Toy Story 4 (2019)

2019 #101
Josh Cooley | 100 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | USA / English | U / G

Toy Story 4

Last weekend, with dull inevitability, Toy Story 4 won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. Of course it did — in the last decade, the award has gone to a Disney or Pixar movie eight times out of ten. I’ve not seen any of the four other nominees, but I strongly suspect at least one of them deserved it more, because Toy Story 4 is… fine. Heck, it’s good, even. But when the three films that precede it are all-time classics that formed a perfectly complete trilogy, just being “good” is not enough.

Its first mistake is that it doesn’t need to exist. The filmmakers have self-mythologised that Woody’s story wasn’t complete and so needed this final chapter, or some such gumph, but anyone who’s actually seen Toy Story 3 knows that’s not true. No, this is someone at Disney or Pixar hoping they can mine one of their most popular franchises for more gold. Whether or not they also believed lightning could strike for a fourth time, or they didn’t care so long as it made bank, I’ll leave up to your own levels of cynicism.

So rather than feeling like an equal part of a four-film series, Toy Story 4 feels like an afterthought; an addendum; a “here’s another one because you liked the others”. And at times it delivers on that — we like these characters, so they’re fun to be with; some of their antics are amusing or exciting; there’s a positive moral message or two about acceptance and seeing worth in yourself. There are attempts at emotional resonance too, particularly when the film tries to feel like an ending and a farewell; but 3 already did that, and did it extremely well. 4 has an uphill climb trying to match that, and even if it did (which it doesn’t), why should we believe it? It’ll only last until someone decides there’s a narrative for Toy Story 5 that simply has to be told (see you for that c.2026, I guess).

In search of a new story

Of course, there’s no doubting the film is well made. It’s easy to disregard that as just Pixar being Pixar, but there’s an ever-impressive technical skill on display here. Maybe on that level it does deserve award wins — although, while Pixar are undoubtedly frontrunners in such a race, there are other animation houses who can and do produce work that’s just as beautiful. (Besides, the Best Animation category is a funny one in that regard — is it rewarding the artistic/technical accomplishment of the animation itself, or is it “best film that happens to be animated”? A debate for another time.)

Toy Story 4 is the kind of film I enjoyed well enough while it was on. Whenever I get round to rewatching the series, I’ll happily include it. But, while it doesn’t tarnish the series’ legacy, it does blight its unbroken record. If it had never existed, I’d’ve been fine with that.

4 out of 5

Toy Story 4 is available on Sky Cinema as of this weekend.

2 thoughts on “Toy Story 4 (2019)

  1. You’ll have seen from my review that I enjoyed this more than you seem to have. Maybe its a case of reduced expectations- this was, after all, the only film of these that I didn’t see on the big screen and didn’t catch up with on disc. I feel a bit of a fool for that- its like we’re all becoming jaded cynics, particularly where Disney is concerned, but its ironic that for all our doubts, Disney keeps on laughing all the way to a rather stuffed bank.

    Anyway, at least this milked the Golden Cow more successfully than the last few Star Wars films did- its a far more rewarding endeavour than Rise of Skywalker, at least- and if that seems like damning Toy Story 4 with faint praise, well I guess it is, but its true.

    Maybe I can forgive Pixar and finally get around to watching its Coco, which I still haven’t seen yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, it’s tonnes better than Rise of Skywalker — if Rise of Skywalker had been anywhere near this good, I’d’ve been perfectly happy. I hope I’ll enjoy it more on a rewatch, because I did have a slight mentality of “prove you have a reason to exist, then” when I watched it the first time, challenging it to live up to the first three; but hopefully I’m over that now and can take it a bit more for what it is.

      Coco is good, but I think somewhat overrated. Mind you, I tend to think most Pixar films are overrated — I don’t know if that’s me expecting too much, or other people being too generous because Pixar films are indeed a cut above most other US-produced animation.


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