Pixar’s Toy Story 3 ended the animation studios’ signature franchise on such a pitch-perfect note that adding another chapter to the saga made no sense whatsoever. The 2010 sequel remains one of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments, and made for an ideal farewell that wrapped the story of Andy’s toys in a wholly satisfying manner. And so when Pixar announced they are working on a follow-up story, it wasn’t well-received since Toy Story Trilogy had been a flawless series until then. And we all wished Pixar would return to making original stories instead of milking their franchises of all their worth.
Nobody asked for this sequel. Nobody wanted it. And nobody was looking forward to it. Add to that, there was a growing fear & apprehension that it might dent the franchise’s unblemished legacy. However, if there’s one thing Pixar has done time n again over the years and more consistently than any other studio on the planet, it is to defy the odds, exceed every expectations, and set new industry benchmarks in the process. And with their latest feature, Pixar delivers yet again, for Toy Story 4 is another masterwork of first-rate craftsmanship from the studio that validates its existence with gusto and is a final goodbye we never thought we needed.
The story concerns Woody & his gang, now under the care of the Bonnie, who are more than grateful to have a new child. Woody, however, still struggles in adapting to the new environment as he isn’t Bonnie’s favourite, and often spends his time in the closet. When Bonnie goes to her kindergarten orientation, Woody sneaks into her backpack and helps her assemble a new toy which she names “Forky”. But when Forky comes to life & starts experiencing an existential crisis, Woody takes it upon himself to do whatever it takes to make sure the new toy is around when Bonnie needs him. As they all embark on a road trip with the family, Woody stumbles upon a long-lost friend.
Directed by Josh Cooley in what’s his feature directorial debut, Toy Story 4 begins with a prologue that paves the foundation for what this new adventure is going to be, and then seamlessly works its way towards the main premise. Of the four films, this is undeniably the bleakest yet as full of charm & compassion as its predecessors. The story explores the next stage in Woody’s life, one where he doesn’t feel that relevant anymore & is clinging to the smallest things that would allow him to keep Bonnie happy, in this case, not letting Forky return to the trash where he thinks he belongs. Other characters have roles to play too but this is Woody’s story front & centre, about him finding his true place in life.
Forky may have been created by assembling together several pieces of garbage from the trash can but he has a personality that’s going to resonate with a lot of viewers. Bonnie’s affection for him is genuine, his struggles real, and his own personal journey & eventual transformation is as hilarious as it is compelling. Not everything is perfect though. Buzz Lightyear is funny but also slightly dumbed down in this chapter. Also, Jesse & the rest of toys aren’t given much to do. Nevertheless, the new characters are written with care and ably fill up the spaces. And the film as a whole remains a light-hearted, entertaining ride from start to finish. Bo Peep’s absence in the previous chapter is taken care of, and she is more relevant here than ever before.
As is the case with almost every Pixar film, the focus is always on telling an emotionally gripping story first rather than dazzle the audience with its breathtaking animation. It’s the magic in the screenwriting department that the animators translate on canvas with finesse, and the result is another winner of top-notch storytelling & first-rate animation. The photorealistic rendering is more lifelike than ever before, and each detail & texture pops out vibrantly. The new characters are seamlessly integrated into the family and all attempts at humour hit the mark. The narrative flow is smooth, pacing is streamlined & everything adds up in the end. Randy Newman’s score once again takes care of viewers’ emotions, and a couple new songs are wonderful.
Just like the previous entries, Toy Story 4 is a product of passionate filmmaking, and no matter how unnecessary it seems, the film does well to validate its existence in the end. The film derives its central conflict from the relationship between Woody & Bo Peep as their reunion not only rekindles their romance but also advances & challenges Woody’s perception of being a lost toy, leading to a finale that’s a perfect coda. Tom Hanks & Tim Allen return as the voices of the duo, Woody & Buzz respectively and their chemistry is spot-on as if they never left. Annie Potts also returns as Bo Peep and expertly plays her part. In the new additions we have Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele playing a couple of plush toys and Keanu Reeves as a stuntman toy, all leaving an instant impression.
On an overall scale, Toy Story 4 presents Pixar Animation Studios proving us wrong and putting our fears to rest by delivering an impeccable blend of high-quality storytelling & jaw-dropping animation that further enriches the franchise’s legacy by soaring it to new heights. Embracing everything that made its predecessors great, the film might not have the emotional wallop of its predecessors but it surely is a roller-coaster ride of emotions that has its soul at the right place and knows how to strike a chord that tugs our hearts. One of the best all-round films of the year, certainly amongst Pixar’s finest, and a worthy addition to a saga that has no equals, Toy Story 4 is another masterpiece in Pixar’s bag that’s immaculately crafted, beautifully told, exquisitely animated, and also addresses its themes with care & sincerity, in addition to brimming with a genuine sense of warmth, tenderness & finality. Strongly recommended.