‘Toy Story 4’ accomplishes what most sagas cannot with a fitting end

Denise Emerson

Every goodbye in a “Toy Story” film feels like parting with a longtime friend.

“Toy Story 3” was successful because the toys faced the inevitability of becoming obsolete when a child grows up. The story could have ended there, but Pixar decided to continue the story — a decision worth the risk.

Sequels tend to be redundant, with the characters’ likability prioritized over both the story and continuity. However, “Toy Story 4” carefully weaves the core of the previous films into the fourth and final visit to its beloved characters, which is fundamentally what will preserve the franchise as an untainted classic. 

“Toy Story 4” carries the themes of growing older, loyalty and letting go in a much broader sense that focuses on Woody and his character arc. His need and purpose to serve the children he belongs to, a stake in each film, is challenged and ultimately transformed as he begins another stage in his life as a toy. The underlying truths of changing relationships are presented delicately, commenting on the growth that accompanies these melancholic life lessons. 

The heavier material of this film does not outweigh the playfulness and imagination of the previous films. The comedic, dynamic adventures have been given as much creativity and attention as the rest of the film. Pixar is able to introduce vibrant settings to the “Toy Story” universe that are original and stimulating. The antique shop explores an off-putting, eclectic setting, while the sandbox of rogue toys shows a free, rambunctious subculture. Pixar also experiments with the universe by adding characters such as Forky — a spork turned into a toy — and puppet dummies, further enriching the variety of characters. The comedy is finely tailored to complement the flow of the story, as the talented cast holds pivotal roles in the comedy. 

With such a grandiose story and rich characters, Pixar upped the ante on the animation. “Toy Story 4’s” animation is the best in the franchise, and Pixar showcases its attention to detail. From the glint in Bo Peep’s porcelain to the glow of light sparkling through the antique shop and the thin hairs on adorable Bonnie’s head, the animation is either crisp and aggressive or muted and nostalgic when necessary. This begs the question of how it will compare to the animation in the upcoming “Frozen II.”

The film’s ambition comes back to bite with the inclusion of unnecessary characters. The film adds more characters while showcasing less of the original cast. Characters such as Buzz Lightyear and Jessie, who had whole films dedicated to them, sacrifice their screen time for forgettable characters like Ducky and Bunny. In the final chapter, the audience wants to see the development of those they loved following in previous films, not those who are haphazardly thrown in. 

The saga would still be complete if left at the third film, but Pixar took a step further to immortalize the toys. The consistent development of characters and presentation of their enticing highs and sentimental lows leave viewers in an appreciative, contemplative state. Millennials will be showing the “Toy Story” saga to their children, toys in tow.

4 out of 5