Our Favourite Films: Toy Story 4

toy story 4 index aI’m lucky that I wasn’t extremely attached to the storylines and characters of the previous three films because that enabled me to appreciate this one on its own.

Since I had recently re-watched ‘Toy Story 3’ the chyron noting that the opening scene was 9 years ago was confusing. The third came out in 2010 and Andy was 17, and the fourth came out in 2019. Was that the intent? But after the reminder that we’re picking up just shortly after the toys were adopted by Bonnie, it makes sense: Andy was 8 when Bo was passed on to someone else. It would probably be a long shot to hope that every comment about the film would be relating to the process Pixar lets each film go through before releasing them. This one is definitely among those that is reflective of the result of refining that strategy for over 20 years.

The Setup: There was a moment when Woody was ready to go with Bo, but changed his mind when he realises he would have to leave Andy. I thought that bit was quite touching that Woody couldn’t deny his purpose (to be there for his kid). There have been viewers who have a different take on the story points behind the quadrilogy, and while I think that the parenting allegory has its merits, as I see ‘2’ was more about allowing other toys to have a second chance (as Jessie, Bullseye, and The Prospector would have not had their chance to be appreciated in a museum if Woody would have returned to Andy), the specifics feel more of a reach. The fourth was still to the theme of ‘a toy is responsible for their child’. Woody has had experience with Andy going to kindergarten (even if its just for orientation) for the first time which Dolly would not have understood. If the sheriff had not tagged along to school to keep an eye on Bonnie, there would have been less of a chance the day would have ended well (since he does know her…even if it seems like he’s trying to be there for Andy all over again).

The Inciting Incident: Forky comes to life. Thing is, if Forky hadn’t become a sentient being Woody wouldn’t have had a chance to cross paths with Bo Peep and the bulk of the story points wouldn’t have happened. Yes, Woody would have probably still felt useful as the ‘keeper of Forky’ just in case he gets lost. It seems like the resistance of Woody getting his story told is more along the lines of the OTP (One True Pairing) or ‘BroTP’ (reserved for buddies) from a fan perspective as the ‘love interest’ (Woody’s ‘bro’ Andy) is no longer in the picture. This choice (not showing Andy except as a memory to help those who haven’t seen the previous two) made by Josh Cooley as the sole director focusing on the best version of the story rather than worrying about what the fans would think. Which is why I think this is an upgrade, compared to the previous 3.

I think I get where the hardcore (those who refuse to watch 4 because they believe 3 is enough for them) fans of the franchise are coming from. In a sense, this one is a beginning. We’re told of where Woody came from and how he has been handed to Bonnie. Lucky me, as I’m more of a story connoisseur rather than finding myself wanting a specific end (or start) of a character. This is probably why I didn’t end up irate as other viewers of ‘Homeland’ when the show did a number of pivots during its eight season run (though I did learn that technically each season they were starting fresh) or fell short of making a sequence feel authentic. This perspective also is what helps me accept people as they are, rather than who I see (or want them to be).

As for performances, I gotta hand my MVP award to Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as Bunny and Ducky. However, I can’t ignore Tony Hale as Forky. It’s a shame that we don’t get a series with the two (Forky gets one, though, in the form of: ‘Forky Asks a Question‘). Will I ever come across a Pixar film that isn’t impeccably cast? Maybe if I look into the ones that have fallen below my rating threshold. Yet, I doubt that I will find something that would warrant such an investment. The studio is good at what it does even with significant changes (like Pete Doctor stepping up as Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation) sweep through at the executive level. Even with small changes such as voice actors, viewers aren’t taken out from the experience. It wasn’t until I read Jamie Graham’s review that I found out that Bonnie was voiced by a different person (Emily Hahn does it in ‘3’ and Madeleine McGraw takes over in ‘4’).

I had read the script (interestingly there is also an incomplete transcript available) first, months before viewing the film, and thought that the film wouldn’t be able to offer anything new (or maybe would fall short as I have understood that there is a chance that my expectations wouldn’t be met). When I did eventually watch it, the experience was as I had hoped. It’s no secret that, to win me over, filmmakers just need to throw in enough comedy to help me make it until the end. Combine that with a solid story structure and dialogue, I’m happy to hand over a 8/10. That’s not to say that I always need comedy to make it to the end of the film. If its a drama, do drama. Just write the best version of the story and you should be okay. Even if I don’t end up as your viewer, you’ll easily find the ones that appreciate the kind of tone you’re going for.

Though there might be a chance that I might not bump up my rating of a film because of the audio commentary, I have been able to appreciate a film more after hearing the thought process of the director. The example that pops up would be Rebecca Miller’s ‘Maggie’s Plan’ and my interest was further piqued after hearing that the camera is used like an all-knowing character (kind of like having a person watching things unfold knowing every choice the character will make before they do and cheekily try to hurry things along). I was further delighted when I got to the commentary over one of the epilogues:

Josh: And here’s the real reason we made the movie right here, for this shot.
[both chuckle]
Josh: We just wanted to see this.
Josh: I love that the effects department came to me and said: “Hey, could we make it bigger? Can we add more stuff blowing up?”
Mark: “What do you you think of Ducky breathing fire?”
Josh: Yeah, and I said: “I don’t know. Will that be entertaining?”. Maybe we’ll try something.
[They snicker]
Mark: They went all the way.
Josh: I love it so much.
Mark: It’s great.

Probably my favourite laughs have been during ‘jump scares’ (Forky coming to life). The audio commentary also holds a lot of humour too, particularly the nods to ‘The Shining’ (which I haven’t read nor watched — the information I’ve picked up so far is quite enough based on those who have done so). I’m also glad that, during recent years, the viewing public gets to witness a bit of Keanu Reeves’ comedic chops. The only reason I checked out ‘Always Be My Maybe’ was to watch the scenes he was in (I was not disappointed). I know you’re probably going to throw in either ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ or ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’, yet I find myself preferring characters similar to Duke Caboom or Frank (‘Destination Wedding’) as they come across with more depth.

Other Comedic Highlights:

  • Forky’s existential journey: from trash to toy
  • When Ducky and Bunny daydream
  • Bo pranking Woody with her broken arm
  • Forky messing with Bonnie’s dad

Just like when ‘Soul‘ ended without an epilogue (technically there was one — but come on!), I thought: ‘Huh? That’s it!?’ What I didn’t do though is let myself grow bitter over the execution that Pete Docter and Kemp Powers decided. I respected their choice for the final edit. Of course that didn’t stop me from suggesting ideas for shorts and what I was hoping to hear during the audio commentary. It feels like Pixar really is honouring the story process, thought it is dissapointing when viewers don’t see a protagonist but rather a ‘main character‘. Which of course could be confusing because you can have lots of main characters but only one protagonist. I keep going to the example of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ as an excellent reference for writing (and executing) ensembles. There are multiple ‘main characters’ (Richard, Dwayne, Grandpa, Sheryl, and Frank) but only one protagonist (Olive). The difference between a 4/10 and a 8/10 could hinge on something as small (seemingly) as choosing a protagonist and sticking to that decision. Once a protagonist is selected, each of the ensemble members have to support the journey (in a negative or positive way). This means that it would be easier for the editor to decide on which scenes can go (or even dropping a scene as early as the screenplay stage if it doesn’t really help facilitate Olive’s journey. Dad checks in to see if she’s a winner but then later makes her doubt her choices (like liking ice cream). Mum just wants to be supportive and won’t let financial pressures hinder Olive from getting her chance to compete in the pagent. The older brother encounters a wall and (unknowingly) needs Olive to help him move forward. Grandpa is passing on his life lessons while Uncle Frank just needs something to lift him up enough as he grieves a number of disappointments.

What I forgot to do after watching the film for the first time was look into the extras (maybe it’s because when I was on Netflix, extras…weren’t really…anything significant), and after finding nice little gems as extras in ‘Toy Story 3’ (and yes…really…this is in Disney+), I decided to look in 4…and…oh….THE EXTRAS! What’s more is that there was the audio commentary! Just when I start lamenting about the price of the streaming service (should I decide to return in the future), I get reminded on how I could justify the expense. Though it does feel a bit like one of those subscription boxes (you really don’t know what you’re going to get — that it’s more of a gamble). If only I could go: ‘Hey Disney…I am not satisfied…I’d like my money back. Maybe when I try next time (in 6 months or five years) the content would be on par with what I expect from a streaming service.’ But…sadly that is not an option. Maybe once my month is done I might get a nice message: Would you like to renew for a complimentary two month membership? Maybe? Well see.

I think what’s missing with Disney Plus’ AI is suggesting extras…rather than titles. Or Extras becoming titles (okay…that probably would complicate things…so…strike that). But that matters little, because we’re looking at one specific title. It’s going to be an easy choice if you’re looking for a Blu-Ray to add to your collection even without watching it, if you’re going to have a steady stream of nieces, nephews, and kids parties (if you’re looking for something to occupy the little ones while they wait for their parents —- or if their parents drop them off earlier than expected).

Leigh Lim.
Find Leigh on Twitter / Leigh’s Tumblr feed / Leigh on Instagram

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