10 / 10
Tom Hanks … Woody
Toy Story 4 review:
When comic books retcon a major moment, it’s often out of left field, abrupt and apparent in how it stands out. Toy Story 4 has the dutiful task of retconning a major moment, but then makes it look seamless. The film opens with a scene set years in the past, between the events of Toy Story 2 and 3, revealing just what happened to the Bo Peep character before the third film where she’s inexplicably absent. This movie handles that set-up in a grand way, giving us just enough to let the question linger about “What happens next?” but also not stepping on the toes of anything that happens in Toy Story 3. And that’s how to best explain the mastery of Toy Story 4: it’s a sequel that builds on everything we know about this franchise and these characters without changing anything about the arcs and conclusion of the other movies, but at a core-story level it changes everything.
Set just after the events of Toy Story 3, the film picks up with Andy’s former toys still integrating in with Bonnie’s toys. Things are going well for most of the gang, but Woody is finding a difficult place to fit in, having spent his entire toy life as a pinnacle of the playroom. A full wrinkle occurs in the lives of the toys, and gives Woody a newfound spark of purpose, when Bonnie “makes” a toy out of craft supplies and christens him Forky, unaware that he’s a tiny plastic existential crisis voiced expertly by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale. As the toys try to impart wisdom onto Forky, old friends and new foes emerge, resulting in perhaps the most emotional Toy Story journey of the franchise.
What happens when you feel you have no purpose? Where do you turn when you find yourself directionless? Can you forego what you perceive as your responsibilities in order to pursue your own happiness? When is your journey ever truly over? How do you respond to a new path? These are just some of the many questions at the heart of Toy Story 4, and director Josh Cooley has expertly crafted these philosophical dilemmas into a taut and always entertaining picture. All of the Toy Story movies have dealt with large life questions and difficulties. It’s part of what makes the characters so appealing as we instantly relate to them because of our familiarity in owning them as play things and in how they’re just like us; however, Toy Story 4 struck a chord with me that not all of the others have managed.
Among the many returning cast members, including Tim Allen and Joan Cusack as Buzz and Jessie, Tom Hanks brings an added gusto to his performance as Woody. A pillar of the franchise, Woody has always had a slight romantic angle to his character, having been aligned with Bo Peep since the first movie. In Toy Story 4 however, this is explored in great detail and we see Woody for the true hopeless romantic he’s always been. The built-in depth of a franchise-long romance, which ended abruptly for reasons unknown in a previous installment, may not seem like the kind of story a movie with walking, talking toys will explore, but Toy Story 4 takes the ball and runs with it.
Annie Potts also returns as Bo for the sequel, taking on a role that is completely different from the character in previous movies, and it’s for the better. The growth of Bo Peep off-screen brings a weight for the audience and the characters, showing us a story where one’s journey has taken an unexpected path and defines them in surprising ways that only enhance our understanding of them as a character. The relationship of Woody and Bo is the type of romance that anyone whose ever looked into a lover’s eyes and felt comfort and safety knows well. Some people just get you, they bring out the best in you and they make you better. They’re a net for you to land in when you fall, and they’re a compass for you to follow when things are unclear. For that, Hanks and Potts have an unmatched chemistry for an animated couple, and a repartee that is a new gold standard.
There’s also a major technical achievement in Toy Story 4, as the film takes on yet another new layer of realism in its animation unlike anything we’ve seen. The advancements in computer animation have been obvious from each successive sequel, but 4 truly does blow the others out of the water. With the focus at the low level of toys, the camera is able to focus on the details of everything. Every speck of dust, every thread of a carpet, every smear and stain, every seam and bolt. You can see them all, and it’s breathtaking. It’s truly the best-looking movie Pixar has made to date.
For all the dazzling animation, hilarious jokes, and long-spanning payoffs, what makes Toy Story 4 so special is the malleability that it represents within the franchise. The series has always evolved with each entry, but now we’re at a point where the stories can take even more complex shapes and go down unique roads. Our familiar characters can still stumble and fall, they can still impart wisdom and life lessons, they can do it with a level of nuance and humanity that we’ve come to know, but they’ve never felt as human as they have here. These characters aren’t as simple as five pre-programmed catchphrases or a karate-chop button. They contain multitudes and they can handle any story that is thrown at them….to infinity and beyond.