TOY STORY 4 is here. The surprise film that nobody expected from the house of the lamp is really hoping you’ll bypass the question that everyone seems to be asking: WHY DOES THIS EXIST?
Ironically, or perhaps on some mega deep level even intentionally, that just so happens to be the exact point of this latest at-bat for Pixar. No, not a deep dive into the inevitability of Hollywood sequels but, rather, the matter of the existential crisis.
What’s been really great and perhaps unprecedented about the TOY STORY franchise is that this film and its characters have been allowed to grow with their original audience. And so figuring out your place in the world after you thought you had it figured out is a pretty fresh take for the audiences that grew up with these films. First and foremost, it started in 1995 with the idea of Toys being alive and then continuing on with themes of abandonment and moving on (TOY STORY 2) to growing up and moving on (TOY STORY 3). After such a tear-felt and perfect summation to the story lines in the last film, another TOY STORY honestly begs the question… WHY DOES THIS EXIST??
What Pixar has done is taken the very essence of that question and thrust it upon not just the headline-grabbing new character Forky (an arts and crafts project voiced by actor Tony Hale) but also on the characters we’ve known literally of the course of the past two and a half decades. It’s a theme that should slot in quite well with the original young fans of these films who are now pushing into and through their 30s — an age in which the question is asked at least once “WHAT IS MY LIFE?”
For Forky, the journey becomes a matter of coming to grips with his preconceived notion of previously existing as items of trash and finding new purpose as a favorite toy. For Woody (voiced again by effortless Tom Hanks) and the gang it’s even deeper than that. With themes bordering on empty-nest syndrome and even the en-vogue trend of crippling self-deprecation, there’s a lot of ways in which audiences will connect with the struggles of the heroes… and even the foes!
Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) returns into the fold as the same feisty and strong leader we knew from before and is joined by several toy box favorites along with newcomers including the hilarious Bunny and Ducky voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, sassy Giggle McDimples voiced by Ally Maki, ambitious Gabby Gabby voiced by Christina Hendricks, and several more including a noteworthy cameo by Keanu Reeves as Canada’s favorite stunt action hero Duke Caboom.
Aside from the continuing story arcs, there’s the matter of the incredibly stunning advancement of the Pixar craft. The dusty antiques shop where a lot of the key action for the film takes place is giving me an allergy attack just thinking about the several ways in which the talented artists developed new ways to render dust in all forms including dust bunnies, sticky ground dust, grimmy oily dust and more. Texture mapping is incredible here with the softest most immaculate detail on the plastic texture of Woody’s skin, a skunk’s faux fur and so much more. Truly, the gang has never looked better.
What’s perhaps most surprising about this film is how FUNNY it is. By far, this is the humorous film in the franchise and while it didn’t round out the feels with any tears, it felt like a satisfying journey that was well worth the effort. And you better stay until the very last second of the film until the theater house lights come on. There’s some pay off in those final screen moments that had everyone in our theater cheering.
TOY STORY 4 is now now playing in theaters.