DEVIN MEENAN, Arts & Life Editor—Sometimes you hear an idea that you so viscerally opposed to, you put it out of mind instantaneously, thinking it could only possibly end in disaster. Then you see the idea put into action, and find yourself pleasantly surprised by how wrong you were. This sums up my experience with Toy Story 4, best described as an epilogue to the preceding trilogy, and an effective one at that.
For better or for worse, the original Toy Story basically created the modern animated film, and such a legacy is deserving of a memorable send-off; if Toy Story 4 is indeed this series’ final chapter (which, granted, I wouldn’t put much stock in any Hollywood franchise definitively concluding these days), you could certainly ask for worse.
Screened this past weekend by the Denison Film Society (as part of a double feature with Detective Pikachu, though the less said about that one the better), Toy Story 4 is, naturally, set an undefined by seemingly short time after Toy Story 3, and reunites the staple characters of the series: cowboy doll Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), space ranger action figure Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the various supporting characters. Toy Story 3 itself ended on a rather conclusive note, with the toys’ owner Andy passing them off to the toddler Bonnie. However, there was a twinge of open-endedness there, and it’s that which Toy Story 4 capitalizes off of.
It would have been easy, and surely very tempting, to simply go through the motions with this film, for Toy Story is a tried and tested formula that consistently wins over audiences and critics alike.
Instead, the story plays around with the central concept of living toys, when Bonnie creates “Forky,” a spork with glued-on eyes and a pipe cleaner for arms, that comes to life despite not being manufactured like the other toys.
The film (wisely) doesn’t outright answer why or how it is that the toys come to life, but the character of Forky provides the film with an opportunity to pose some existential questions about the existence of its titular characters.
All the voice talent still shine brightly in their respective roles more than 20 years after their first appearance in the series, and the characters they bring life to have never looked better, likewise for the world they inhabit. While I still struggle if whether its superior to the aforementioned Toy Story 3 ending, the film culminates in what’s the most tear jerking conclusion in the series to date.
All this said, I do hope truly is the end for a film series that was a staple of our generation’s collective childhood, for the ending leaves little room for a continuation without narrative contrivance, and a direct sequel to 4 would undermine it’s ending entirely in a way this one skillfully avoided doing in regard to 3’s.