There's something that happens over time in relationships.
I'm talking about with friends. With family. With husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and partners and peers.
There's something that happens with those whom we endure, with those in our lives whom we truly share the life journey.
Something changes, I think.
It's not bad, really. It's not necessarily good, either.
It simply is.
Over time, relationships become less about the spark and more about the enduring flame. Over time, relationships become less about the excitement and more about the comfort. Over time, the wonder of discovery, while never completely gone, gives way to the joy of familiarity and vulnerability and transparency.
Toy Story 4 is the latest in a 25-year relationship that we've enjoyed with the Toy Story franchise we've come to know and love and appreciate. Toy Story 4 doesn't have quite the spark as that first film and that second film and even that third film. Yet, it possesses this weird, wonderful and positively vibrant enduring flame that still lights us up as we sit hunkered down in our movie theater seats staring up at the big screen ready to believe once again.
Toy Story 4, while wonderfully entertaining, is maybe just a little less exciting and a little less razzle dazzle and a little more comfortable like a cinematic blanket that wraps itself around you and makes you feel better just knowing it's there.
Toy Story 4 carries with it fewer surprises and discoveries, yet also envelopes us in both characters we know and love and other characters who are new to our world yet we instantly know we'll love them just as much because they've become part of this world that has been part of our lives through joys and sorrows, successes and failures, growing up and growing old and growing into who we are as human beings.
While a different sort of film than its Toy Story predecessors, Toy Story 4 is yet another reminder of why the Toy Story franchise, whether it ends with this film or continues on, is one of the most beloved animated franchises of all time.
A nine years later sequel placed into the hands of a fresh directorial voice, Josh Cooley, Toy Story 4 may not quite tap into all of the magic that you truly want it to tap into but the film that remains is still, quite easily, the best animated feature of 2019 so far and a film that leans into the Pixar/Disney/Toy Story magic with a story that is uproariously funny, endearingly sweet, as action-packed as a G-rated film can be, and, as has always been true, manages to be remarkably insightful and profound and touching.
It's nothing short of astonishing that Cooley has so precisely maintained the tone and spirit of the first three films, though certainly he was aided in this endeavor by Pixar vet Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom's creatively winsome and inspired script that seemed nonsensical when it first crossed my desk yet now brings a tear to my when I even think about it.
When I look back, I was at a weird stage in my life when the original Toy Story came out. It wasn't a film I fully embraced at the top, an almost impossibly optimistic endeavor at a time when I was just starting to set aside some of the traumas and dramas from my past and learning how to live into a healthier, happier, more connected, and infinitely more loving life.
I didn't know what I was doing, really. I also didn't realize, at least until years later, that Toy Story played a part in all of it.
Now here we are. It's nearly 25 years later and I've built a life far grander than anything I'd ever imagined, a life where I have survived far past my life expectancy and manifested many of my dreams in work and circumstance and relationship.
Somehow, Toy Story has been a part of it all.
Toy Story 4, it would seem, understands almost perfectly where I am at this very point in my life.
Indeed, it's all rather magical.
Toy Story has always understood the wondrous complexities of life and childhood, though the stories have always come alive through these toys it's these toys that have loved us and taught us and inspired us and comforted us and journeyed with us through loss and grief and fear and anger and loneliness and so much more.
In Toy Story 4, the toys' new owner is Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a precious young girl reluctantly preparing to begin kindergarten, a reluctance filled with all the fear and anxiety and tears that parents and child alike have experienced for years. Encouraged by the always trustworthy Woody, again voiced by Tom Hanks, she, quite literally, makes herself a friend in the form of Forky (Tony Hale), a spork who literally bursts to life in the simplest yet most wondrous of ways.
It's simple. It's sweet.
Forky, not surprisingly, is rather confused about who he is and why he is and what he is to be and do. However, Bonnie quickly grows attached to him, to the detriment of Woody, yet it becomes Woody's mission to keep Forky in the family fold because, precisely, Bonnie cares about him and, thus, so does he.
I'm not crying. You're crying.
The premise of Toy Story 4 is quite simple, a premise that allows for old familiars to return and for new characters to introduce themselves including the likes of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's hilarious Ducky and Bunny, two carnival prizes with a grander vision of themselves; Gabby Gabby, an antique store doll voiced by Christina Hendricks; and, perhaps most notably, Duke Caboom, a Keanu Reeves like inspiration voiced by none other than Keanu Reeves.
While Woody is still front and center here, it's perhaps in a more subdued and less centrally focused way. Annie Potts is a joy as usual as Bo Peep, while Tim Allen's Buzz is also prominent yet perhaps less central to the goings on than one might expect given previous Toy Story history.
Toy Story 4 continues to be a visual feast for the kiddoes while serving up a story that will resonate and linger. It's a story that kept reminding me of my beloved favorite children's story, The Velveteen Rabbit, though it's a story all its own and wonderfully told. Adults, it may be fair to say, may be just a little less enchanted this time as that old familiarity may be a little bit too much familiarity, but Toy Story 4, especially for a G-rated film, still offers many laughs and a few tears and more than a few thought-provoking moments for children and adults alike.
Toy Story 4 may not feel quite as fresh and fabulous as did its predecessors, but it's hard not to marvel at Pixar's ability to maintain this franchise in such a stand-out, top notch, and incredibly meaningful way through four films over nearly 25 years.
Over the years, relationships change.
The people who endure with us. The people whose enduring flames help to light our way become the things that make us real and alive and happy and, well, us. Over the years, we begin to realize that it's these people, filled to the brim with quirks and imperfections, who have taught us how to live and taught us how to live.
They have become our friends. They have become our family. They have become our framily.
All of us, I suppose, has our own Toy Story, and the joy of life, I suppose, is learning how to make it one that's as wondrous and vibrant and loving and complex and weirdly wonderful as is this one.
Love makes us real. Indeed.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic