The toys are finally back, and so is Pixar.
There's no doubt that nostalgia is a valuable commodity in today's marketing landscape: 80's movies and TV settings and of course Disney's endless 'live-action' remakes. And when a franchise is as close to your heart as Toy Story (and Lion King for that matter) it's right to feel sceptical heading into the fourth film of a trilogy. I thought the golden age of Pixar was over and that they should have left Toy Story alone. And I'm so happy they proved me wrong.
From the first photorealistic frame you can feel that Pixar is back in their stride. I say photorealistic, but the real world doesn't even look this good. Already pioneers in the CGI animation space, Pixar have clearly outdone themselves - specifically with their beautiful lighting, water and character animations. They also play with unique camera lens focal lengths to give a 'smaller' and sometimes soft, dreamy feeling to the film.
Woody (as always) is the star of the show - there a few scenes don't feature him or characters talking about him. This isn't a bad thing, but I would have loved to see more from our other favourites: Buzz and Jessie take the backseat for most of this adventure. The new star, Forky starts kinda soulless, but might be your favourite by the end (kinda like the point of the movie).
The Toy Story series has always tackled the themes of finding your life purpose and personal values. A toy only feels valuable when they are bringing joy to child. Toy Story 4 adds another layer of existentialism that is rare for a children's film. From "You are a toy" to "Why am I a toy?" As you can expect (in typical Pixar fashion) this story is packed full of heart and might make you cry (but you're an adult and you can't cry in front of all these kids, keep it together).
The film never feels weighed down by its depth, always being as colourful and buoyant as you'd expect. The hilarious comedy (and there is a lot of it) is only achievable with its stellar voice acting. The usual cast (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen) are great, but the newcomers (Key and Peele as two plush toys and Keanu Reeves as an action figure) are brilliant. Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is the highlight and a perfect addition to the gang, with incredible charm and wicked skills. There are also some truly scary moments - causing children to scream and cry in the cinema, increasing the enjoyment for others.
As with other Toy Story films, the character's motivations can sometimes seem too inflexible and a bit repetitive. And like other animated films, the plot usually takes the reigns and brings the characters along for the ride ("we need to get the thing to go to the place to get the other thing"). I would have loved to see a more spectacular third act (like the epic chases in the three films before), but the finale is still breathtaking and memorable.
This film feels like Pixar has really returned to form. It's a visual marvel, incredibly emotional, but most of all: fun. I'm sure they'll announce Toy Story 5 someday down the track, and when they do - this time I'll be very happy.
Review by Tim Goodwin.