Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 poster.jpgDirector: Josh Cooley
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeline McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Jeff Garlin, Timothy Dalton, Jeff Pidgeon

To say Toy Story is beloved by many is an understatement. It's a film responsible for kickstarting Pixar, and computer-animated feature films, and gave us some of the most beloved characters in pop-culture, which especially includes Woody and Buzz. It led into one of the best trilogies in cinema, which reached a perfect ending 9 years ago, so to return for another feature film feels sacrilegious. How foolish we were to worry, as Josh Cooley's directorial debut feels like a natural epilogue which justifies its existence so darn well.

Struggling to adjust to not being Bonnie's favourite toy, Woody (Tom Hanks) decides to put his efforts into welcoming a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale). Made out of various utensils, Forky is Bonnie's new favourite toy, but the googly-eyed spork is uncomfortable with being anywhere outside of the trash. During a family road trip, Bonnie brings her favourite toys, but on the road, Forky and Woody get separated from the others. As they venture back, Woody crosses paths with an old friend, in the form of long-lost toy Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

After missing out the third instalment, Annie Potts makes her return as Bo Peep, as the characters gets much more to do than the rest of the franchise ever gave her. Having become a toy without an owner, she's gone through a lot since parting ways with Andy's toys, and has enjoyed her time being free, and helping any toys in need. As she reunites with Woody, the question hands whether it's possible for them to reconnect after everything, when Bo has become such a different person in that time. It's a touching story handled rather maturely, and Potts puts her all into the role. Most unsurprisingly, Tom Hanks is his ever-reliable self in portraying the same lovable role he's returned to since the '90s. All the character has known is making his kid happy, so he's lost between his desire to do that for Bonnie, and his joy at staying together with his long-lost love. Tim Allen is also reliable as Buzz Lightyear, even if he's saddled with a half-baked story about finding his inner voice.

When so many returning characters are beloved, it feels risky to add new characters to the tale, lest they feel like interlopers to the story. Thankfully, the newly introduced figures feel like natural additions. The most prominent is Forky, a trash-loving being who is unable to comprehend his place as a toy. Tony Hale imbues him with the right amount of awkwardness to sell the existential crisis he's having, while being a great source of humour, and downright adorable. He crosses paths with Gabby Gabby, a pullstring doll who wants to be loved by a child, but is hindered by her broken voice box. One can't get behind her actions, but the wonderful characterisation makes her an empathetic figure, with Christina Hendricks' voice work selling both the menace, and the vulnerability, of her character.

Considering what a fantastic career renaissance he's having, it makes utter sense that Keanu Reeves would pop up here. Fantastically selling every single one of his lines, he portrays Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil toy that doesn't live up to its advertisements. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele bring their brilliant chemistry as a pair of carnival plushes, making for a wonderful duo in Bunny and Ducky. Their inclusion is worth it for one comedic sequence, which unexpectedly goes to blackly hilarious places. Sadly, it feels like these great new inclusions come at the expense of franchise stalwarts, with figures like Slinky and Bullseye getting so little to do, that they may as well not be there. It's understandable when there's constraints such as Don Rickles' unfortunate passing, but it's especially sad when Joan Cusack gets so little to do as Jessie.

As it turns out, there was no need to be wary. A wondrous epilogue to a perfect trilogy, Toy Story 4 is full of heart, laughs, and emotion. If this series has reached its end, this is a strong place to leave things at, but at this point, I wouldn't count them out of delivering a fantastic fifth instalment.