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This writer has a twenty-year history with Woody and Buzz. His son was three when the first one came out and is now pushing twenty-three. He grew up with the toys and the films. Camus had some reservations but does emotionally engage with TOY STORY 4...
 

 

  "If you were to ask Woody as a character, 'What was the biggest moment of your life?' He would say, 'It was when I met Bo Peep for the second time.' So that was our goal for this film, to make this meeting with her so powerful that it was deserving of Toy Story 4."
  Director Josh Cooley*

 

If you've not seen this, the reason why Pixar's logo is a desk light, have a look and please come straight back:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4NPQ8mfKU0

Made in 1986, Luxo Jnr. was a revelation. Why? Because it was a wholly computer generated short film? No, although that was surprising enough thirty-three years ago. From my perspective, the tools really only matter to the filmmakers. What matters to an audience is emotional engagement. What gave those two table lamps life was the unmistakable visual metaphor of a parent delivering a harsh truth after its child's loss and the exuberance of the child finding a way to get over that loss. The final 'head' shake is so recognisable, I remember being somewhat numb with shock that I was moved so much. The filmmaker's third short as producer, director, writer and animator, Luxo Jnr., was John Lasseter's baby in every way. Lasseter was also central to Pixar's creative success having directed the first two Toy Story films and his influence even on the latest project that he wasn't to finish is palpable. OK, so to a third Toy Story sequel... Luxo Jnr. and the last three Toy Story films have John Lasseter's fingerprints all over them. Alas, so have a lot of rightfully aggrieved women. While the beating heart of Pixar started work on Toy Story 4, it's a safe bet to say that that heart didn't complete the creative process. Someone as important as Lasseter to Pixar and Disney does not get pushed out of one of Hollywood's most prestigious jobs because he hugged people too much. Ejected from Disney on account of some dodgy behaviour (Lasseter himself underplayed these incidents calling them 'missteps') he's now high up in another animation company but I do find it so sad that a man with such an enormous amount of creative talent could be so cavalier in his behaviour. Why stick your hand up a woman's skirt and think you are immune to censure in one of the most high profile jobs in the entertainment industry? A subsequent slap on the face from a brave female may have made the aggressor take stock but the harassed would probably soon find themselves out of a job. One of Lasseter's targets quit the business because of his behaviour. Hasn't our culture changed for the better now? How can a smart man make so many dumb moves? The intoxication of power? A belief in his own infallibility? It's probably more mundane than that. It's very likely that those benefitting from the pursuance of his lucrative craft protected him. A Variety article gave a platform to one of Lasseter's accusers and it's sober reading. I have a hard time dismissing her claims as false. I note that Ed Catmull's book didn't mention anything like this... (but then it was about creativity not sexism).** Given the fact that Lasseter's usual Executive Producer credit is missing on the new film, it was heartening to see all those other familiar names steering first-time director Josh Cooley in the right direction which is to take nothing away from the director. As with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I'd spent enough time in Woody and Buzz's world and was happy to let number three be the satisfying close. What other story could be told? The gang is happily ensconced in Bonnie's childhood. What would or could motivate another outing? The above director's quote should give you a big clue. Bo needs a beau. It's awkward that her beau is called 'Woody' but we'll skate right past that.

Woody and Bo Peep

Nine years ago, Woody is forced to say goodbye to his not-so secret love, Bo Peep as she and her mutant three-headed sheep are boxed up and moved to another home. In the present, Woody's child Bonnie is off to kindergarten and not at all happy about it. Woody has been somewhat sidelined and is feeling that his own deep-rooted loyalty to his owner may be misplaced. Bonnie is alone and upset at her orientation day bereft of playthings. Due to Woody's kindly intervention, Bonnie literally makes a toy from trash, a spork which in this universe, comes to life. If you'd seen the early teaser trailer (to a cover of Both Sides Now by Judy Collins) and gone "What the fork?" then trust me when I say that here is a rounded character with tines and a full range of emotions, born yesterday, and the driving force for most of the toys' adventures. Woody keeps 'Forky' in line and the deranged piece of cutlery finally accepts his own role in Bonnie's life after ejecting himself from the family recreational vehicle forcing the selfless Woody to go and rescue him.

On his journey back to the fair where Bonnie's parents are situated, Woody comes across an antique store and is reunited with Bo Peep who seems to have made a success out of being a lost toy, a sort of sassy rogue action figure giving her time to find loving homes for other lost toys. Unnaturally creepy ventriloquist dummies police the store in thrall to Gabby Gabby, a doll with a defective voice box. She has her eye on Woody's own... "Reach for the sky!" indeed. So while reuniting Bonnie with the toy she constructed is the primary goal, we come to quickly understand that what we are watching is a cowboy rag doll develop true maturity and go places as a character that ninety per cent of human actors in normal movies never even get a chance to go near. I think this is the true strength of the film. It's also laugh out loud funny in places and it has Keanu Reeves as a bi-polar Evel Knievel with the glorious name of Duke Caboom. How can you not instantly warm to a movie in which John Wick plays a depressed stuntman? In fact, there's something almost inevitable about that casting.

OK. I admit it. I'd read a five star review from a critic I sort of trust which made me somewhat excited to see the film. So I committed. But without that review I wouldn't have been that enthusiastic. I'd been there. I'd seen it (so to speak). Toystoryville wasn't a foreign country to me anymore. I knew early reports were positive (on a chat show, Tom Hanks called it the best film he'd ever seen, which may be Woody over-pleasuring the Disney marketing machine) but there is no doubting the film's quality, its emotional heft or the commitment of the filmmakers. But despite the technical advances, I was still almost too familiar with this world. I also knew that any Toy Story film would be about loyalty, love, friendship, need and an adventure involving characters looking for other characters. In this outing, the convention of being inanimate around human beings was flouted so many times, you had to believe half the human cast were blind. A nit-pick perhaps. The voice talent is now indistinguishable from their characters. Mr. Potato Head's Don Rickles died before the script was firmed up but at a request from his family, Pixar dived into the archives and were able to edit a performance from outtakes (that's kind of a lovely send off). Regulars like Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger and Joan Cusack as Rex, Hamm and Jessie respectively all have their moments. Ex-Bond Timothy Dalton has one line as Mr. Pricklepants. I would not like to have been the Pixar employee who had to tell him that (I cynically concur that the line was probably an outtake from Toy Story 3). Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have settled into their characters so much so that they are probably as famous as Woody and Buzz as any of their live acting roles. Annie Potts makes for a feisty heroine, Bo Peep as adept at command and as pro-active as any of the boys. Oozing a quiet power and a steely determination as Gabby Gabby is Christina Hendricks, our very own Yolanda (or Saffron or Bridget) from Firefly. A nod also must go to Tony Hale as Forky. How does an actor prepare to flesh out an existential crisis from a piece of cutlery, a pipe cleaner, clay and two wooden sticks? Whatever he did worked gangbusters. Method that part, Robert De Niro!

Woody, Buzz, Jessie and Forky

Deep pleasures are myriad; the mission to get hold of a vital key; the final circular fade to black as the centre of the fade suddenly shifts minutely because of Forky's pupil slippage; anything with Duke Caboom including the scene at the end of the end credits; the two fluffy toys at a shooting gallery – Ducky and Bunny – and their fantasised ideas on how to proceed (stick around during the end credits, there's another one); anything with Buzz trusting the unproven wisdom of listening to his inner voice (suddenly there are forty-eight commands he can replay with his chest buttons, a little creative licence there from the four or so available at the start of the franchise). Josh Cooley's direction is practically perfect. There's not a dud line or angle and no story beat goes by without its pips being squeaked. It's hard to credit this as the work of a first time anything but Mr. Cooley does a fabulous job. Despite my worry that Pixar under Disney's umbrella would lose its mojo (well, Lasseter's gone but that doesn't seem to matter too much), I have to report that creativity is alive and thriving at the place that one cultural giant (George Lucas) sold to another cultural giant (Steve Jobs). I know creatives are in and out in any company (Lee Unkrich left after twenty-five years of editing and directing and Pixar head Ed Catmull is retiring in a month) but if Toy Story 4 is a statement to the rest of the industry that Pixar is still on the ball (apt, given Luxo Jnr.) then bring on the next movie.


Postscript

What is Pixar famous for? What singles out their cinema releases? Come on, think about it. It has nothing to do with whatever main feature is playing... How about that sentient Pacific island volcano? The little girl deciding which street musician to give money too? The bounding jackalope giving a naked sheep the confidence to dance? Geri playing himself at chess? Those birds trying to usurp a bigger bird? The short movie! What happened to the short movie? I have a suspicion. In Ed Catmull's startlingly good book Creativity Inc. (yes, that's a second plug) he talks about how making short films were intended to be a breeding ground for future feature talent. Did the shorts come to a stop because Catmull came to the conclusion that short film filmmakers have to be something very different if they are to make features? That said, stay right to the end of the end credits. Your patience will be rewarded. High five, Carl! Damn... spoiler.

 


* https://screenrant.com/toy-story-4-interview-director-josh-cooley-jonas-rivera-mark-nielsen/

** https://variety.com/2018/film/news/pixar-boys-club-john-lasseter-cassandra-smolcic-1202858982/

Toy Story 4 poster
Toy Story 4

USA 2019
100 mins
directed by
Josh Cooley
produced by
Mark Nielsen
Jonas Rivera
written by
Andrew Stanton
Stephany Folsom
original story by
John Lasseter
Andrew Stanton
Josh Cooley
Valerie LaPointe
Rashida Jones
Will McCormack
Martin Hynes
Stephany Folsom
editing
Axel Geddes
music
Randy Newman
production design
Bob Pauley
starring
Tom Hanks
Tim Allen
Annie PottsTony Hale
Keegan-Michael Key
Madeleine McGraw
Christina Hendricks
Jordan Peele
Keanu Reeves
Ally Maki
Jay Hernandez
Lori Alan
Joan Cusack

UK distributor
Walt Disney
UK release date
21 June 2019
review posted
24 June 2019

See all of Camus' reviews