When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy. (from IMDb)
Up until 1995, animated films were typically hand-drawn, hand-painted cels painstakingly created by skilled artists who had to draw each frame of an animated film by hand. Computers had just begun to aid in the creation of more difficult shots (like the ballroom dance in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast), but there had yet to be a whole film made entirely by computer animation… until Toy Story. Twenty-four years ago, Toy Story changed the way we view animation forever. Not only was it this incredible tale about how kids’ toys come to life when no one is watching, but it was truly an animation marvel–and the introductory project for a new little animation studio called Pixar. Its success spawned a sequel four years later that was easily better than the original in every way. And eleven more years later, we were given Toy Story 3, which took the series to new, emotional heights. And with each film, it was exciting to see these characters really come to life with more detailed and more breathtaking animation. If any characters deserved to benefit from the growth of computer animation, it was easily these toys. Now, another nine years later, we have the unexpected (but oft-talked-about) Toy Story 4, a hilarious and emotional possible conclusion to a series that has lasted for nearly a quarter of a century.
At the end of Toy Story 3, Andy–the young boy who we met playing with Woody and receiving Buzz Lightyear in the 1995 original film–was now grown and going off to college. He ends up donating his toys to a little preschooler named Bonnie, and our favorite Toy Story characters soon joined with a new group of Bonnie’s own toys. In between the 2010 Toy Story 3 and this entry, fans were treated to Toy Story Toons, little animated shorts starring our favorite characters that continued the adventures of these characters after being given to Bonnie. Starting with Hawaiian Vacation and the absolutely brilliant Small Fry (where Buzz meets kids meal toy rejects) in 2011, the series was a great way to extend the lives of these characters. Partysaurus Rex followed in 2012, and then 2013 gave us the first 22-minute special, Toy Story of Terror, which served as a Halloween special of sorts. The last one came the following year, serving as a Christmas special, titled Toy Story That Time Forgot, where Bonnie takes her toys to a friend’s house who had received gladiator dinosaur toys (called Battlesaurs) for Christmas, and the beasts terrorize Woody and Buzz, not realizing they’re all just toys (it’s fantastic!). So, really, it’s only been five years since we last saw our Toy Story friends, even though it’s been a full nine since we’ve had a feature film entry. (And I loved seeing the little Easter egg references to the shorts sprinkled throughout Toy Story 4–especially the Battlesaurs lunch box!)
From the opening minutes of Toy Story 4, where we see a flashback to the night Bo Peep gets donated, it’s immediately evident just how far computer animation technology has come. As the toys scramble to rescue a toy that fell out the window during a rain storm, you can just tell Pixar is testing the limits of what can be done with a computer, while also celebrating the franchise that started it all for them. I also rewatched all three films (as well as a few of the shorts and Toy Story That Time Forgot) just before seeing Toy Story 4, which made it even easier to feel invested in these characters. But, in some ways like Andy, I’ve grown up with these characters for the better part of my life, and it’s thrilling to see them all together once more. The film’s title moments–set to “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” of course, brilliantly recaps the relationship these toys–and especially Woody–had with Andy and now with Bonnie, and it beautifully sets up where things will be going from here. But as we get reintroduced to Bonnie’s life with Andy’s toys (and her own, of course), we also see the all-too real and familiar scenario where the child is starting to outgrow some of her toys (which also fantastically leads to some voice cameos from TV star old-timer talents like Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett and Carl Reiner). Right off the bat, Pixar is hitting us with emotional two-by-fours again, and before we know it, Woody is stowing himself away in Bonnie’s backpack so he can help her through her first day of school. The viewer is quickly reminded as to why we love these characters so dang much. We all can think of a toy or stuffed animal that was there for us through tough times in our childhood, and here we see an animated cinematic hero going out of his way to be that for “his kid.”
Even if this is the conclusion of the main Toy Story series, it’s a pretty satisfying–if not bittersweet–conclusion. In some ways, I probably prefer the Toy Story 3 ending to this one, but I just might have enjoyed Toy Story 4 more than its predecessor overall (which surprised me). To be fair, it’s tough to rank one film over the other on just one viewing, but Toy Story 4 is probably laugh-out-loud funnier and more fun than 3. The script is sharp and funny, the characters are as lovable as ever, and the introduction of Forky–a spork Bonnie made into a toy in class at school–is an endearing addition to the series. Toy Story 4 brings back a character we haven’t seen since 1999, Bo Peep, who always had a romantic tie to Woody. Annie Potts returns to voice the character, too, and it’s heartwarming to see Woody get to reunite with his long lost love. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to such a focus being put on Bo Peep and Forky, is that Buzz Lightyear takes more of a backseat to the main storyline. He certainly gets moments to shine throughout the whole movie’s duration, but he’s not nearly as central as he usually is, making Toy Story 4 out to be mostly Woody’s movie. Still, it’s wonderful to see how much Woody and Buzz have grown as friends through the years–from the jealous fighting in the first film to the admiration they display for each other in this fourth one. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the addition of Keanu Reeves’ Canada-loving Duke Caboom character. Reeves is perfectly cast and contributes to some of the film’s most memorable moments (he also helps fill the void that the absence of Michael Keaton’s Ken from Toy Story 3 creates here). Key & Peele were also fun additions as Ducky & Bunny, but their humor didn’t always land as well as they seem to think it should (although they DO contribute to some of the funniest gags.)
The content of the film is similar to the other Toy Story entries. If you thought Sid’s misfit toys were creepy at all, Gabby Gabby and her minion ventriloquist dummies–which look like they’re lifted straight out of The Twilight Zone–should make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. (My 8 year old son frequently cowered at the sight of the dummies.) I don’t think they needed to make those characters quite so scary, but the antique store sequences definitely felt appropriate for a Toy Story movie. There is no profanity or sexual content to speak off, but Disney and Hollywood continue to push the equality message–albeit subtly here–by showing a pair of moms as a couple at the kindergarten orientation for Bonnie (and possibly some couples at the carnival). Other than that, there’s quite a bit of action involving the toys, but nothing gruesome or inappropriate. Still, our heroes are often seen battling the dummies or scrambling to get away from other toys throughout the film.
While we never needed a Toy Story 4–even if we secretly (or less than secretly) wanted one–Disney and Pixar have made a good case for it by giving us one of the year’s best films. It’s so good to see these characters on the big screen again, and Toy Story 4 is a delightful and touching romp that fans won’t want to miss. And, if you do see it, not only should you bring tissues, but stay till the very end of the credits for a delightful new Toy Story 4-inspired take on the Pixar animated logo and a satisfying payoff to a gag that had been setup earlier in the film.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/22/19)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Along with the feature film in HD, the Blu-Ray/Digital combo pack version of Toy Story 4 offers a series of Extras. Some are exclusive to the digital copy, but the core extras are also on the Blu-Ray disc. The digital copy on iTunes orders them in different sections with different names, with some that even repeat a couple features.
Disc One of the Blu-Ray offers the feature film and two Bonus Features:
Bo Rebooted (6:21) – Here they talk about aging and maturing Bo, creating a woman for the new times. They also talk about her animation style evolution and her relationship with Woody. It’s fun to hear Annie Potts talk about her character here, too.
Toy Stories (5:37) – Here, the Pixar crew, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves and more talk about the toys they loved as kids. We also see thousands of toys that litter the Pixar offices — so if you’re an artist and have a thing for collecting toys, you’re not alone! (Whew!)
Guided Tour (1:40:07), as it’s called on the digital copy, is a feature-length film commentary with director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen.
Disc Two of the Blu-Ray set is exclusively dedicated to Bonus Features. They include:
Second Chance Antiques (1:31) gives viewers a toy’s eye view of sweeping through the store and looking all over the Second Chance Antiques store.
Second Chance Antiques: Hidden Treasures (2:51) is the same trip through the store, but it’s slowed down with pop-up’s to highlight Easter eggs from other Pixar movies hidden around the store — like a Monsters University pennant, the tennis ball walking cane from Up, a Chef Gusteau lamp from Ratatouille, and more!
Let’s Ride with Ally Maki (5:39) – Here, Ally Maki, the voice of Giggle McDimples, is shown recording dialog in the studio and then we’re shown, in a very candid and silly way, all the different people involved in editing and producing the dialog for a given scene. As goofy as it is, it’s actually pretty insightful!
Woody and Buzz (3:33) focuses on their relationship as the core of the series and how it’s put to the test in this movie.
Toy Box (12:58)
Gabby Gabby and Her Gang (4:03) – Christina Hendricks talks about using her voice, and how fitting the character is for her because of her love for antique shops. They then detail her character inspiration and designs here, as well as her creepy dummy sidekicks.
Forky (2:44) – The crew and voice actor Tony Hale talk about how Forky is just a craft project, and how his character is the first time in the series that we see a toy first coming to life.
Duke Caboom (2:25) – The crew and Keanu Reeves talk about Duke and how Keanu really dug in to the character as a Canadian and lover of motorcycles! He was also the one who suggested that Duke keep posing even while just talking.
Ducky and Bunny (2:37) is about how these two, voiced by Key and Peele, are just cheap carnival toys who are stuck on the rack and are desperate for kid owners.
Giggle McDimples (1:10) – Last but not least is Bo’s partner, Giggle McDimples who is small–but tough!
Anatomy of a Scene: Playground (9:29) – The Pixar crew sit and watch the scene on the Playground where Woody and Bo reunite, and deconstruct it. They talk about character, story boarding, animation, Easter eggs and more.
Digital Copy Extra: Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue (5:13) – Here, they talk about how they tried a whole bunch of different ways to do the opening scene before they settled on the RC rescue scene. They decided to remind people about how Bo used to be before re-introducing her later in the movie. (Smart!) They then talk about all the detail rendering and technical things that go into making a scene as detailed as this one!
Deleted Scenes (Digital Version called “Detours”) – There are 7 deleted scenes and one introduction from the director. The intro (0:48) shows how director Josh Cooley had started out as an idea man at Pixar before graduating to a director’s role here. All of the following deleted scenes are presented as animated storyboards with no finished animation. They’re all given an introduction by Josh and are presented with scratch voices from the crew, not the cast (although, occasionally, I did hear what sounded like some lines from Hanks and Potts, for example). “Bonnie’s Playtime” (7:42) was the film’s original intro. In an imaginary playtime, similar to the opening of Toy Story 3, Bonnie and the toys get attacked by a swarm of books, because she hates reading. “Scamming Playtime” (3:58) is a more chaotic version of how Woody and Bo reunite on the playground. “Bo Knows Hippos” (3:43) is an alternate version of Bo going to Tinny’s inside the antique shop. This scene includes a toy city where toys bet on Hungry Hungry Hippos. It’s another version of how Woody and Bo reunite. And, in this version of the story, Ducky is a different kind of duck toy, called Bill! “Desperate Toys” (3:22) is a discarded idea about other toys regularly found in secondhand stores–things like “#1 Grandpa” statues and a dancing Santa, who all want to get out of the store. “Knockoffs” (4:18) feels like a “Toy Story Toons” idea where Buzz encounters generic carnival knockoffs of himself. They then attack the carnival booth guy in an effort to escape. “Recruit Duke” (7:20) is a very similar version to the film version but is longer. Finally, “She’s the One” (4:32) is the alternate ending where Bo goes off with the girl from the store to have a new kid again, and Woody goes back to Bonnie.
Trailers & Promo (Digital Version called “International Passport”) – “Pixar Pedigree – Exclusive for China” (1:32) is a series of clips from other Pixar movies that hype up the fourth Toy Story adventure (The audio is in English while some of the text is in Chinese). “Playtime – Global Trailer for English” (2:20) is a standard English trailer, while “Booth – Global Teaser in Spanish” (1:38) is in Spanish and “Freedom – Global Trailer in Russian” (1:46) is in Russian.
Toolkit: Carnival Prizes (3:27) is a montage of “toolkit animation” set to music. It’s basically little promo animations of the characters interacting with each other.
Toy Views – There are two little extras here that total up less than two minutes. “Carnival Run” (1:02) gives us a quick camera sweep tour through the carnival. “View from the Roof” (0:31) sweeps up from inside the antique store to give a view of the carnival from the store’s roof.
iTunes / Digital Exclusives: Trip Highlights – These are scenes isolated from the movie that can be viewed separately. They include: “Bo Leaves,” “Road Trip,” “Buzz’s Mission,” “Bo Helps,” “Escape,” “Skunkmobile,” “Carousel Ascent,” “Rooftop,” “Plush Rush,” “Duke,” “Crashing with Style,” “Escape from Gabby Gabby,” and “The Big Jump.”
Photo Journal is a collection of 40 screenshots and concept art with captions.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/6/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: None, but at the kindergarten orientation that Bonnie’s parents take her to, we clearly see two moms as a couple with their child.
Vulgarity/Language: None. At one point, Bonnie’s dad gets mad when their RV tire goes flat, and he starts mumbling angrily to himself. Bonnie’s mom then takes Bonnie away from the scene, saying “Daddy is going to use some choice words” (or something like that, implying profanity, but we don’t hear any)
Alcohol/Drugs: We briefly see a wine glass sitting next to a tub where a woman is bathing.
Blood/Gore: Bo Peep has a bandage around her arm. At one point her arm falls off and she and Woody scream, but Bo plays it off as a joke because she just bandages the broken limb back on and her arm works fine; We see a stuffed animal ripped in half and its white stuffing around its lower half (we later see its top half with it talking); Woody’s voice box is partially pulled from his back and we see stuffing sticking out with it; A cat swallows a toy and then hacks it back up a few moments later. We see the toy, “alive,” and covered in clear mucous.
Violence: We see RC out in the rain, getting washed away as Woody and the toys scramble to save him (they do); A window is closed on Slinky’s spring; Bonnie makes a toy out of literal pieces of garbage. This new toy later comes to life and repeatedly tries to throw itself out. Woody desperately tries to rescue it each time; Bonnie’s dad accidentally steps on Woody’s head a couple times. After the second time, his head is bent inward on the side, and he pops it back out himself; At the antique store, creepy ventriloquist dummies chase the main characters because another toy wants to steal a voice box; Bo Peep has a bandage around her arm. At one point her arm falls off and she and Woody scream, but Bo plays it off as a joke because she just bandages the broken limb back on and her arm works fine; We see the dummies kidnap Forky and hold him captive; We see two plus toys jump off a store shelf and onto a woman’s face who panic and screams. It turns out this is just a suggested story they are telling another toy. We then see a variation of the same idea again. Then we see a person going about their day, and while they’re taking a bath, the two plush toys pop up from behind the tub and the scene ends there (it’s played for laughs); A toy grabs onto another toy’s pull string in order to pull their voice box out. It causes the toy’s back to rip a little bit and the box to start to get pulled out; A couple toys briefly get stuck under a carousel as it spins; A toy punctures an RV tire to let the air out (this happens off screen, but we see the toy with the nail afterwards); A ceramic sheep falls and one of its legs breaks off; A cat swallows a toy and then hacks it back up a few moments later. We see the toy, “alive,” and covered in clear mucous; Bo Peep hits other toys with her shepherd’s staff; The toys cause an RV to start and stop violently to delay it from leaving; Two plush toys grow huge while chasing a man and shooting lasers out of their eyes. It turns out to be a fantasy that one of them is telling to another toy; and other cartoon violence.