Movie Review: ‘Toy Story 4’

Plot: Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the gang are enjoying renewed appreciation at the hands of their new owner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). However, change is coming as Bonnie is about to begin Kindergarten. After Bonnie builds a toy called Forky (Tony Hale) in order to cope, her family sets out on one last summer road trip before school starts. However, Forky isn’t that keen about being a toy as the rest of his cohorts. When Forky escapes, Woody must track him down and return Forky to Bonnie. Along the way Woody reconnects with his old pal Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and must deal with talking doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who aims to steal Woody’s voice box.

Review: There have been plenty of great movie franchises over the years that ended on high notes. Doc Brown wishing Marty McFly a fond farewell as he begins another adventure through time. Indy and his Dad riding off into the sunset. (Before you hit the comment button yes I know Crystal Skull exists.) Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, R2D2, and C3P0 celebrating the destruction of the Empire in the Ewok village. (Again I know there is a sequel trilogy, just go with me here.) Nine years ago I thought Pixar’s Toy Story franchise had achieved just that with the conclusion of Toy Story 3. Woody, Buzz, and the gang had experienced one last play session with Andy before he ceded his toys to Bonnie. It was the perfect capstone to an excellent trilogy.

Because of that last, I was surprised when Pixar unveiled they were going to release a fourth Toy Story film. It seemed unnecessary and the concept of a spork that becomes a toy just wasn’t registering with me. Nevertheless, Pixar possesses a stellar track record, so I went into Toy Story 4 with relative confidence.

About twenty minutes into first time director Josh Cooley’s film I couldn’t help but think of another movie franchise, Jurassic Park, specifically the great Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm. In the first film he makes the famous statement, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” It’s clear that Pixar could (and did) make Toy Story 4, but the real question is should they have?

The answer to that is a categorical “No.”

I am simply in awe of how mindbogglingly mediocre Toy Story 4 is. Bland, basic, lacking the heart of the previous three films, and frustratingly unnecessary, Toy Story 4 represents a huge misstep for Pixar and arguably their worst film since Cars 2.

Toy Story 4‘s failing has little to do with Cooley’s direction (which is adequate), the animation (which is top-notch), or the voice work (which is good). Rather Toy Story 4 fails utterly when it comes to the story and screenplay. What’s perplexing about that fact is that the screenwriter, Andrew Stanton, wrote the previous three Toy Story films as well as Monster’s Inc., A Bug’s Life, and Finding Nemo. Consequently I’m at a loss to understand why Stanton’s script could be this average.

Three main issues stymie the story. The first stems from the new toy Forky and the inherent message that his story arc tries to convey. Although I respect Tony Hale, his Forky comes off annoying rather than endearing, constantly making weird noises like my four year old and consistently trying to throw himself in the trash (a gag that gets old very quickly) because he doesn’t want to be a toy. However, Woody recognizes how important Forky is to Bonnie’s adaptation to Kindergarten and keeps trying to save him. The lesson that Forky’s story implies, and to a lesser extent Bo, is that who you are isn’t defined by what you are supposed to be but rather what you choose to be. While an excellent message in and of itself, it’s something that’s been done a million times before and Toy Story 4 doesn’t present it in a fresh or interesting manner.

The second problem involves who the story chooses to focus on, which is mainly Woody and Bo Peep. While Annie Potts gives an excellent performance and demonstrates to Woody that you don’t have to have an owner to be happy, an inordinate amount of time is dedicated to this story-line. As a consequence other toys we’ve grown to love over the last quarter century like Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Jessie (Joan Cusack), get summarily pushed to the side. Hell even Tim Allen’s performance as Buzz amounts to little more than a supporting role. The core group’s diminished screen time negatively effects the film and while newcomers Ducky (Keegan Michael-Key), Bunny (Jordan Peele), and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves in a stellar performance) fair well, they can’t hold a candle to the OG toys.

Lastly, Toy Story 4 lacks a strong villain. Each of the first three Toy Story films utilizes a dynamic villain whether it’s the sadistic Sid, the money hungry Al, or the duplicitous and deceitful Lotso. With the fourth outing we get Gabby Gabby, a toy that seeks to possess Woody’s voice-box so a child will take her home. However, Christina Hendricks’ character never demonstrates any level of malevolence that makes her feel like a threat. Indeed she comes off more annoying than evil and even her ventriloquist dummy henchmen feel hokey rather than threatening. Additionally, Gabby Gabby’s story arc represents the very nature of entitlement. Her journey tacitly implies that you can take anything you want from other people even if it causes them pain, and not suffer any negative consequences. Indeed Gabby Gabby’s bad behavior ultimately gets rewarded. Look I don’t mean to come off as some moral authority, but this seems like a bad message to send kids.

I’m keenly aware that my take on Toy Story 4 doesn’t line up with most people. It currently holds a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and captured an “A” Cinemascore. I feel like someone who’s watched a completely different film than the majority of viewers. That’s OK. Movie reviews are at the end of the day opinions only and your mileage may vary.

I think what bothers me the most is that Toy Story 4 isn’t a bad film. In fact I would almost prefer that it was bad. As it stands however Toy Story 4 dwells firmly in the valley of mediocre.

And that’s just sad.

My rating System:

0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
3 Bad
4 Sub Par
5 Average
6 Ok
7 Good
8 Very Good
9 Great
10 A Must See

Toy Story 4: 5/10