Monday 1 July 2019

Movie Review: Toy Story 4 (2019)

The fourth chapter in the animated saga of toys who come to life when kids are not looking, Toy Story 4 explores the courage to embrace life's ever-changing phases.

Nine years ago, Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) decided to remain loyal to his owner Andy and forgo the companionship of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who was boxed up and shipped out. Now Woody finds himself falling out of favour with his new owner Bonnie. He nevertheless helps her through the first day at preschool, where she creates a new toy Forky (Tony Hale) made from craft material briefly dumped in the trash.

Bonnie's family embark on a road trip, and Woody tries to educate Forky on his new role as Bonnie's favourite toy. But the confused Forky escapes the family RV, and Woody goes after him. The two end up at an antique store where Forky is grabbed by the bitter doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who has a broken voice box. Woody re-connects with Bo Peep, and with the help of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and motorcycle stunt toy Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), they have to rescue Forky and reunite with Bonnie.

The first trilogy arrived at a near-perfect ending, so re-launching the franchise nine years later was a calculated risk. Thanks to a clever and multi-layered script by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton, Toy Story 4 is a worthy addition to the adventures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and their pals. The film contains perfect doses of madcap adventures, sharp humour, new toys, as well as lessons in friendship and loyalty. And this time Woody's strong value system is challenged in new and unexpected ways as his emotional landscape changes again.

The main new theme arrive courtesy of Bo Peep, who has embarked on a life of freedom and independence away from serving a child's happiness. She is exploring the world on her own terms and having plenty of fun doing it. In addition to the forceful message of female strength and empowerment, her unapologetic stance is completely at odds with everything Woody knows and stands for. But gradually, combined with Bonnie confining Woody more frequently to the dark closet and playing with other toys, Bo Peep's lifestyle starts to make a lot more sense.

Director Josh Cooley also has another interesting narrative thread to pursue. Gabby Gabby is introduced as the villain of the piece, her entourage of ventriloquist doll goons prime candidates for inducing nightmares among young viewers. But the film's commitment to delving beneath superficialities is laudable, and Gabby Gabby has her own backstory and quest to fulfil. Woody is again faced with an exceptionally difficult decision to make, and once again his current status relative to Bonnie will influence his actions.

Visually Toy Story 4 continues to achieve new levels of excellence in computer animation, and the screen is often rich with crisp content and stunning details. Various intriguing settings afford the animators opportunities to flex their muscles, from the RV's interior to expansive carnival grounds teaming with activity. The ramshackle antique store emerges as the film's most memorable locale.

While all the old favourites are here and Bo Peep's promotion to a strong female central role is a welcome boost, the series refreshes the toy line-up with some new arrivees. Most prominent and marketable is the insecure Duke Caboom, a Canadian stunt rider rejected by his first owner because Duke could not live up to his extravagant television advertising exploits.

An excellent use of nostalgia to push into brave new territory, Toy Story 4 builds upon tradition to thoughtfully challenge the status quo.

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