Can’t all sequels be like “Toy Story” installments?
This summer already delivered three lackluster sequels -- “Dark Phoenix,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “MiB: International.” Each clearly had “franchise extension” stamped on them.
“Toy Story 4” may be another “cash grab” on paper. It’s still so full of joy you’ll gladly hand over those sawbucks. Yes, 2010’s “Toy Story 3” “ended” the saga in Kleenex-clutching fashion. The fourth film also offers a graceful finale, even if we’re now rooting for more.
Woody and the gang are back, but this time Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw ) is their devoted owner. She took the toy baton from Andy in the last installment, and it appears to have been a smooth transition.
Young Bonnie is off to school for the first time, and she eases her nerves by creating a new “toy” named Forky (Tony Hale). Yes, he’s a plastic spork with pipe cleaners for arms. You’ll soon love him as much as Bonnie does.
Tom Hanks’ Woody bonds with Forky for pragmatic reasons. Bonnie needs him, and that’s all this toy needs to hear. So when she misplaces Forky Woody risks everything to find him. That leads him back into the arms of Bo (Annie Potts), the porcelain doll who left the toy story gang in the film’s prologue.
FAST FACT: The original “Toy Story” earned $191 million back in 1995. The 2010 sequel “Toy Story 3” generated $415 million.
There’s a point early in “Toy Story 4” where you doubt the storied Pixar formula. Is the plot really driven by a confused spork? Was this a foolish attempt to extend an otherwise grand franchise?
The series’ signature humor is just warming up. You’ll be giggling, if not guffawing, soon enough. It’s all a brilliant set up for a sophisticated coda, though, the kind more live-action movies should share.
“Toy Story” movies never work on just one elemental level. Here, that means watching Bo’s independent streak clash with Woody’s stoic nature.
- Is the miniature lawman wasting his life at the whims of a fickle child?
- When does loyalty come at a price too high to pay?
- Do tortured souls deserve redemption?
The messages bubble just below the surface, often through rich running gags. Take ol’ Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), eager to follow what his “inner voice” tells him.
You’ll smile every time that joke repeats.
The film, a byproduct of our increasingly woke age, throws us one maddening curve. Yes, Bo’s feisty spirit charges the story and the franchise, all for the better. Potts provides the perfect foil for Woody, granted so much texture by Hanks once again.
That’s not the issue.
Several times Bo emasculates poor Woody in no uncertain terms. Now, Hanks’ toy character is a far cry from John Wayne despite the western duds. Still, he deserves more respect than to be treated like a straight white male at an Identity Politics seminar.
You’ll think you’re watching Oscar Isaac getting berated all over again in “The Last Jedi.”
What were they thinking?
Otherwise, the film hits precious few snags. The new characters, from Keanu Reeves’ Evel Knievel-like racer to “Key & Peele’s” fuzzy scene stealers, all smash their targets.
“We Can-ada!” the toys cry when Reeves’ Duke Caboom revs up his motorcycle. It’s … perfect.
Now, those yellow Minions already squandered their stand alone features from the “Despicable Me” franchise. You’ll wish Team Pixar would try the same with Duke and co.
— Toy Story 4 (@toystory) June 14, 2019
A quick word about the animation.
We’ve been spoiled by the artists who bring CGI animated fare to life. Revisit the original “Toy Story” to see what top-tier animation once looked like.
“Toy Story 4” is a wonderland, a stunning collection of set pieces so lifelike you’d swear you’re watching a flesh and blood story take place. It’s never a distraction, though. The dazzling CGI allows you to fully invest in the story, the characters.
You can’t help but notice, though.
Imagine how glorious Pixar movies will look in 10 years from now. Maybe just five.
For now, feast your eyes on another rich tale of toys who reveal the human experience better than 98 percent of live-action characters.
HiT or Miss: “Toy Story 4” makes us wish other studios poured as much cinematic love into their work as these Pixar magicians.