REVIEW: ‘Toy Story 4’ is a Fond Farewell that Bridges Nostalgia and a New Story

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The Toy Story film series has been a major aspect of popular culture for over 20 years. Many of us saw the first film and grew up as the other films were released and as the topics aged with us. Now, as full fledged adults, the final installment of the series, Toy Story 4, has been released and it’s such a bittersweet moment. It’s sweet because we’re able to see our favorite characters but it’s bitter because it’s for the final time. Toy Story 4, directed by Josh Cooley, is the closing of a franchise for both audiences who grew up with the films and those who saw them much later or showed them to their kids.

The film centers around Woody (Tom Hanks) and the rest of his gang now being Bonnie’s (Madeleine McGraw) toys and not Andy’s. However, Woody’s having a hard time not being the favorite toy and as a byproduct not being the leader anymore. Trying to seem more useful, he decides to sneak into Bonnie’s backpack on her Kindergarten orientation day. When Bonnie has a rough time at her school, Woody tries everything possible to change that and gives her some arts & crafts materials. Bonnie manages to create Forky (Tony Hale) and he quickly becomes her new favorite toy. After the orientation, her parents decide that they all go on a road trip. Bonnie takes her toys and they all embark on a trip that will teach the toys how big the world truly is.

The emotions and feeling of nostalgia start to kick in within the first five minutes of the opening scene. It quickly brought me back to watching the first two films when I was younger. Accompanied with music by Randy Newman, the opening serves as both a flashback for what happened to Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and as a way for audiences to get reacquainted with the toys. It’s here where it began to hit me that this would be the last. Though I was a bit unsure about the possibility of another sequel when Toy Story 4 was announced, the film makes it clear that it will bring a unique story without tarnishing its predecessors.

One of the aspects shown in the trailers that made me feel skeptical about this film was seeing Andy (John Morris). It was perfectly clear that the previous film marked the end of Andy’s story and it was disappointing at first to think that the film would have to rely on somehow bringing the character back . However, it was fantastic to see that he played a very minimal role in the film. Even though Woody makes several references to Andy throughout the film, the character seemed to be merely included for nostalgic purposes and not for plot.

That being said, Bonnie has much more screen time, which is already an improvement from the previous film. She’s vastly different from Andy in many ways. For one, Andy’s seemed to be at least 10 or 11 years old during the events of the first Toy Story film while Bonnie is starting Kindergarten. Bonnie’s imagination and child-like wonder is still very prominent in her life. Forky is more than enough proof that her imagination knows no limits. Andy had already chosen Woody as his favorite toy while Bonnie often switches what toy she loves the most. She does care about all of her toys and has more time to be with them since she’s around 4 or 5 years old.

Audiences will be pleased that most of the members from the original group of toys are back, including the actors who voice them. However, it was a bit disappointing to see that they don’t really have any major purpose in the plot of the film outside just appearing. Usually the films have found a way to incorporate each and every one of them or place them in major roles, but Toy Story 4 seems to dismiss the toys as if they didn’t matter. Buzz (Tim Allen) and Jessie’s (Joan Cusack) prominent roles and possible romance that was established in the previous film is no where to be found in Toy Story 4. As much as this is Woody, Forky, and Bo Peep’s story, it doesn’t mean other essential characters should have been dismissed.

Most of the new toys introduced in the previous film and in this film unfortunately suffer the same fate of some of our old favorites. I was definitely excited for Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves) given that Keanu was doing the voice for the character and the heavy marketing Disney put behind his involvement. That being said, he wasn’t introduced until the second half of the film. And while his character is incredible, I just wish that he could’ve been given a bigger role.

In addition to Duke, new characters Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) feel like they were directly taken out of a Key and Peele comedy sketch, and it’s honestly great to see the comedy duo working together again. Finally, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is a standout character among the toy box. Though she seemed to be the film’s main villain, it quickly establishes that not everything is so blatantly obvious. Her character development and desire to find somewhere to belong surprised me.

With some dismissal of the other toys, Woody’s journey is the heart and soul of the film. As mentioned above, he’s having a difficult time adjusting to his life as one of Bonnie’s toys and the new group dynamics. He’s no longer the leader of the group, which is something that clearly bothers him, but he tries everything possible to hide it. He makes up for this by promising that he will do everything in his power to make sure that nothing happens to Forky. His overall journey focuses a lot on holding on to the past and thinking that the “good old days” will find their way back. Reuniting with Bo Peep is the catalyst that helps him gain perspective on a life with a kid and a life of a lost toy. This is something I’m willing to be a lot of older viewers will be able to resonate with the most.

Much like Woody’s journey, Bo Peep’s journey is essential to Toy Story 4. She was been given up by Molly and gifted to a new child, eventually ending up at an antique shop, waiting for a kid to pick her up and take her home. She grew tired of waiting and decided that she no longer needed a kid to fill her life’s purpose. Her journey’s much more centered around growing up, exploring what the world has to offer, and being independent. Reuniting with Woody serves as a reminder of the life she had before and why she gave it up in the first place.

The previous three films have all had Woody or Buzz at the center of the plot. However, this film makes sure to include a more female-driven plot that makes this film much more special. With Bo Peep’s mysterious disappearance in Toy Story 3, this film does her character justice. She’s no longer the shy, damsel in distress. She’s portrayed as fearless and happy that she completely detached herself from the belief that her only purpose in life was to be a toy owned by one person. Having a female character who doesn’t follow the status quo and breaks free from any restraints is a refreshing aspect not just in this movie but for film representation everywhere.

One of the elements of the film that may or may not sit well with people is the ending. It does deliver in emotion and may in fact make some people tear up, but it’s delivered very abruptly. There are other scenes and interactions between certain characters that set this up, but it just never really came into my mind when watching the film. However, given the way the film plays out, this may have been the best and only way for the film to end. It’s the end of an era, which calls for an ending that’s fitting of a milestone like this.

This series has played a major role in a lot of people’s lives. Realizing that this is the final film in the series is bittersweet, especially after knowing how the film ends. It’s a family film that will surely leave audiences walking out feeling very emotional. It’s a bit disappointing that some of the toys don’t have more prominent roles, but the main story is enough to capture the attention of its viewers. To the entire voice cast and crew members that made this film and the entire series possible, I just want to say thank you.

Toy Story 4 is playing in theaters nationwide.

Toy Story 4
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

It’s a bit disappointing that some of the toys don’t have more prominent roles, but the main story is enough to capture the attention of its viewers.