By JJ Donoghue
Creating a new Toy Story film in 2019 that genuinely meets expectations seems an unenviable,
almost impossible task. The franchise is of supreme importance to Pixar, given that the original Toy
Story film was Pixar’s first ever full-length release, whilst audience members and critics alike have
long held the series in adoration.
It is therefore no small praise to say that Toy Story 4 holds its own when compared to its
predecessors. The film begins where the last film left ended, as the original gang – Woody, Buzz
Lightyear, etc. – live with their new owner, Bonnie. But when Bonnie brings home a new, handmade
toy named ‘Forky’ and crafted from several miscellaneous pieces of rubbish, trouble is caused, as Forky
begins to have an internal crisis over whether his purpose is to be a toy or whether he is simply a
piece of trash. Whilst this plot echoes Buzz Lightyear’s existential crisis in Toy Story 1, the
similarity is to this film’s advantage. Rather than taking a risky approach and attempting to create
something avant-garde and overwhelmingly original, the filmmakers instead stick to a reliable
formula and execute it with deft and precision.
Another element of this franchise’s formula is its in-depth, meaningful humanisation of the toys, a
concept which is used effectively once again in Toy Story 4. Not only does Forky’s questioning of his
purpose mimic real human fears and doubts, but Woody also begins to ponder his own existence
and his internal disarray, caused because Bonnie is beginning to grow out of her need for him, just as
Andy did before. Though the previous films in this series have dealt with similar issues, these
questions never begin to feel tired or recycled. Instead, they feel as genuine and emotionally
poignant as they ever have, and allow this film to appeal to parents as well as their children.
What’s more, although there are similarities between Toy Story 4 and its predecessors, this film is
able to stave off any sense of staleness. Rather than allowing the story to be led by a group of
characters who are already extremely familiar, the focus instead is mainly on Woody and Buzz’s
interactions with a set of fresh, intriguing new characters who they meet on a road trip that
Bonnie takes with her parents. Whilst it is always something of a gamble in a sequel to limit the
screen time of beloved characters in favour of introducing original and untested ones, it is a gamble
that pays off in Toy Story 4, as the new recruits bring about some of the film’s most exciting
Forky’s quality of makeshift simplicity, created by the design of his facial features and his limited
communicative capabilities, lead to a surprisingly high level of hilarity, particularly in an early
montage in which Woody repeatedly has to prevent Forky from throwing himself into a bin.
The most interesting development in terms of new characters comes when Woody runs into a set of
unexpected circumstances at an old antique store. And, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, it is
simplest to say that this location is the introductory point of an old love interest and a new antagonist.
These new characters particularly allow the film to have a well constructed variety of emotion, as romance, sadness, fun and fear all flourish concurrently in their scenes.
Additionally, the introduction of Duke Kaboom, a motorcycle riding, stuntman type of toy, helps
deliver some of the film’s funniest moments, as well as its most captivating and exciting set pieces as
he helps Woody to escape the sinister minions in the antique store.
Meanwhile, the decision to cast comedic double act Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as a pair
of bad-mouthed, fluffy, animal toys who run into Buzz Lightyear at a carnival is flawless, even if their
running joke about a ‘plush rush’ becomes tiring.
Overall, this latest addition to the Toy Story saga meets the requirements of a successful sequel, in
that it manages to stay true to the foundations of its franchise while also bringing in new elements
that genuinely feel as though they belong. Toy Story 4 is a thoughtful and well realised film that is
able to bring together its multiple, disparate strands into a compelling, complete and satisfying
whole. The characters are given a real, convincing level of human depth, which shines through
particularly when Woody and Forky finally resolve their burning internal dilemmas in a cinematic
climax which is both heart-breaking and endlessly fulfilling. Ultimately, it is successful because it
captures and continues the magic and emotion which has made this series so uniquely special.