Toy Story 4 – Improbably Successful

Most purists understand that a multipart story is best presented as a trilogy. George Lucas decided to go that route with Star Wars, presenting a series of trilogies. Yet here comes Pixar, tempting fate with a fourth chapter of an improbably successful trilogy. It takes a special sort of magic and alignment of many delicate parts to pull it off, and against the odds Toy Story 4 delivers.

Credit first must go to the writers, who despite their unwieldy number, managed to craft a story that expands on the prior three films and expands into new terrain that feels both risky and familiar. With ten people sharing ‘original story by’ or ‘screenplay by’ credits, the writers room must have been quite a beehive. But serious kudos to director Josh Cooley for holding it all together. Cooley already proved his mettle (Ratatouille, Up and Inside Out) and here delivers an excellent film.

The main characters are back, with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen reprising their roles as Woody and Buzz Lightyear. Quite memorable is the brilliant reimagining of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), channeling Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, complete with injured arm. The ventriloquist puppets are genuinely scary, for both those on the screen and watching the screen. The cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) has a diminished role, but the myriad characters voiced by superb actors like Jordan Peele, Wallace Shawn, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett and Carl Reiner will amuse fans of all ages. The film is dedicated to Don Rickles, whose voicing of Mr. Potato Head is the Greek chorus of the toys.

As with most films of this scope, the myriad inside jokes are wonderful. Did you notice the 2001 reference when Buzz was looking for guidance? His inner voice was spewing advice, one of which was ‘open the pod bay doors HAL.’

Randy Newman again provides his softest side yet, the song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is surely the warmest in his songbook and it has become a staple of the four films. Kudos to the producers for bringing in Chris Stapleton for “The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy.”

For any holdouts who believe animated films are for kids, it is obvious that the expected blockbuster box office receipts will not only be from children. Pixar maintains its streak of the most successful production company in recent memory.




Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.