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Toy Story 4 Review: Life Lessons From (Not So) Lost Toys

Toy Story 4, the latest instalment of Pixar’s beloved saga, is a heartwarming tale of love, friendship and adulthood with more than one lesson to teach.

Will there ever be such a thing as too many Toy Story films? Judging by the quality of John Lasseter’s latest film, we certainly hope we’ll be seeing our favourite toys again, even after a new adventure that sometimes feels like a goodbye to the franchise. But if Toy Story 4 might actually turn out to be the final chapter of Pixar’s saga, it is also undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable and heartwarming movies the Inside Out Studios have given us so far.

At the beginning of Toy Story 4, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang have a lot to deal with. Bonnie, “their” child, is growing up, and her playing habits are beginning to change. Dust is starting to appear on the most unsuspectable toys, who don’t always get to be involved in Bonnie’s playtime. Not only that, but time has come for the little girl to start going to school. Changes are in order for Bonnie’s toys, and with change come ghosts from the past, new acquaintances and, most of all, important decisions to make.

In line with Pixar’s best tradition, Toy Story 4 is the perfect example of a film that will mean different things to adults than what it will mean to children. From the film’s cutest moments to its most hilarious sequences, every single scene is permeated by that very special, bittersweet layer of emotions that can always be perceived, under the surface. They remind us of our own childhood, they bring us back to a different time and place and they wake up our “inner child”, surprising us and moving us Pixar-style, in the most unexpected ways.

But Toy Story 4 does even more than that, because these toys are starting to look – and feel – less like toys by the minute. Just like “their” children, these little beings have grown up, and are now asking very adult questions. What happens when toys have served their purpose and their tiny humans don’t need them anymore? How can they keep the “voices in their head” at bay when they are not able to create happy memories for their children anymore? And, most of all, what happens to a toy when it becomes lost?

Toy Story 4: Official Trailer (Disney/Pixar)

Though themes like memory, loss and purpose have certainly been explored by Pixar in the past Toy Story films, the fourth chapter is particularly successful at sending its message across, and that is due, first and foremost, to the quality of its screenplay. In what feels like the end of a long journey, every single character gets its chance to shine. As our favourite toys find new ways to get into trouble and keep us entertained with their ingenious plans, not only do we get plenty of catchprases and throwbacks to iconic scenes from the past movies, but we witness their evolution from Bonnie (and Andy)’s toys to (non) human beings in all and for all.

“Lost” toys come in all shapes and forms, and Toy Story 4 shows us exactly what that means. Forky (Tony Hale), the new member of the family, feels like he doesn’t belong to the group, so he declares himself as trash – which isn’t so far-fetched after all, since Bonnie made him from items that did, in fact, come from the trash. This fork-turned-toy doesn’t really know what it is and where it should belong, but there are other characters who feel lost, starting from two very old acquaintances. If Woody is looking for a purpose and asking life’s big questions, Buzz is trying to develop a conscience and listen to his own will. And then there’s a very independent Bo Beep (Annie Potts), who lives in an amusement park version of Neverland with her own family of lost boys toys. But there’s even more than that.

If Buzz and Woody are the foundation that holds every single Toy Story movie together with a strong friendship that lasts a lifetime, Toy Story 4‘s new characters are just as essential. There are hilariously evil plush toys who conjure up improbably plans, flawed action figures that save the day with unexpected acts of courage, and, of course, there are villains who turn out to be so much more than what they seem.

Most of Toy Story 4‘s memorable sequences take place in an antiques shop, which is also the place where we find some of the most interesting new characters, who are all-too-familiar but also more than a little creepy. 1950s talking pull-string doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is one of them, and she is the perfect antagonist for the film. Her adorable exterior doesn’t match her cunning mind, and that is the result of a factory defect that prevents her from being any little girl’s “best friend” and fulfilling her purpose as a doll. But, just like most Pixar villains, Gabby Gabby isn’t as one-sided as she initially appears to be: just like all the other objects in Second Chance Antiques – from hilariously disturbing “Benson” ventriloquist dummies to imperfect Canadian hero/action figure Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) – she is the very definition of a lost toy.

Toy Story 4 is Pixar at its best. Just like the very first Toy Story film, it feels like a childhood memory in itself, one that we never want to forget. It has the same level of adventure as The Incredibles, with a good dose of Up-style originality, Cars-level excitement and Ratatouille-like cuteness. It has clever inside jokes, immensely endearing characters and genuinely funny laugh-out-loud sequences. Most of all, just like Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Inside Out and every single movie Pixar has ever done, it has a great deal of heart.

Toy Story 4 was released worldwide on June 21, 2019.

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