Nine years ago, Toy Story 3 culminated in a perfect ending: a 17-year-old Andy (voiced by John Morris) finally move on to his next phase of life and donated all his favourite childhood toys to a little girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn). It was an emotional farewell that wrapped up the beloved Toy Story trilogy on a high note and personally, another sequel would be totally unnecessary.
And yet, here we are. Pixar apparently refuses to give up on one of their most lucrative franchises and went on with Toy Story 4 — a fourth instalment that frankly, should not have existed in the first place. Initially, I thought this is nothing more than a cash-grab of a sequel. But to my surprise, what could have been a sequel that nobody asked for turns out to be a solid entry after all.
This time, the story follows Woody (Tom Hanks) who is no longer in charge like he used to be at Andy’s back in the old days. Instead, he finds himself constantly left behind inside the closet while Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw, replacing Emily Hahn) choose to play with her other toys. However, it doesn’t take long before Woody finds a new purpose that makes himself useful. This is especially true after he discovers Bonnie’s self-made toy from her kindergarten nicknamed Forky (Tony Hale) is having a tough time getting used to his true identity as a toy.
Then comes a family road trip, where a series of (mis)adventures followed one after another. This includes a chance encounter with Woody’s long-lost love Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and a creepy visit at an antique store where a vintage doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) desperately wants something from Woody.
Josh Cooley, who previously worked as a storyboard artist for Pixar animated features such as The Incredibles (2004), Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015), does a good job as a first-time director with enough verve and pathos. Clocking at just 100 minutes, Toy Story 4 is packed with a brisk pace and economical storytelling that doesn’t waste time with unnecessary fillers.
It also helps that Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom’s script are both witty and heartfelt while exploring relatable themes of redemption, acceptance and of course, what it really means to be a toy in the first place. Such themes, which were already covered in the past Toy Story movies may have been familiar. But here lies the beauty of its thematic familiarity seen in a Toy Story movie: it is efficiently told that gets the message across without being preachy or emotionally cloying.
Toy Story 4 also benefits from a superb voice cast, with Tom Hanks exudes enough warmth to his beloved character as Woody. It is also nice to see Annie Pott’s Bo Peep back in the franchise again after missing in action in Toy Story 3. Then, there are franchise newcomers. This includes Tony Hale (of TV’s Veep and Arrested Development fame) as the self-doubting Forky, Christina Hendricks’ creepy antagonist turn as Gabby Gabby and Keanu Reeves, who clearly had a blast playing a Canadian stunt-rider Duke Caboom. Last but not least is Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele whose appearance as two carnival plush toys Ducky and Bunny provide a few worthwhile comic relief, particularly in an elaborate hilarious moment involving stealing a key from the owner of an antique store.
Sure, Toy Story 4 doesn’t exactly reach the emotional heights set by the third movie nine years ago while most of the returning characters (e.g. Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, Joan Cusack’s Jessie and Wallace Shawn’s Rex) are sadly relegated into background roles. And yet, this fourth instalment remains a must-see for every Pixar fan and moviegoers in general. Do keep in mind that Toy Story 4 doesn’t come with an animated short this time around but remember to stick around until the end for both mid- and post-credits scenes.