The trepidation in doing a “Toy Story” sequel is why mess up or challenge a good thing. Money is usually the answer in these scenarios. “Toy Story 3” was such a fitting end with its undeniable odes to “Star Wars” lore and just essential drama that magnified and personified the essence of the journey of Woody & Buzz. “Toy Story 4” is a good movie through and through but one that didn’t necessarily need to be. Nonetheless, it works well all the same. This installment works more in all seriousness as an epilogue on existence of Woody. It is not about the kid’s room or the nursery anymore. It is set again the bigger world asking the question”Do I want more?” and “Who am I?” Wonderfully enough this theme tends to innately move the motivations of every single one of the characters here. By not having to give all the focus to each of the nursery toys, there almost seems to be broadening of character.
Annie Potts as Bo Peep definitely ups here game and the essence of a lost toy in the world does take on new meaning while essentially reflecting the mentality of a new age. The way she hangs and runs with Giggle McDimples just feels organic. Woody is struggling to catch up…which is part of the point of the exercise. The addition of Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby, a doll with a flaw in an antique store feels misdirected at first but then, especially with the help of her Henchmen (sort of like Howdy Doody on steroids) there is definitely a sense of darkness but in a way misplaced enlightenment. The fact that some of the ending music from “The Shining” plays at one point just was undeniably elating. The different elements of existentialism moving through the story including the Id, hubris and the inner voice are all incredibly deep despite it being able to play very simple on the surface.
Even the introduction of Forky, a toy made out of trash by their kid Bonnie, evolves from that aspect. He just wants to be trash until he realizes his need to be but his first question is “Why am I alive?” On retrospect thinking, it can be quite filtered and intense in what the movie is talking about. That is a question that Gabby comes to terms with. Even Duke Kaboom, a racing toy played by Keanu Reeves, has a similar existential crisis. Rumor was that Keanu pushed the writers to build his character out more. And while that might be true, Duke’s journey has the same path and texture of needing to be as the other main characters. He was thrown out by his kid because he didn’t do what the commercial said he would. The irony and paradox of that statement both as an actor and as a character is, in ways, profound. Not wanting to give away any of the spoilers, this progression serves all the characters even Buzz with his basic thinking.
Towards the end of the film however which was interesting, there was a buzzy moment that very few films get when it hits the right notes finding heart and connection without being schmaltzy…and it wasn’t even with the main character. That said, though there is an almost subtle texture of “Forrest Gump” in the final moments. Not the same perception but it just about got there. “Toy Story 4” didn’t need to be but in that that it is, it is welcome as it is both a crowd pleaser but also an existential epilogue on the nature of a toy that is Woody. And Key & Peele are pretty good in it too.
By Tim Wassberg
The aspect of superheroes, even those within the animated world, have to change…in spite of themselves. The interesting permeation of Pixar in many ways is that it was around before. The texture of its life always resides in heart. Which is why in certain parts of “Incredibles 2”, there is the perception of paying homage to the superheroes and real life heroes it emulates. The aspect of loss at one point in the film is straight out of Batman mythology. Another line a direct homage to the original “Ghostbusters”. But while the film moves with inherent pace and rhythm, there isn’t that sense of wonder in even one sequence that rivals the loss or elation in “Inside Out” or “Up”. Granted there are some great comedic moments and even utterly subtle moments…most involving Jack Jack, the baby. The kid steals the show including a specific face off with an unnamed rodent. The aim too is different.
This installment plays a little more to adults although kids will get a kick out of it. Even the color pallette is slightly different. There is even a Tomorrowland kitsche to the design which no doubt is director Brad Bird’s influence considering that he made both “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and “Tomorrowland” in terms of live action since his last “Incredibles” film. That influence is understood since it shows his growth as a filmmaker but also maybe a loss of wonder in certain ways. The seeming ode to 60s James Bond films has its angle but nevertheless almost feels banal in certain ways. The inspiration comes into play at certain point especially when Aunt Edna (played by Bird himself) comes into play. Ultimately “Incredibles 2” is a more than steadily and effectively made sequel that hits all the right notes. There simply wasn’t that epiphany or longing moment.
However interestingly enough, that does find its way into “Bao”, the Pixar short film that precedes it which plays on a metaphor for an Asian mother who fashions the perception of her raising her son through the vision of a dumpling. Like previous Pixar shorts, it crosses borders because it is basic sans dialogue. However, unlike some others, there is an almost weirdly contextual end to the short which is unclear. So even though it hits the notes correctly, its ultimate resolution is slightly skewed which leaves it slightly confused in an overarching way. So the two films themselves are indeed an interesting mirror paradox of each other with “Incredibles 2” being an indeniably effective sequel missing a little something and “Bao” having its something but losing it in the final moment because of a lack of story clarity. Pixar has always valued story above everything so the takeaway is intriguing.
By Tim Wassberg