MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The first Toy Story film appeared onscreen in 1995, about a quarter century ago. Not only was Toy Story the first feature-length film from Pixar Studios, but it highlighted (then) state-of-the-art computer animation along with a touching story about how toys not only feel devoted to the children who own them, but to one another. The leader of the toys in Andy’s Playroom was cowboy doll Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) who knew how to boost morale and help the toys maneuver the move to a new house, assisted by a growing friendship with spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). With each successive film Andy aged appropriately until – at the end of Toy Story 3 – grownup Andy gave his toys to 5-year-old Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a little girl who could show them a lot of love. Bonnie even wrote her name on the bottom of Woody’s boot.
But what can you do with a bunch of familiar toys that hasn’t already been done? Well, the smart answer might be nothing at all; you simply end the series on the emotional high note of Toy Story 3.
Or you could make Toy Story 4, a meandering mess of a movie that tramples on just about everything that made the other films so special.
To give the film credit, it is beautifully animated and begins with a nice premise. Bonnie is going off to kindergarten orientation and her mother insists that her toys stay home. Since Bonnie is insecure without her playthings, she sits at the classroom art table and makes a homemade doll out of a discarded spork, pipe cleaners, popsicle stick and mismatched googly eyes that she names Forky (Tony Hale). Bonnie is content to play with this craft project, but Forky thinks of himself as a utensil and (when Bonnie’s not looking) jumps into a garbage can (the place where all used plasticware goes). It is only Woody’s intervention that keeps Forky from ending his life as a toy. Once again, Woody is sacrificing his security for the happiness of the child who he belongs to.
After that promising introduction, Toy Story 4 begins its downward slide, with an overpacked 100 minutes that includes a vacation for Bonnie and her family in a rented RV, the reunion of Woody and Bo Peep (I don’t remember anyone asking for this), some creepy toys in an antique store, and some carnival prizes from an amusement park. When the adventures on the road take over, most of the beloved characters from previous films (and even Bonnie) are shoved aside to make room for the new products – uh, I mean toys.
The plot of this movie isn’t very interesting but, boy, does it have the themes that the little ones are thirsty for. Ageing. Mortality. Existential angst. Abandonment. Inner voices. Yes, they’re all here to confuse or bore little children.
What’s not here? How about friendship and loyalty? Instead of working together with Buzz, Woody tells him to listen to the voice within (which means pushing the buttons on his spacesuit sleeve and following them like Magic 8 Ball advice). Buzz is given little to do except wait in the wings while a new hero, Duke Caboom, (Keanu Reeves) takes center stage. One of the major new toy characters begins as a sinister figure only to switch personalities midway through the movie. Two carnival toys, Ducky (Keenan Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) imagine horrific scenes of violence that would have delighted Sid, the sadistic kid in Toy Story.
Toy Story 4 is just too much: Too many writers, too many characters, too much action, and too much self-importance. This is one movie that should have been rated PG, since it has betrayed childhood in its hurry to grow up.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: One visit too many to the toybox yields fewer delights.
Two pitchforks: Many scary scenes and violent scenarios.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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