  This is a nice extended and unexpected encore that understands what made the earlier films last with viewers, and doesn't shake things up too much.

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