Just when you begin to doubt them, just when you begin to reminisce on the good ol’ days, just when you roll your eyes at an unnecessary sequel to a series that wrapped up beautifully years ago, Disney-Pixar reminds you why they hold Oscars the way Thanos holds infinity stones: they know how to deliver the goods.
Toy Story 4 reunites the gang—most notably Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen)—for a fourth adventure, nine years after the Oscar-winning Toy Story 3 sent the characters riding off into the sunset in glorious fashion—and, amazingly, somehow, shockingly, sends the characters riding off into the sunset in glorious fashion again.
The movie takes a little while to justify its existence, at first appearing as if it’ll just be another lighthearted tale of living toys trying to rescue one another. But as it progresses, as first-time director Josh Cooley adds color and texture to this vividly gorgeous film, embracing the characters many of us have grown up loving for over two decades while injecting new ideas and themes relevant to modern day.
The most important development is the reemergence of Little Bo Peep as a feminist icon, a toy who has tasted freedom and no longer feels bound to anyone—nor needs anyone to enjoy a fruitful life. When you think about it, Toy Story has always been about the boys, with Hanks and Allen the top dogs; the addition of Bo Beep, no longer as a mere love interest to Woody, makes Toy Story 4 feel fresh and vibrant.
Toy Story 4 as a whole presents an entertaining, fast-paced and somewhat complex adventure plot that continuously introduces new characters, challenges, and amusing diversions. Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks, isn’t the most dastardly of villains, but she introduces a creepy vibe into the whole affair (her henchmen, a group of scary ventriloquist dolls), while Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key inject just the opposite. Keanu Reeves even makes his Toy Story debut as a traumatized daredevil.
But it’s the ending that once again brings things home, an emotional sendoff that hits hard but in the warmest of ways. Disney-Pixar has had a way of tapping into emotion in a way that most other animation houses rarely do, and they pluck at the heartstrings in a big way here. I don’t cry in movies, but Toy Story 4 nearly got to me—an achievement that feels neither melodramatic nor manipulative.
For that reason, I can’t recommend Toy Story 4 enough. It’s a visually beautiful, wonderfully written animated adventure that works on so many levels. In Pixar I trust.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.