Sequential Cinema – ‘Toy Story 4’ (2019)

The 2010s are a mixed bag for Pixar Animation Studios. After Toy Story 3, Cars 2’s abysmal reviews marked the first sign that Pixar as we had known it was fading away. This isn’t to say that the studio was out of original ideas.
Brave was the first leap into fantasy and the first Pixar Disney princess. Inside Out is a perfect reflection of the childhood psyche and depression. The Good Dinosaur was an odd prehistoric Western I enjoyed but failed to make a dent. Coco is a stellar film about family.

[Sidenote: Never try to trademark our Mexican culture ever fuckin’ again, Disney. Do not use Coco’s success to appropriate Mexican culture ever. I don’t care if it looks “cool,” don’t do it.]

Sequels and prequels seemed to be the name of the game during the 2010s. Monsters University was a prequel that was decent enough on its own. Finding Dory was a solid funny return to the ocean. Cars 3 is a better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be sequel. The world was finally given Incredibles 2 which turned out to be mid-level but fun as heck. That was all for Pixar and their sequel run…

OH COME ON NOW! Source: Disney-Pixar

Toy Story 4 was not expected in the sequel lineup at all. Those at Pixar did say if a good idea ever surfaced to continue, they would explore it. The idea came to the team of John Lasseter, Pete Doctor, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich late in 2014. After bringing in Rashida Jones and Will McCormack to write the screenplay, they began production. Yet, real-life circumstances came to the surface.

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that it’s hard to praise these movies because of Lasseter. His time would come to a close due to sexual harassment. Lasseter had been hugging, kissing, and making advances to others without their consent. There was an allegation of drunken behavior at parties. Women at Pixar would have to turn their heads away from him to avoid a kiss from him. They also covered their legs so he would not try to touch them.

Lasseter is an all-out creep. I don’t want to praise the man and I’m not going to. All the work and goodwill he had is out the window due to his misconduct and his violation of others’ spaces. Nobody should go to work with a complete monster and Lasseter is that monster.

Lasseter left the company with Jones and McCormack also out at the same time. This wasn’t due to unwanted advances from Lasseter as many reported. Rather, it was another issue at Pixar in tandem with the harassment.

“There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films. However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”

– Rashida Jones on her departure

Brave’s director Brenda Chapman became replaced. Coco had no real input from Latinx voices on staff for a good while. Pixar’s creative and writing teams are all men with no real directors. Dreamworks had a woman director before them with Kung Fu Panda 2’s Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Pixar got held accountable and is starting to get better with having a diverse range of voices. Hopefully, they stick to it. It took the biggest nudge to do so. Animator and writer Josh Cooley took over directing duties to bring the gang back to the screen.

Toy Story 4 is an epilogue to one character’s journey. Woody (Tom Hanks) is not played as much by Bonnie. After creating Forky (Tony Hale) at a Kindergarten orientation, the toys head out on a road trip. Forky gets lost and Woody tries to get him back to the RV. He stumbles upon an antique store with Forky to reunite with Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Woody teams with her to find a way back to the RV while Buzz also ventures out. Yet, Woody realizes this reunion could be a permanent one. Could he leave everyone for himself or will he remain in a closet unplayed with?

This film is fantastic even if seen as unnecessary to most people’s eyes. Toy Story 3 was all about accepting the end and starting anew. 4 is definitely about fulfilling the purpose sent and now focusing on one’s self. This is Woody’s retirement; this is his realized self ready to be with the love of his life, Bo Peep. It’s quite a beautiful sendoff to an iconic character (though I argue Buzz is even more so, but I digress).

It does abandon the promised end of Toy Story 3 with Bonnie told to love and care for Woody, invalidating the emotions of that scene. To me, I definitely see and agree with that argument. Yet, the sendoff works well and, to be honest, caught me off guard. It hit close to home.

Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (oversee the carnival as Woody contemplates staying with her. Source: Disney-Pixar

4 came out on my 27th birthday in 2019, but this was the last birthday I had before moving away to Arcata, Calif. to attend Humboldt State University. It was an on-and-off decade of college for me and finally fulfilling the one goal. Toy Story 4 I resonated with because Woody was leaving and I was too. I was leaving my friends and those I loved behind to finish a dream of mine. Even upon rewatching, I felt all the emotions I felt in that theater seeing it the first time.

[Sidenote: I’m a crier during movies. I even cried when Spidey got annihilated in Infinity War even though I knew he had a sequel lined up.]

The animation in this is incredible with its photorealism. The cat in the antique store doesn’t even seem like animation. It seems they filmed a cat elsewhere and inserted them into the realm. Nope, that’s a whole animated cat. The lighting, the scuff marks on the toys, and the water effects in the first scene saving RC are astounding.

Rc is stuck in the mud as the toys try to save them. The water effects, lighting, and photorealism are on full display in this sequence. Source: Disney-Pixar

The performances are top-notch with Annie Potts shining as Bo finally becoming a lead character. Potts nails the happy hero, the admiration for Woody, and her rebellious nature. I’m glad Potts gets more to do rather than regulated to the background with few lines in the first two films. The other standout is Keanu Reeves as Duke Kaboom.

2019 was the year of Keanu. John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum was him kicking all the ass. He had a memorable cameo in the sweet-if-predictable rom-com Always Be My Maybe. His appearance in Toy Story 4 solidified it with him going the extra mile to be a washed-up Candian motorcycle toy. It works as an Expy for the man himself with Reeves going goofy as heck in his performance.

The greatest Canadian toy Duke Kaboom as voiced by the greatest Canadian Keanu Reeves. Source: Disney-Pixar

I do appreciate the film not having a true villain, but rather a tragic antagonist at best. Gabby Gabby’s (Christina Hendricks) arc makes her seem ruthless when all she wants is a new voice for her broken voice box and admiration. It goes from being sinister at times (no thanks to her puppet lackey Benson) to pure tragedy in an instant.

The comic reliefs are okay for the most part. Hale’s Forky is fun, though it is a one-note joke for the most part. Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele’s Ducky and Bunny are a fun duo but do not get much to do. They do deliver the two biggest laughs in the film with their imagination sequences.

I present to you some of the scariest shit you will ever see as a joke in a Pixar film in the form of Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) growing large and decimating a carnival with their “Plush Rush.” Source: Disney-Pixar

What hampers the film would be the plot on the surface and the regulating of other characters to the background. The plot is somewhat of a retread of Toy Story 2. Bonnie’s toy gang and the rest are nothing but characters with not much else going on outside of one or two lines. It’s a shame there isn’t enough time in the spotlight for most of the favorites.

Toy Story 4 is a sendoff worth viewing even if unessential in the long run. It ensures that the story will no longer continue. This is all she wrote as a rare fourth entry that doesn’t suck.

Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Toy Story Series Sequence Complete

For our next series, I capitalize on the release of a new MCU Spidey movie by swinging back to 2002 with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy.

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