Toy Story 4

Year: 2019
Production Co: Pixar
Studio: Disney
Director: Josh Cooley
Producer: Pete Docter
Writer: John Lasseter/Andrew Stanton/Josh Cooley/Valerie LaPointe/Rashida Jones/Will McCormack/Stephany Folsom
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Flea, John Ratzenberger, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Wallace Shawn, June Squibb, Don Rickles, Jeff Garlin, Laurie Metcalf, Mel Brooks, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton

I'm not entirely sure why I wanted to watch this film. It's totally not my genre, but there's something about the way Pixar are all so vocal about being so focused on story and character, I always find myself wanting to see if it adds up to anything or whether – as I suspect – Bob Iger had seen the stock price drop a bit and issued an edict telling them to make another Star Wars, Avengers: Infinity War or Toy Story in a goddamn hurry.

And look, the company does walk the walk – they employ a whole room of writers in a story department, they do five or six major drafts of every script, not just by rewriting it but by actually making an animatic and screening it to see what works and what doesn't, and I've heard the two credited writers talk about the gap between Toy Story 3 and this one simply being because they wanted to get the story right.

So in this case it's either that there's only so far you can take the concept of toys who are really alive without us knowing or they didn't actually put as much effort into the underlying concept as they want us to believe with the years of development and armies of story experts. Every Toy Story film, including this one, is essentially about the same thing – the toys being fearful of their owners growing up and not being interested in them anymore, coming to terms with it when it happens, finding a new kid, rinse and repeat.

When one of them leaves for whatever reason and there's a big emotional goodbye that has critics blubbering like little kids, it's a bit like the death of one of the autobots in the Transformers franchise – you know it's never going to stay that way very long in some forthcoming sequel.

Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang's kid Andy grew up to be college aged and gave his collection to little Bonnie at the end of the third film, and it's here we pick their story up as Bonnie prepares to go to kindergarten for the first time. Woody insists he has to go with her to give her some familiarity in this big, scary world, and he witnesses her make a new toy out of stick-on eyes, pipe cleaners and a plastic spork.

Sporky (Tony Hale) suffers from a constant identity crisis, wanting to throw himself back into any garbage bin he can find because that's where he came from. At the same time, Bonnie's family decide to go on a road trip in a giant campervan, and with Woody chasing Forky and trying to bring him back, chaos ensues.

Old tensions also bubble up when they discover (while at a streetside carnival) that the long lost Bo Peep (Annie Potts) has been living on the lam and having a great time, hiding at a roadside carnival and having long realised you don't need a kid to love you to have a full life.

Woody is drawn to Bo Peep's sense of freedom, but recruits her to rescue Forky when he finds himself jailed in a creepy antique store by a vintage talking Doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who wants Woody's working voicebox. She's aided by a gang of ventriloquist dummies, and Pixar animators mine them for all the scary potential in their jerky movements and dead-eyed expressions.

Meanwhile, the gang from the camper are trying to find everyone and bring them all back together before Bonnie realises who's missing or her parents leave for the next leg of the journey, and it's while sneaking around the carnival Buzz meets Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), an odd couple-like pairing of shooting stall prizes who haven't quite absorbed the rules around not revealing their true selves to humans.

There are plenty of jokes, some laugh out loud ones, and in a film this big not everyone has something to do – Buzz only gets a few action scenes and an amusing motif about listening to his inner voice, and as always it's kind of fun learning the rules of this universe, like the idea that an object only becomes sentient when a child believes it's a toy and invests love in it.

But the deeper themes we've all invested in this franchise are a bit the same after all these years, and with the animation long having become virtually indistinguishable from real life in this day and age we barely notice how amazing the visual invention is either.

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