The question on my lips when Toy Story 4 was announced was: why? Toy Story 3 seemed like the perfect finish to a trilogy that never made a misstep. As the film ended, the sight of Woody, Buzz Lightyear et al with their new owner, Bonnie, as their original one, Andy, drove off to college, felt beautifully definitive. What could another instalment add? Why mess with perfection?
Now Toy Story 4 has arrived, I’m glad to report there’s nothing to fear. While it doesn’t offer anything particularly fresh story-wise, or boast the emotional heft of its immediate predecessor, it’s a breezy, gag-stuffed ride, bursting with colour, boasting eye-popping marvels at every turn.
In fact the Toy Story movies have never looked better. Thanks to advances in computer technology, this latest episode makes the ground-breaking first film of the series, from 1995, look like cave art. Compare the new film’s cat with Spike’s dog in Toy Story, and you’ll see what I mean.
Visually, it lays out its stall in a pre-title flashback set during a storm. The rain, which almost washes away a toy car left out in Andy’s drive, is so photorealistic you’d swear it was actual water. We learn more about the circumstances of a character’s disappearance between parts two and three, and Woody’s refusal to accept a hard reality that comes with being a toy.
Nine years later, Woody is the least played with of all the toys. He waxes nostalgic about his relationship with Andy but Bonnie just isn’t into him. When she goes to kindergarten for the first time, Woody hitches a ride in her backpack and watches as she crafts a figure out of a spork. “Forky” springs to life, but thinks he’s trash, giving Woody a way to be useful to Bonnie by making him see that he is a toy, too.
The film is all about growing up, adapting to new situations, and finding new paths. It’s clever, and very funny in parts, largely thanks to new characters such as Ducky and Bunny, and Keanu Reeves’ Canadian stunt rider Duke Caboom. And yet, for all its many virtues, I couldn’t shift the feeling that its makers were often just reworking old characters and situations. Toy Story 4 is a joy, but maybe this really should be the end.