Perhaps you’d expect the Disney machine to milk its “Toy Story” franchise to death, especially with the arrival of “Toy Story 4.” Most animated films can take no more than a second installment before they jump the shark.
Somehow, the ongoing and updated tales of a group of toys has managed to avoid those pitfalls and turn out a quality series of films, due in large part to the talented cast, hardworking crew, imaginative animators, and earnest writers. Part four explodes with the very thing on which Pixar built its foundation: a goldmine of creativity.
The sweet-natured adventure finds Woody (Tom Hanks) and gang living with their new kid, Bonnie. When Bonnie’s homemade spork-with-googly-eyes craft project Forky (Tony Hale) becomes her new favorite, Woody takes it upon himself to show the new guy the ins-and-outs of being a good toy. On a family road trip, Woody unexpectedly reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) after Forky is taken captive in an antique store. Soon after, a rescue mission is underway.
Beloved favorites including Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) are back (if mostly in limited roles), and there are a few new introductions that range from genuinely funny (Keanu Reeves as Canadian stunt cyclist Duke Caboom is hysterical, as is the slightly neurotic Forky) to a bit out of place and annoying (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as stuffed carnival duo Bunny and Ducky, but they grow on you; Ally Maki‘s grating Giggle McDimples never does) to downright creepy (Christina Hendricks as a vintage ginger doll with a broken voicebox, Gabby Gabby).
Even the worst characters have accomplished actors bringing them to life. The pitch-perfect voice talent ranks right up there with the animation, and may even be the main reason this film succeeds. It’s a rare occurrence when a movie character becomes truly iconic, and even more so when it’s a character in an animated film. But such is the case with Sheriff Woody — this could become the role for which Tom Hanks is most remembered.
The animation is terrific, with a fully realized world of toys brought to life. Just when you think the craft of animation can’t get any better, something like this comes along and it just blows your mind. I’d give this one a re-watch solely for the sheer beauty of the coloring and detail. It’s handsome in a way that casual moviegoers will recognize, but animation nerds will savor with glee.
The same can be said for the original score by Randy Newman. The music is absolutely wonderful, capturing a world full of curiosity, wonder, and whimsy. I’ve already downloaded the soundtrack, and it should be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
What really makes the movie tick is the simple, heartwarming story of friendship that’s tinged with a hint of the bittersweet reality of growing up and moving on. There’s a sincerity here that can’t be faked. It’s also laugh out loud funny and never once takes the lazy way out when going for a sight gag or joke. (Stay around for the closing credits or you’ll miss even more belly laughs). Writers Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom stick to a basic outline, but their script is funny and genuine, even if the emotionally rich themes will likely resonate more with adults than little ones.
The care that was put into making this film leaps off the screen and, despite a few minor flaws, it’s almost everything you’d ever want in an animated movie. As Buzz himself would say, “Toy Story 4” soars “to infinity and beyond.”