The film you didn’t think you needed is indeed something you didn’t need, but that at least serves as a final conclusion to one of the most beloved franchises of the past few decades.
At least it should.
When we last left off with our favorite batch of toys, they had been passed down from their original owner, Andy, to a new child to guide through their youth, Bonnie. Out fourth adventure with Woody and Buzz begins right where the third end with Bonnie enjoying her newest toys alongside her older ones. The film begins proper when Woody is feeling a bit more like Jelly due to being frequently left in the closet during play time. This prompts Woody to go out of his way to be useful and stow away with Bonnie on her first day of school and indirectly help Bonnie create a whole new toy: Forky. The next challenge comes when Forky wants to embrace his own destiny as an amalgamation of trash and throw himself away.
Forky dives into the trash, and Woody has to fish him out or else Bonnie would be distraught at the loss of her new friend. This song and dance is what leads to Woody and Forky being separated from the group. Woody and Forky go on their own grand adventure of self-discovery complete with reunions with old friends, making a whole bunch of new ones and one key departure which should serve as the closing chapter of the entire franchise.
Notice something wrong with previous description? Other than Woody and Forky, I didn’t mention any other toy other than Buzz, and that was a generous mention at the very beginning. The major issue with this film is its treatment of the veteran toys in the cast with Buzz’s role in the film being the most egregious. Toy Story 4 has Buzz’s character is a complete regression. He has returned to taking things very literally as he did in the first film before he knew that he was a toy. While there has always been an element of this, one would think that after being part of the toy culture for years, that he would know what things like an inner voice are. Sure he had a reset incident in the previous film, but there is no indication that the reset is to blame- it is just a simple regression of his character. Combine that with his limited screen time, and he becomes a vehicle for a one note gag throughout the film.
Buzz’s reaction after hearing of his severely diminished role for what is likely the final Toy Story film.
While Buzz’s role is simplified and stripped down, at least he has one. Most of the other classic toys are left in an RV for the entire film with little to nothing to do. Even Bonnie’s toys from the third film have little to nothing to do. This does open roles in the film for new toys, but some of them are a bit hit and miss at times. Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom is the best of the new characters, with most of the others being more forgettable.
This leads to a new issue with the film’s antagonist: it doesn’t have one. Gabby Gabby, a Chatty Cathy-esque toy without a functioning voice box seems to be the antagonist early in the film. She has some sneakily off-putting scenes early when she is pair with her entourage of ventriloquist dummies which are beyond creepy. However, she never really ascends to being a full on antagonist within the film, as she ends up becoming a sympathetic protagonist as the film nears its end with us even rooting for her character. Without an antagonist, Toy Story 4 is a film with a series of obstacles in place of a real challenge.
The plus side of this film is the same which comes from virtually every Pixar film. It is tightly put together with solid characters and fun settings to parade around in. This might be the funnies film in the Toy Story series, even if some of the gags outstay their welcome. And though the film doesn’t have a real antagonist, it does have a fun replacement in the form of a heist set-up with a ticking clock upping the ante. The heist segments are fun with the ticking clock providing some decent stakes.
The most notable aspect of the film is the ending and how it appears to finally be closing the Toy Story book. Bo Peep makes her return in this film as a lost toy who goes about the world doing whatever she wants and engaging with children on her own terms. In place of Buzz, Woody spends the vast majority of the film with Bo, and this exposure is what leads him to his decision to become a lost toy himself. This ultimately feels like the entire purpose of the film; it was a way to end the series without seeing our favorite toys stashed in the attic for 15 years.
While it does not seem initially necessary, it does make sense. After the first film, our heroes were back at square one- they were with a child to be played with for a number of years before needing to move onto the next child. This ending has far more finality for Woody at least. His story is complete. He had his time with Andy, and after a brief stint with Bonnie, his job was done, and for the first time enjoy a life for himself and for other toys and not for a kid. This is a fine finish for Woody, but once again, Buzz is left out in the cold. Woody may have been the star of the series, but Buzz is not far behind, and we are left with his story still begin incomplete. While there is obviously a chance for a fifth entry in the series, it would be hollow without Woody, and especially without the dynamic between he and Buzz.
Ultimately, this is a fine Pixar outing. Far from their best, but also far from their worst. As has become customary of late, it is also another sequel which fails to match up with the originals which Pixar has been putting out of late. As state earlier, it is also the weakest of the Toy Story films, which is another good indicator that this series has run its course. For the big picture, this is another alright entry for Pixar which seems to have become more of the norm. Since the beginning of 2011, Pixar has released 10 films, six of which have been sequels, and only two of which (Coco and Inside Out) can stand up to the best that Pixar put out during its first fifteen years. Pixar has two originals coming out next year, so we will see if they can use those to turn the trend around, but with films such as Spider Verse coming out from the competition, Pixar is more vulnerable than ever of losing its seat on the throne of animated films.