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Toy Story 4

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jun 19, 2019
'Toy Story 4'
'Toy Story 4'  

It's been nine years since we've gone on an adventure with Andy's toys, so it's time for the question that "Toy Story 4" is saddled with answering: Was it worth returning to this particular well for another outing?

Yes and no. Pixar has proven time and again that their brand of animation can mix childlike wonder and adult themes with a deft hand, and the new entry in the "Toy Story" franchise is no different. But it doesn't work as well as the prior third entries, primarily because the story dares to dive right into the existential fears of "Toy Story 3," but ditches that dirge for something that's just the right amount of fun.

Rather than transposing the personalities of the characters that we already know onto a new narrative, "Toy Story 4" takes great pleasure in introducing a cast of new ones. And as is Pixar's wont, they're all breathtakingly detailed and characterized by a crushing loneliness that they're unsure they can ever shake. So, take this chapter in the franchise as a nice addendum, even though it does open the door for plenty of other possibilities that don't seem necessary given the story's progression.

Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr & Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles & Estelle Harris) and the rest of the gang are happy with their existence as Bonnie's (Madeleine McGraw) toys, but something is eating at Woody. He's not being played with as much anymore, and he's incapable of working himself back into Bonnie's good graces. This becomes doubly true after Bonnie makes Forky (Tony Hale), a toy made out of a spork and pipe cleaner, and pays extra special attention to him. While on a family trip, Forky ejects himself out a window and Woody must bring him back. The toys aren't prepared for the adventures to follow, especially after the return of Bo Peep (Annie Potts) throws Woody's life into a tailspin.

At one point during "Toy Story 4," Woody catches sight of the lamp which Bo Peep frequented before being given away to another family. Behind him stands a pathway back to Bonnie's good graces and the other, a retreat into the past he once loved. Naturally, the sheriff opts for the latter and this sweeps him into a dangerous adventure the likes of which he's never seen before. Small moments like these give emotional weight to the proceedings, even when they're just fleeting glimpses of a film that's okay with just being enjoyable.

All the new characters in "Toy Story 4" are as well detailed as the original cast, too. Ducky & Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key & Bunny) are two plush animals given away as a prize at a carnival game, and their endless banter actually adds a laugh-a-minute irreverence that these films rarely rely on. Plus, in a story that's obsessed with watching animated characters question their own existence and their purpose outside of being played with by humans, players like Ducky & Bunny provide insight into the opposite end of the spectrum; toys who only want to be played with humans and constantly don't get that chance.

So, we finally arrive back at the original question: Was "Toy Story 4" really necessary? No, but we'd be lying a bit if we were resistant towards Disney's specific brand of nostalgia. For people who grew up with the original "Toy Story" movies, there's a wrongful sense of ownership and overprotectiveness of a corporate product we can't rightfully claim as our own. These stories are engineered for mass appeal, but they really soar when they intertwine emotional trauma and terror into the mix. And while "Toy Story 4" may not be the best at that type of subversion, it's kind of alarming to see how well Pixar is at in designing new stories without subscribing to what's relevant or hot in the cultural climate. Grab a loved one and, like Woody, retreat into the franchise's past, for it's still brimming with life.

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