What director Josh Cooley has decided to do with this fourth ‘Toy Story’ installment is hit the reset button. Former toy owner Andy now gone and replaced by Bonnie, a young tyke who has inherited Andy’s collection, which includes Buzz Lightyear and Woody. This set-up results in the same kind of theatrics and plotting as the first three ‘Toy Story’ movies. There’s nothing new being told here, just business as usual.
In this fourth installment, our gang embark on a new adventure with a new toy, Forky — this Spork was created from scratch by Bonnie and has become her go-to-plaything. Problem is Forky doesn’t want to be a toy, he says he belongs in the trash, like all the other used sporks. Regardless, his runaway nature has Woody scrambling to keep him intact or else Bonnie will throw a hissy fit if he goes missing. It all leads to the usual chase sequences, which aren’t far removed from the first three movies. In other words, ex-Pixar honcho John Lasseter’s input is sorely missing in “Toy Story 4” — would he have even approved of the final result? The question begs to be asked.
By all measures, “Toy Story 4” is a watchable affair, something that families can all go to see this coming weekend at the multiplexes — especially when compared with every other mega-budget blockbuster playing at this very moment (I’m talking to you ‘Godzilla’). And yet, I felt a sense of disappointment watching the movie. If the first three installments felt breezy and effortless, Cooley’s movie feels forced and unimportant.
The sheer brilliance of “Toy Story 3” and the way its ending seemed to resonate so perfectly, so deeply, made it, by all senses of the term, a perfect trilogy capper. What I didn’t want “Toy Story 4” to do was injure the integrity of its predecessor, but it kind of does that. There is no sense of relevance in this latest adventure. The words “sellout” and “cash grab” will be uttered by detractors, but it pains me to want to firmly plant myself in that direction — mostly because the animation is staggeringly rendered, another triumph of visual wonders for the animation wizards over at Pixar. But, despite being a visual treat, the narrative rings hollow at almost every turn — each‘Toy Story’ movie built up on the momentum of the previous installment, but this is the first time in the franchise’s 24 year history where irrelevance has very much entered into the equation.