Toy Story 4
Bruce Steele: I wasn't sure there needed to be a Toy Story 4, but having seen it, I'm certainly glad it exists. I feel like a supplicant to the Toy Story faith who's been given a whole new revelation, answering questions I hadn't thought to ask.
Edwin Arnaudin: I’m tempted to leave my review at “It’s so damn good,” but there’s of course more to delve into with this rich entertaining experience. The Good Dinosaur aside, I’m all for Pixar focusing on original standalone films over churning out sequels, yet in the studio's various series, I’ve had fun revisiting beloved characters in new adventures — none more so than Woody, Buzz & Co.
Bruce: Right. And Pixar knows that a successful sequel needs to explore new realms within the world of the original, and every Toy Story movie so far has done that beautifully. This time out, Pixar addresses a couple doctrinal questions: What constitutes a "toy"? And: Can toys find meaning without a child to play with them? Happily, the answers involve the triumphant return of Bo Peep, who was inexplicably missing from Toy Story 3.
Edwin: The writing team of series stalwart Andrew Stanton and newcomer Stephany Folsom (Star Wars Resistance) deftly handle Bo’s exit and reentry, setting up some palpable tension once she and Woody unexpectedly cross paths. Out in the wild, she’s transformed into a badass and friend to her fellow “lost” toys, but fun as her scenes are, Toy Story 4 for me is all about Forky.
Bruce: I thought Forky would annoy me, but he's an existential comedian from the start. Apparently objects have some kind of spiritual DNA, since Forky is hilariously obsessed with throwing himself away. The voice work of Tony Hale (Love, Simon) is terrific, especially in his philosophical discussions with Woody.
Edwin: As a big fan of Hale’s work as Gary on Veep and especially Buster on Arrested Development, it’s a joy hearing his distinctive vocals in the service of arguably his goofiest character yet. The film gets surprising mileage from the garbage gag (“I am not a toy!”) and in the process of keeping Forky around for the sake of their human kid Bonnie, the film reveals Woody to be a nervous, protective parental figure. Were you moved by this new frazzled side from our beloved sheriff?
Bruce: The unasked question at the end of Toy Story 3 was: How will Woody fare as just another toy, rather than the special friend? The answer — not well — is consistent with his jittery bossiness from all the movies. And his unrequited bond with Bo Peep gives him new emotional depths to plumb. Not surprisingly, Woody underestimates his new nemesis, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), the doll who holds Forky hostage in the antique store where much of the action takes place.
Edwin: Gabby is super creepy, as are her dummy henchmen — possibly the series’ darkest elements outside of Toy Story 3’s incinerator — but hope remains that there’s goodness beneath the cruelty stemming from her neglected, childless existence. As for the other additions, I’m also quite fond of Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves, who else?), the nutty tag team of carnival plush toys Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), and the Polly Pocket-esque Giggle McDimples (TV journeywoman Ally Maki), who makes for an infinitely superior shoulder companion than Kumail Nanjiani’s Pawny in last week’s godawful Men in Black: International.
Bruce: The new characters are all richly imagined. I especially like Ducky and Bunny's over-the-top action fantasies, and viewers need to know to stay to the very end of the credits for one more cute gag. As the Toy Story world grows — most of this one takes place during Bonnie's family's RV vacation — it's become a critical liturgy to note the increased visual detail and animation nuance, but 4 is indeed technically remarkable as well as narratively satisfying.
Edwin: Back in the early Pixar days, those leaps forward were easier to note, especially as new realms were explored (e.g. the ocean in Finding Nemo). Even with familiar characters whose appearances we know well, Toy Story 4 is the studio's best looking film to date and is hyper slick in every regard. It's also my favorite film of 2019 thus far and gets an A from me.
Bruce: I think you liked it! I did too, and I'll likely revisit it more than once. It will take multiple viewings just to take in everything hidden in that jam-packed antiques store (likely and Easter egg gold mine) and to get to know all the new characters. I won't repeat the 3D glasses, though — there are moments where they contributed to the thrills, but the effect is not imperative. I'll be Buzz to your Woody and give it an A as well.
Grade: A. Rated G. Playing at the AMC River Hills, Carolina Cinemark, and Regal Biltmore Grande.
(Photos courtesy of Disney/Pixar)