As a kid, the Toy Story movies were my favorite. Interestingly, Toy Story 2 may be what I quote the most of any movie. So I of course was excited for and loved 3 and thought it was a perfect ending. But when Toy Story 4 was announced, I, like most people was confused why there needed to be another one. I didn’t know where these characters could be taken that made sense narratively. I thought it was a bad idea to make another one, but knew that I would be in the theater to see it opening night. So when I saw it, two things happened: my suspicions were confirmed, and I was blown away.
While this movie is definitely in the bottom half of the rankings of Toy Story films, it is definitely still very good. It might even be great. But there are a few problems that keep it from being a uniformly excellent film.
This movie doesn’t work when humans are too close to the toys. Much of it takes place at a small carnival where the toys are intervening more than they ever have before. My suspension of disbelief was being tested and stretched more than in any other movie in the series. In addition, the story is just not as gripping as it has been in the past. This isn’t to say that the themes aren’t powerful – because they are very powerful. It is just very obvious this is a different writing team than in past films.
But this film has so much going for it. Before you even get any sort of hint about what the story is, you will be struck by the brilliant animation. It is easily the best it has been in the series. At some points it even reminded me of something like the Paddington movies. It seems like they animated the characters and put them in a real life setting.
With the real life setting comes real life feelings, emotions, and themes. Where this film fails narratively, it succeeds thematically. There is so much packed into the story, and something is bound to reach you as an audience member, no matter your situation in life. It gets into existential questions, parent-child relationships, friendships (as with any Toy Story movie), and most powerfully, belonging.
This film’s biggest strength is how it portrays the relationships between the toys. While in 3 – and a large percentage of the rest of the series, for that matter – deals with Woody’s desire to get back to Andy, 4 changes it up. This is a movie that will have you feeling a lot more for some plastic toys than you will for humans in other movies. And the importance of that characterization goes to infinity, and beyond.