Toy Story 4 (2019) review

Besides ‘we have no cheese’ and ‘live action remake‘ there are few words that fill me with such dread as ‘Toy Story 4.’ A trilogy that is unanimously agreed to be as close to animated cinematic perfection as possible really didn’t require a fourth entry, and the list of good third sequels could barely fit on a sentient spork. Alas, here we are. But, in a ray of optimism, Toy Story 4 is not bad. Far from it, in fact. Does it live up to the immense standards of its predecessors, though? Well, no.

There’s a lot to like in Toy Story 4 (it still feels weird to type that). From the fun new players like Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny, to the mercifully fresh narrative, we can all breathe a sigh of relief as the credibility of the franchise remains intact. In what will come as a surprise to nobody, leading man Tom Hanks is still likeable and compelling as Woody, a role he’s been played with affable joy for nearly thirty years. Let that one sink in. Everyone (except Bonnie’s) favourite Sheriff’s arc is undoubtedly intended as a metaphor for Fathers of children who’ve left home, as he struggles to find purpose in an Andy-light world, where he’s no longer the number one toy at play time. Hanks slips back into the role with ease, delivering on both the comedy and the mushy moments through the warm gravitas that only his voice can bring.

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Sadly, besides a near unrecognisable Bo Peep, Woody is the only member of the OG gang to get much of any focus. Fan favourites like Slinky, Jessie, Rex, and my beloved Bullseye are afforded almost no screen time, and are hastily left out of the action in favour of new players. Even once co lead Buzz Lightyear feels not only sidelined, but also dumbed down, to the point that he feels a shell of his former, heroic self. As a big fan of Buzz, this was a shame to see, especially as the initial draft of the script was reportedly Buzz-centric, an element that hasn’t reappeared since the first film.

Nostalgic gripes aside, the new players are mostly welcome. Christina Hendricks’ Gabby is a suitable evolution of the bitter-toy-villain stereotype, and despite her frankly horrific organ harvesting plan, she does garner a suitable level of audience empathy. A big shout out must also go to the ventriloquist dummies; a genius concept for henchman that are as hilarious as they are nightmare inducing.

So, about Bo. She’s great here, though entirely unrecognisable from her original appearance, even sporting a new voice. Her former damsel in distress / weirdly sexy voice persona has all but evaporated, as she (somehow) trades in her porcelain dress in favour of a badass cloak and bandage combo. She leads an underlying motif of girl power than runs throughout the film, as Jessie, Dolly, Gabby, and Bo all either lead the gang or take the reigns of power from the male leads. You could take an academic feminist reading and say they’re taking back power from the patriarchy. Hell, Woody even literally loses his voice to a woman. Perhaps I’m reading too deeply into it and they’re just better written characters.

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In terms of the technical stuff, this is Pixar working with all engines running. The visuals are fantastically realised, with smooth animation that reminds you how refined the medium has become since the gang first broke ground in 1995. The Antique store’s cat in particular looks amazingly lifelike, especially when compared to the very polygonic dog guarding Sid’s back garden in the original. The colour palette is equally lovely, with far less murky blacks and greens than its darker predecessor. The carnival setting allows for vibrant and varied technicolour machinations at every turn.

The traditional Randy Newman score also makes a somewhat triumphant return, with a wonderfully nostalgic montage song near the beginning, harkening back to the days of ‘Strange Things’ and ‘I Will Go Sailing No More.’ It would also be a lie to say that the reprise of ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ didn’t put a big smile on my face. The orchestral score however, does seem entirely phoned in. Character leitmotif is one thing (and one thing I’m VERY passionate about), but entire musical cues are seemingly ripped in their entirety from previous entries, which is just lazy.

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It is the script that is ultimately the film’s greatest strength, yet its biggest weakness. In many ways the plot is a breath of fresh air, and many jokes and emotional moments do indeed stick (or rather crash – you’ll get it when you watch it), the landing. However, there’s just something absent, that makes the experience ring hollow. Perhaps it comes down to the MIA main cast, or the bittersweet ending that’ll undoubtedly be a divisive topic. Personally though, I feel the pacing drags, far more than in its predecessors. There was just more of a sense of urgency in those films, that left you genuinely tense. Here however, through the admirable exploration adult topics like life purpose and existential crisis (!), the film loses a bit of what made Toy Story so great. The camaraderie and simplistic storytelling is lost, but what replaces it isn’t bad, just different.

I ultimately feel warmer about Toy Story 4 the more I think about it. It remains in my mind, unnecessary in its existence, when the third and at the time, ‘final instalment’ had a sense of finality that will always be unmatched. However, Toy Story 4 justifies itself by taking the characters (well, two of them) in bold new directions, touching on important, difficult aspects of life in a sugar coated, comedic skin that stop things getting too real. If a Buzz focused Toy Story 5 is in the future, then so be it. If it’s this good, then we have little cause for concern.

★★★★

My series ranking, if you’re interested:

Toy Story 2 (1999)

★★★★★

Toy Story (1995)

★★★★★

Toy Story 3 (2010)

★★★★★

Toy Story 4 (2019)

★★★★

Bojack Horseman series 5 (2018) review

‘Bojack Horseman’ continues to be equal parts entertaining and difficult to watch in it’s emotionally crippling, hilarious fifth series. Where the end of series four left us with a glimmer of hope that our titular steed would be on track to making the improvements needed to better himself, this series shows that things will be getting worse before they get better. If they get better.

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‘Bojack’ is a show that while getting progressively darker and more emotionally savage, also seems to get better and better with each series. The characters become even more compelling with further backstory provided for the likes of Princess Caroline and Mr. Peanutbutter and their specific narratives becoming almost as prevalent as the title character’s. The development for Princess Caroline in particular took the driver’s seat this series as she attempts to solve her particular brand of depression by filling the void with adoption. While it is gratifying to see her momentary happiness at the end of the series; a child never solves a crisis of purpose. Diane also took centre stage this series, becoming a near mirror image to Bojack in terms of a lack of direction, but still attempting to maintain her dignity and moral high-ground. That said, perhaps sleeping with her ex-husband repeatedly somewhat diminishes that goal. And then, there’s Bojack. Sadly, despite the last series gifting him a sweet and caring sister in Hollyhock, series 5 brings a number of skeletons from his closet and pushes him to an absolute new low by episode eleven. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to validate our protagonist and the show is doing an insanely good job of making the audience question our feelings about him. It also seems to be setting in motion a multi-series narrative culminating all of the terrible things we’ve seen Bojack do since the start of the show in an explosive fashion. Expect to hear the names of Sarah-Lynne, Charlotte, Herb and Penny as we start to gear up for a finale.

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‘Bojack Horseman’ revels in its satire of Hollywood and never shies away from controversies of the past year. Unsurprisingly, they chose to tackle the topic of sexual harassment, victim blaming and collateral damage of the actions of these cases. The obvious stab at the recent Weinstein controversy is addressed in a suitably powerful but typically farcical fashion centring around a sex robot that has a dildos for hands and can only shout expletives. The show uses a generic character as a conduit for the satire at first, but the lack of consequences for abuse and assault are disturbingly reflected onto Bojack during the final two episodes. This further strains the audience’s relationship with him and makes us wonder if we’ll ever consider him a good guy.

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If there wasn’t comedy in this show, it might be one of the most depressing pieces of television on at the moment. Yes, the same programme with talking animal people as it’s leads, is indeed, the most reflective and honest look at society and Hollywoo(d) culture today. Fortunately, it is still a comedy and the jokes this series are some of the shows best. Aaron Paul’s Todd remains one of the few virtuous characters left on a show where almost all of our main characters are sliding into further depression and self-destruction on a mountain of their own terrible decisions. Todd provides a lot of the laughs; a brilliant episode revolving around meeting his asexual girlfriend’s parents and the aforementioned sex robot are just two examples of his endearing levity. The plot driven and deeply nihilistic episode ‘Free Churro’ is a prime example of the now staple ‘experimental episode,’; this time consisting of a single monologue for the entire length of the episode from Bojack. This perfectly illustrates the broken relationship with his parents, yet also provides a number of outlandish jokes that remind us that this is a black comedy. Despite all of this however, the focus is always on the drama, and Bojack series five might just be the darkest the show has gone to date.

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In conclusion, I loved ‘Bojack Horseman: Series Five.’ The show feels like it is sewing the seeds of a finale as it continues to encourage their audience to think about not only issues in the media around showbiz, but also the bigger questions, like what it truly means to be a good person. Or even, are there good and bad people, or just people doing good and bad things, as Diane explains to Bojack in the final episode. It’s rare for me to be so invested in a show, but I truly can’t wait for series six. I also find myself heavily invested in every character and am equally anxious to see how they further develop as I wonder if our leads will ever face their own demons and make the necessary improvements to their lives to finally be happy.

9/10

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