Toy Story 4
Josh Cooley (art department of Cars and Cars 2) takes the reins of the hugely successful Toy Story franchise in his first major directing role, bolstered by a script from original Toy Story writer Andrew Stanton and newcomer Stephanie Folsom. While most franchises never do this, let alone successfully, this is one of those rare, brilliant exceptions.
Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the Toy Story gang are back. They were passed down from Andy to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), so Woody is no longer the leader, a fact he is having a hard time adjusting to. In addition, Bonnie plays with him less and less. When Bonnie reluctantly goes to kindergarten, Woody takes it upon himself to make sure she's okay. On her first day, she creates Forky (Tony Hale) to help her cope, but the little guy doesn't understand his importance. Woody tries to teach him what he means to Bonnie, and along the way they meet new friends, old friends, and a deeper understanding of what's important and how things can sometimes change.
After the completion of Toy Story 3, it seemed that the franchise had been closed in an effective manner, and there was no longer any story to tell. Yet Stanton and Folsom managed to find a way to craft another poignant toy story. In a script that is insightful and sometimes surprising, they manage to take on love, loss, loyalty and bullying on a level that kids can understand and parents will appreciate. There are a few slow moments, but they don't last very long - certainly not long enough for anyone of any age to lose interest.
All of the original actors are so familiar with their roles that it's almost like they're not acting. Even though this is an animated film, the characters seem quite natural in their roles. New member Hale stands out as confused, innocent, neurotic from his first moments right up to his final scene. However, the best new character is Duke Kaboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves. Brief vocal performances by Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner and Betty White add to the charm.
As always, Pixar's animation is superb. The rendering is clean, movement is smooth, and action is easy to follow. Some of the backgrounds are stunning, especially the carnival shown in the main part of the story.
Toy Story 4 is a movie about change, accepting change, and finding the courage to do so regardless of your past. Despite some opinions that this film is just a money grab, the film strengthens the ending of the third installment and seems to close the door on the franchise forever.