Great until the final moments
Toy Story 4 (2019): When a new toy called "Forky" joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.
I've always had a strong connection with the Toy Story franchise. The first 2 were my most-viewed animated films in my childhood, and I was lucky enough to have Toy Story 3 release the summer I was heading off to college, adding even more emotional wallop to easily the greatest ending in any Pixar film. (I think that's a safe assumption even with my biases.) The ending of Toy Story 3 is one of the most emotional moments I've ever seen in a film, period. It is the definition of a perfect conclusion. So, when Toy Story 4 was announced, to say I was skeptical that it would be nothing more than a cynical Disney cash-grab is an understatement. But…. I was genuinely impressed with most of the end result. Up until the final 5 minutes, I'd even say it was a grand time. The story is simple, the animation is fantastic, the film features one of the best female leads I've ever seen in a Pixar film, and even cynical Joe, looking for reasons to say this film doesn't deserve to be in this near-and-dear franchise, couldn't find any in the first 90 minutes. But then, the ending happened.
Ok, positives first. The best thing this film has to offer, by a considerable margin, is Bo Peep. Initially the only female toy in this entire franchise, (ya, the first Toy Story doesn't even pass the Bechdel test) then completely MIA in Toy Story 3, Bo Peep makes a triumphant return in Toy Story 4. Her character is the strong, independent female lead that this franchise so desperately needed yet hasn't really seen to this point. (Jesse in Toy Story 2 is the closest thing, but even she had, and still does, for that matter, severe limitations with a surprising lack of personal identity, despite one of the most emotional montages in a Pixar film.) Bo Peep is not only intelligent, witty, and resourceful, she is the undisputed leader for much of the second and third act, covertly taking on the role of Woody for much of the film as he can merely follow her around. It's a beautiful character and story around her, while not being in-your-face about it. Love it. The new characters are also fun and engaging (even though we spend entirely too much time with them over the existing characters, something cynical Joe thinks was corporate-mandated to sell merchandise and appease the Supreme Mouse Overlord) with Key & Peele (Ducky & Bunny) leading the way and putting their unique and welcomed stamp on yet another major IP. Also, Keanu Reeves. 'Nuff said. The "villain" of this film, Gabby Gabby, (Christina Hendricks) is also dynamic and interesting. (Definitely more interesting than Lotso in Toy Story 3.) She fits into the overall world perfectly, with her motivations lining up with the likes of Woody and the rest of the core characters in an intriguing way, culminating with a great emotional moment that SHOULD HAVE been the finale of this film. But it wasn't.
Instead, the film goes on for another 5 minutes and finishes with one of the most abrupt, frustrating, about-face transformations for a significant character in this franchise that even the Game of Thrones writers would scoff at. (Seriously, the turn from Daenerys was less abrupt than this.) It's a depressingly cheap emotional string pull from screenwriter Andrew Staunton, eliciting an ugly cry simply to elicit an ugly cry, while also cheaply setting up a potential Toy Story 5. It single-handily brings down the entire film for me, and since it is the actual final moment it will be the one that sticks long after finishing this review. I've been struggling to think of a worse ending to a Pixar film than this, and for it to happen in my beloved Toy Story franchise makes it all the more frustrating. Also, the toys interact with their environment faaaaaaaaaaar more in this film than they did in previous installments, which drove me bonkers. The toys even talk to their human counterparts, which led to cheap laughs, sure, but also broke any semblance of immersion. (Yes, I get that this is a world where toys come alive, but with how much they interact with their environment in this film there's NO POSSIBLE WAY a human would not have realized that this was happening. Maybe it's setting up a human counterpart storyline in Toy Story 5, which I'm not looking forward to.) The later, though, is an admittedly minor complaint, especially when compared to this dumpster fire of an ending.
While the journey is a blast, the destination is as frustrating as it gets with its infuriating conclusion. It's hard for me to think of anything else, but I'll try to....Bo Peep is a boss, and I'll certainly give it that. Gabby Gabby is very interesting, and Forky is a lovely and surprising new character to this franchise. And Key & Peele are great! Just..... brace yourself for a trainwreck at the end.
The Critique: A fun new cast of characters join the beloved Pixar franchise and deliver a fun new installment, despite an infuriating ending.
The Recommendation: Definitely fun for the whole family, as you would expect from a Pixar film.
My Number: 6.5/10 Almost Good
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