Director: Josh Cooley
Writers: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, and Stephany Folsom
Producers: Peter Docter, Mark Nielsen, Jonas Rivera, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Toy Story 4 somehow manages to explore the most complex and profound themes at the heart of human existence through the eyes of a stuffed cowboy, a plastic spaceman, and a waddling spork. Encompassed within the theme of existentialism is self worth, personal purpose, aging and maturation, parenthood, and even social stereotypes that could be seen as allegories for racism or racial profiling. Miraculously, this all occurs in a G-rated animated movie about talking toys. This is a remarkably compelling premise by itself, but the flawlessly crafted animation, top-notch voice talent, a spectacular score from Randy Newman, and uproarious humor for children and adults alike, all make Toy Story 4 one of the best animated features of the last decade.
Even 24 years after the original Toy Story in 1995 – which not only kicked off this franchise, but the entire Pixar empire – the characters of Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) are as enchanting as ever, with still-developing, intricately layered personalities of immense richness and depth. Audiences have also fallen in love with other notable supporting characters such as Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts). This is not even to mention the wildly entertaining side characters of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris, respectively), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Slinky Dog (Blake Clark). The fourth installment in the Toy Story franchise gives all of these characters their due, with even more figures added to the fray, including the centerpiece of the story, Forky (Tony Hale), the outrageously hilarious duo, Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). But, make no mistake, this is undoubtedly Woody’s movie. This lone cowboy must embark on a journey of unconscious self-discovery in order to save the anxiety-ridden Forky from his own troubled philosophical nightmare. It is simply astounding the amount of authentic human emotion that is threaded into this fantastical narrative, which may appear as an utterly preposterous storyline looking in from the outside. Still, at the end of the day, it is executed to practical perfection.
No amount of words could possibly do justice to the efforts of every single member of each subdivided art department. There is an unparalleled level of attention to detail in this film’s overall visual style. This movie represents the pinnacle of dazzling and awe-inspiring animation, and the artists who made this possible deserve every bit of praise and acclaim. Just to name a few, there is head art director, Laura Phillips, the directors of photography, Jean-Claude Kalache (lighting) and Patrick Lin (camera), production designer, Bob Pauley, and makeup department head, Colin Bohrer. Film editor Axel Geddes puts the bow on this optical masterpiece with a tightly and efficiently maneuvered performance that heightens everything gorgeous about this movie.
Any doubts I had about a fourth film following the seemingly perfect finale in the third chapter were laid to rest within the first 15 minutes. By the time the film was over, I felt embarrassed for even entertaining the notion that Pixar could stain this franchise. Rather than a blemish, this was the flawless final stroke on a legendary canvas.