Toy Story 4 review: Hilarious jokes barely save a story lacking in stakes
Spoiler-free: Fantastic writing and technical flourishes spruce up a Pixar sequel that doesn't have the emotional pull fans might expect.
Mike SorrentinoSenior Editor
Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches -- obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.
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Toy Story 3 left you, me and anyone in any movie theater in tears the moment it seemed Woody, Buzz and all the other
were about to die in a junkyard. Toy Story 4 only left me in tears during a Family Guy-style non-sequitur that was so funny I couldn't help but cry. Different kind of tears.
That's not to say Toy Story 4 is bad. It's a fun time and it's great to see Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) back on the big screen. However Toy Story 4 was always going to be in a tough spot plot wise, having to pick up from the emotionally satisfying yet bittersweet departure the toys had when a grown-up Andy passes nearly all of his childhood playthings to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw).
The film, in theaters now, picks up roughly a year after the previous movie, with Bonnie about to start kindergarten and cherishing nearly all of Andy's toys except for Woody. She's 5 and has her own thoughts about who she wants to play with, which is nearly everyone else but the cowboy Andy loved.
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Pretty quickly, Bonnie decides to invent her own toy, bringing to life Forky (Tony Hale) as a craft project while at her kindergarten orientation, and Woody decides to make it his mission to ensure the flimsy toy can survive being a toy. Forky's existence raises lots of questions about what it takes to make an object sentient in the Toy Story universe, and the movie makes it clear it has no intention of answering them.
Instead, the gang heads on a road trip that reunites Woody and Forky with a long-lost but fully independent Bo Peep and meets new toys like tiny police officer toy Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), the crazy Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves) and antique doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks).
Gabby Gabby is the clear villain for most of the film, but similarly to
Incredibles 2, gives Hendricks a nuanced role that weighs slightly more toward being misunderstood than outright destructive.
New duo Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) provide the film with the most comedy and gags, including several sequences that are outrageous even though they have little relation to the plot.
And the plot is, unfortunately, Toy Story 4's roughest point. The story simply doesn't stand up to Toy Story 3, or any of the previous Toy Story movies, in which both the toys and the humans who play with them each have some semblance of an arc. In Toy Story 4, the humans -- especially Bonnie -- are barely involved in most of the goings-on.
Instead, the movie chooses to tell a story that's tightly focused on the toys, but even with the love fans have for Woody and Buzz after all these years, the stakes they face just don't hit high enough. It feels like plenty of jokes were added instead in order to flesh the movie out. All of these jokes hit, and range from quick quips to extended gags that get bigger payoffs later in the plot. However, none of the jokes are central to the story, leaving me to feel like the story isn't really all that necessary.
In terms of quality, this puts Toy Story 4's story somewhere in between the previous films and the Toy Story Toons shorts Disney has released over the past few years. It's not a bad story, and it shoots to be better than something made for TV, but no one will be weeping when they watch this film's climax.
Pixar did fire off all of the animation touches as it always does: human hair looks different than plastic-toy hair, dust bunnies look dusty, and the antique shop setting in particular gives the studio plenty of opportunity to boast its prowess with lighting, shadow and color effects.
Still, Toy Story 4 is a fun watch for anyone curious what adventures the toys could possibly have after Toy Story 3. It won't be the emotional journey of that 2010 film, but you'll at least be laughing the whole time.
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