Pixar’s latest expands on a familiar series by taking it in bold new direction
2010’s Toy Story 3 was, at least in the opinion of this reviewer, hands down the best film in the series, and ended on an especially poignant note that seemed to be a natural place to draw the curtain on Pixar’s flagship series. Now grown up, the gang’s owner, Andy, departs for college and gives his treasured childhood toys to Bonnie, the young daughter of a family friend. A coming of age, a tearful goodbye, and a promise that Woody, Buzz, and the gang would continue to abide and serve in the love of a child — in short, a perfect ending.
A fourth film always seemed a possibility (Muppets Most Wanted even cracked an in-joke that it was only greenlit “while they wait for Tom Hanks to make Toy Story 4”), but while financially promising, it would be a daunting creative hurdle, at the risk of damaging the brand. After going out on top and finding such natural closure in the story, what could narratively justify another feature film?
Still, the franchise continued with some enjoyable shorts (Toy Story of Terror!, The Toy Story That Time Forgot) that demonstrated that there was still a world of fun to explore in the new environs, and after almost a decade a third Toy Story sequel has finally materialized.
Toy Story 4 is certainly the most divergent entry in the series, moving on from the familiar suburban environs that have defined the series so far, as the gang and their human family take a road trip, meeting up with a bunch of new characters and reconnecting with a very special one from the past.
The film introduces many new toys, and they’re a hoot. Homemade Forky (Tony Hale) is a hilarious childlike “newborn” toy, crafted from a spork and pipe cleaners by Bonnie. Forky’s question of identity is a source of great humor as he ponders his own sentience as a disposable utensil.
Comedic duo Key and Peele provide voices for chattery carnival prizes Ducky and Bunny, sewn together hand-to-hand, “The Defiant Ones” style. Keanu Reeves is delightful as stuntjump cyclist Duke Caboom. Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) is an adorably tiny police officer of the “Polly Pocket” type, and Christina Hendricks voices Gabby Gabby, an antique doll who has never known the love of a child.
But the most important “new” character isn’t new at all — Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts) is back. Woody’s romantic interest from the first 2 films was frankly not much of a presence in those pictures, and in Toy Story 3 Woody sadly mentions that they lost her (in the way that toys come and go from a child’s collection), but the story wasn’t expounded on any further — until now.
And therein lies the answer to “how can they meaningfully continue this story?”. As the gang make a stop on their road trip, Woody is reunited with Bo Poop, who has undergone a remarkable transformation from the demure version we remember. It’s been seven years since she was last owned by any child, and she is a very different person: free-spirited, fiercely independent, adventurous, and tough — a woman of intelligence and agency.
Reunited with his beloved, Woody must take stock of his heart and reassess the guiding principle that has always been his core philosophy: he was created as a toy to serve a child. And for many years, he has done just that. But there may be another option; one of autonomy, love, and freedom.
An interesting side note that I picked up on is that many of the toys are distinctly inferior products. Forky is a shoddily constructed craft project with an existential crisis. Ducky and Bunny are cheap carnival toys whose stuffing is prone to fall out. Duke Caboom is haunted by his disappointing performance as a toy that doesn’t live up to its commercial, and Gabby Gabby has a defective voice box. Even Bo has a broken arm, but despite her porcelain fragility, her demeanor is anything but fragile.
By the end of the film, even Woody is nursing a new injury. The lesson imparted? Despite these various defects and imperfections, these characters and their value as persons are not defined by their flaws. They soldier on, find new strength, and learn from their experiences.
This bold new direction and expanded roster of players does come at the exclusion of much of the classic cast, even best pal Buzz, who are in the film but in a smaller supporting capacity. More than any prior Toy Story film, this one is centered on Woody and his growth as a character.
With a very different kind of plot, a new co-star in Bo, and an unexpectedly audacious ending, Toy Story 4 somehow manages to again create something very special and different in the ongoing saga, and once again draw the tale to a natural close — and yet leave the door ajar for more to come.
Stunningly animated (no surprise there), Toy Story 4 delivers on the kind of visual splendor that we expect from Pixar. This is perhaps most evident in the rendering of Bo Peep — since she wasn’t in the last movie, her updated look is a big step up from the simpler polygonal character model of old. The Blu-ray beautifully show off this splendor. The film is also available in a 4K version which I can only imagine is even crisper with enhanced colors.
The package includes a pretty holofoil slipcover, Blu-ray Feature Disc, Blu-ray Bonus Disc, and DVD and digital copies of the movie. A couple more extras are also included as a Movies Anywhere redeemable digital exclusives, “Deleted Scene: Bonnie’s Playtime” and “Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue”. The case employs stackable spindles rather than a third disc housing.
Special Features and Extras — Feature Disc
Bo Rebooted (6:21)
Bo Peep is back, and she’s changed a lot since we saw her last.
Toy Stories (5:38)
Cast and crew share thoughts on their favorite toys from childhood after.
— Frozen II Teaser (2:07)
— Frozen II Trailer (1:21)
— Onward Trailer (1:47) — English, Spanish and French versions
Special Features and Extras — Bonus Disc
Let’s Ride with Ally Maki (5:41)
Fun with Maki (Dimples) in the voice recording booth.
Woody & Buzz (3:35)
A retrospective the franchise’s key friendship.
Anatomy of a Scene: Playground (9:31)
Key creatives dissect a scene from the film. In filmmaking terms, this is the most interesting and in-depth extra.
Toy Views —
Short toy’s eye view animations.
— Carnival Run (1:00)
— View From the Roof (:29)
Toy Box (13:00)
Exploring the film’s new cast of characters
— Gabby Gabby & Her Gang (4:03)
— Forky (2:43)
— Duke Caboom (2:25)
— Giggle McDimples (1:11)
Deleted Scenes (27:59)
— Introduction (:48)
— Scamming Playtime (3:57)
— Bo Knows Hippos (3:42)
— Desperate Toys (3:21)
— Knock-offs (4:18)
— Recruit Duke (7:20)
— She’s The One (4:31)
Trailers & Promo
— Carnival Prizes (3:24)
— “Booth” Global Teaser in Spanish (1:39)
— “Playtime” Global Trailer in English (2:20)
— “Freedom” Global Trailer in Russian (1:46)
— “Pixar Pedigree: — Exclusive for China (1:35)
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.