Necessary is a word I’m starting to question whether or not the people in Hollywood know anymore. It seems for these past few years – if not longer – we’ve been in this cycle of reboots, sequels and re-imagining of Hollywood’s yester-year. Sometimes, reboots or a re-imagining can modernize a project which audiences are passionate about. They can be like IT: Chapter One and be utterly amazing. While sometimes they can be like Fan4stic and just be depressing. Some sequels are justifiable, as they push the mythos forward of characters we know and love. Sometimes they’re not. Yes, I’m looking at you, Transformers. With 2010’s Toy Story 3 it looked like we had seen the end of an era for our favorite toys. Chances are with that film, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room by the time the credits started. The perfect ending to a near perfect trilogy.
Plot twist, though there’s a fourth movie within the franchise. So gather around because Woody, Buzz, Jesse and the rest of the gang are back for another adventure. Also, a warning that this article may contain spoilers for Toy Story 3. Toy Story’s fourth adventure tells the story of Buzz going on a rescue mission to save the latest toy to the collection, Forky. Forky is a new kind of toy for the franchise to focus on. It’s exactly what it sounds for the most part. Forky is mainly a spork with a felt arms, google-ly eyes, play-doh facial features and pop sickle sticks for feet. In some ways, Forky is really the poster child for the majority of Toy Story 4’s narrative choices and themes. The film can be – and I want to really emphasize those words, can be – progressive.
This is the first time that we have seen the “kid”, or in this case Bonnie, actually make a toy. For the entirety of the franchise up to this point, we’ve always seen the kids within this universe play with factory made toys. With the film’s villain of Gabby Gabby, Binson and her small army of Ventriloquist dummies – the franchise can now add horror undertones to its impressive resume. There are several sequences with these characters that really feel as if the filmmakers drew inspiration from Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark? These sequences can be truly terrifying at times.
Not to mention that the filmmakers are demonstrate progression through the return of a familiar face in Bo Beep, played by Annie Potts. Beep, who hasn’t been seen in the franchise since 1999’s Toy Story 2, returns as the Wonder Woman of the franchise. Beep, previously heavily quiet and innocent, is pushed to new heights in her return. This character progression demonstrates the filmmaker’s commentary on our ever-evolving world of cinema and how audiences are in demand for strong female role models – both off the screen and on the screen. In an era of Black Widows, Captain Marvels and Wonder Women – it’s a nice addition to see a character like this grow into her own and really solidify herself within the franchise as more than just a pretty face.
With the old gang returning in Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, Tom Hanks’ Woody, and Joan Cusack’s Jesse, we are reminded why we love this franchise. However, it’s the additions of Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele and Keanu Reeves – which, once again, push this franchise into new comedic territory. As much as the film feels new and brings the characters to fresh elements – it’s the old tropes and elements of this franchise that bring a layer of predictability that keep it from total window beauty. The film is paced so nicely that as these new elements are added it in, it makes the story feel fresh. Though, it’s when the film reaches the final act that the seams start to come apart. The progression is returned with familiarity. The villain in Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby trades in her creepy and sympathetic nature for two-dimensional storytelling and lackluster villainy. Not to mention, an ending we’ve already seen several times within this franchise. The jokes grow stale and the heart is there – it’s just not beating until the final few minutes of the film.
Overall, Toy Story 4, is a strong entry into the famous franchise but it is in need of repairs. The film takes the characters into new territory. Thanks in part to a strong female presence in franchise familiar, Bo Beep, hand made toys in new character, Forky and even adding in family-friendly horror elements. By the film’s third act though, it may want to call Al the Toy Collector for some repairs. The film’s innovative roots are abandoned quickly for safety, franchise tropes and an emotionless villain. Toy Story 4 will still have you laughing, crying and remembering so hard why you fell in love with these characters to begin with.
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