The third movie could easily have been a satisfying farewell to a series that’s brought much joy over the years. So, do we need a Toy Story 4, and is it worth playing with?
They grow up so quickly. Young Bonnie, the recipient of Andy’s most treasured toys when he departed for college in Toy Story 3, is about to head off to kinder. Despite his being relegated to second tier in the favourite toy hierarchy, with Dolly and Jessie ruling the plaything roost, Woody remains stoically loyal to his organisational ways. Reading Bonnie’s reluctance he does all he can to help her deal with the big life change, which leads to somebody new in need of the Woody touch.
His name is Forky. He’s a creation made at kinder by Bonnie with some secret help from a Woody bin raid, consisting of an icy pole stick, pipe cleaners, a glob of plasticine, mismatched boggle eyes and a spork. When he’s brought home, meets the other toys and realises that he’s become sentient, it’s existential crisis time. He’s trash, right? As such, he keeps making beelines for nearby rubbish receptacles. Woody tries to explain the toy code: If a kid writes their name on you and treats you as a toy, then you’re a toy, kiddo. But Forky ain’t buying it.
Cue a road trip, a Forky bid for freedom, and a Woody rescue mission. It’s here that our cowboy pal comes across old flame Bo, living an independent, kid-free life and loving every minute of it. With the help of her crew and a few fairground and antique shop ringers, can they reunite an almost inconsolable Bonnie with Forky? And can Woody find purpose now that he’s no longer the king of a kid’s rodeo?
If you’re of the belief that this is another movie for kids then, much like Woody has to carry out on Forky, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. Toy Story 4 is not a movie that was made for kids. Maybe for those who were young when the first Toy Story came out back in 1995, but all the nostalgic nods – even throwing back decades earlier to the likes of Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Canada’s greatest stuntman (and obvious nod to those Evel Knievel stunt bikes that didn’t do anything in real life remotely like they did on the ads) – seem purpose-built to stir nostalgic adult pangs for their simpler, younger days.
The other three films were as much about the kids who played with the toys as the toys themselves, and that has changed here. Bonnie takes a backseat, and there are none of those wondrous scenes of a kid’s imagination running wild while playing out elaborate tales with their disparate collection of toys. Many of the favourites – Slinky Dog, Rex, Hamm, the Potato Heads, even Buzz Lightyear – also take quite the backseat this time around.
Some new characters, such as cheeky fairground prizes Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) give some fluffy relief for younger audiences, as do occasional action outbreaks, but generally this isn’t the sort of movie to retain the average kid’s attention. We know, we were at a screening with average kids. Wriggling, restless average kids.
All of this is not to say that Toy Story 4 isn’t a good movie – it’s often quite stunning. But Pixar in recent years have been moving away from that broad kid/adult appeal that they more or less invented with animated features, favouring trips into deeper, often darker territory. Maybe it’s because, like all of us, the Pixar people are getting older? At least others, particularly Illumination (who simply do not get the respect that they deserve), have filled the space quite neatly.
So, get a babysitter in for the night and take a favoured adult to Toy Story 4 and you’re sure to have a nostalgic, funny, poignant and feels-inducing trip of a time. The action figures, colouring books and myriad other products of the Toy Story marketing machine will keep the kids busy.
In cinemas: June 20, 2019
Starring: The voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts
Directed by: Josh Cooley