By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – June 19, 2019)
“4” is pretty rarified air as it relates to a film trilogy, or for that matter a scripted television season. It requires longevity both from a cast willing to keep on coming back for more as well as an audience willing to… keep on coming back for more. No studio in movie history has been more consistent than Disney’s Pixar, with by my count only TWO questionable – but by no means bad – efforts since the original Toy Story premiered 24 years ago in 1995. In that time, the Steve Jobs funded computer animation studio (that has technically existed since 1974, though not in its current iteration, you learn something new every day) has churned out 21 original films and more than a handful of award-winning shorts.
Pixar has won 19 Academy Awards, including nine for Best Animated Feature. Honestly, I thought it was more, but only three have ever been nominated that haven’t gone on to win in the category, including last year’s Incredibles 2, which was excellent, but beaten out by the surprisingly outstanding Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was one of my top five movies of 2018. Of every possible studio, with all due respect to other great ones, Pixar interests me on an annual basis more than any other, because the sheer consistency is staggering.
Now we’ve reached Toy Story 4, the first entry in a long time that seemed to create questions as to whether a fourth movie needed to exist at all, especially with what a brilliant movie its predecessor was in 2010. The answer might still be “no,” because no entertainment property NEEDS to exist, but after walking out of the 2019 entry two nights ago, I’m extremely pleased it does, because while different in some respects, it creates a nice bow (no pun intended) on the franchise and felt like a natural conclusion to the world of Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, Slink, and all the rest.
Sure, there could be a fifth movie, but even Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have stated over the past few weeks that this would be the final Toy Story film. We’ll see. They could pull off another one, although this was the perfect finish to the franchise, should it be the final act. Without question, Toy Story 4 exceeded my lofty expectations and left me incredibly satisfied and ready to see it again.
By this point, you know Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the enormous cavalcade of voices, including John “Cliff Clavin” Ratzenberger, who has been in plenty of Pixar films… in fact, he’s been in all of them. Each new installment has brought its own fresh voices, with Toy Story 4 gloriously being no exception. For as good as Keanu Reeves is as Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom and as good as both Tony Hale and Christina Hendricks are as Forky and Gabby Gabby, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele may be the show stealers as Ducky and Bunny. Their stuff will leave you in stitches, which is an adept term to use considering we’re talking about plush animals.
Toy Story 4 takes your favorite toys out of Andy’s room, into another room, and then into the wide world for a plot that weaves love and change along with realizing what it means to be “lost” and “found.” It’s the story itself, written by John Lasseter, fellow directors, and both Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, and others, that makes the 100ish minutes more than merely worth it, but ultimately rewarding. You’ve always cared about these characters, but there’s a level of depth within the movie that makes it far more emotionally resonant than you might think when it first starts. There’s a darkness that gives way to light, which has often been an underpinning of Pixar stories, with plenty to satiate both the youngsters and the parents alike.
Andy has grown up and given his toys to Bonnie, a young girl just set to start kindergarten. She’s afraid of what’s happening in her life and needs friends, even if they aren’t technically “real.” In fact, she even creates one herself, the hilarious Forky (Tony Hale), which works far better than it might appear the first time you see him. It’s tremendously entertaining as he begins to understand what he actually is after being pieced together out of the trash.
This is the start point, along with a separation of key characters from one another. Toy Story 4‘s events, following a flashback, take place around two years after the third film, which makes more sense as the story unfolds and also explains the shift in personality of a few of the bigger names, including most notably Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who HAD to be written differently as a result. It’s how well this is executed that makes Toy Story 4 as successful as it’s about to be when it opens to audiences this weekend. Had this been botched, it would have been a beloved character destroyed, but the result is the exact opposite.
The result of Toy Story 4 is a visual treat with the Randy Newman tune you love, enough new content to make it feel unique from its predecessors but enough familiar to make it feel like the Toy Story you treasure. While I’ve become a bigger fan of the non-franchised Pixar movies, with Up and Inside Out being atop my list, Toy Story 4 MIGHT be the deepest of its group and is a definite A grade from the Big 6 Blog. There is simply nothing whatsoever wrong with this movie, and a ton right with it. The story hits and the little Easter eggs reflecting past Pixar films and other franchises are nice little additions that are fun to discover.
You just don’t go wrong with Pixar, even when it’s Cars 2 and they try to shove ethanol down your throat… it’s still entertaining. Virtually every time out, your money couldn’t be better spent in the summertime at the theater than on Pixar film, because you’re assured not just a fast-paced ride that makes you feel like a kid again, but you’re also given an exceptional message and a lasting feeling of positivity. These movies are the antithesis of the social media culture. These stories remind us of the simple beauty of life and of how precious and exciting it can be when we don’t take ourselves too seriously. They’re the best.
Toy Story 4‘s closing minutes will require tissues, unless you don’t have a soul, but they’ll be the good kind of tears… the ones John Lasseter has been invoking for over two decades. Take the family, make plans, go see it this weekend, and be part of the insane box office dollars it will end up doing. My prediction is it won’t be the top grossing film in the franchise, but word of mouth will assuage the fears and it will pick up a good second wave audience. It’s one of the best films of the summer by any and every metric, and it’s awesome to be able to say that over-juicing the Toy Story fruit isn’t the case.
This thing is just terrific. So good. Enjoy. But fair warning, you’re not going to like the Benson puppets. They’re creepy by design, but I’m good if I don’t ever lay eyes on them again. You’ll understand when you meet them.
I’m @JMartZone. There’s a snake in my boot, but you’ve got a friend in me.