Toy Story 4 Goes To Infinity and Beyond Tooby Alan S Dalinka, staff writer
Disney-Pixar's Toy Story 4, which opens in theaters nationally today, June 21, 2019, is a delightfully fun film, filled with the sort of emotional heartstrings tugs that the folks at Pixar Animation Studios repeatedly manage to pull off while turning an unimaginable number of 1s and 0s into entertainment for all ages. The one hour and forty minute, G-Rated movie, is an excellent piece of storytelling and every bit (and maybe more than a few bytes) as good as the prior Toy Story films.
For those that read our Walt Disney World Resort Updates here on MousePlanet.com (usually on Tuesdays), or follow our Social Media Posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, you know that I tend to leave opinion pieces to others on the site. Sure, I will occasionally note how much I enjoyed something or provide criticism where I have seen an issue, but I tend more toward the presentation of the news and photographic views around the Resort so that our readers can make educated decisions about what they want to experience.
The original Toy Story, released in 1995, was a turning point for animated movies. It certainly has been one of my favorites since then, and as someone who loves computer technology and great storytelling, it was quite amazing to see the two put together as Pixar did back then. As Steve Jobs, Pixar CEO from 1986 to 2006, said at the time:
Toy Story is 79 minutes in length and every frame is totally synthetic—major, minor characters, backgrounds, sets, et cetera—an order of magnitude leap...most importantly, we see computer graphics not just playing a supporting role to live action, but actually providing the entire vision for the motion picture.
It was the highest grossing movie in 1995, and was nominated for several awards. Its 1999 award-winning sequel, Toy Story 2, also broke opening weekend box office records in the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan, becoming the highest grossing animated release that year. Toy Story 3, released in 2010, won Oscars for best animated feature film and best original song, and it is currently Pixar's second highest-grossing film of all time behind only last year's Incredibles 2.
So, when I heard another Toy Story was in the works, I was skeptical. Toy Story 3 seemed to wrap up the story of a now grown-up boy, Andy, who handed off his remaining toys, including Woody and Buzz, to a young neighbor girl, Bonnie, as he headed off to college. The early teaser trailers and the longer trailers released for Toy Story 4, had me concerned that the new film was not going to live up to its predecessors.
In May, Walt Disney Studios sent me an invitation to the June 7-8 press junket at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. While excited to have the opportunity to see an advanced screening of the film and to attend the press conference panels featuring Producers Jonas Rivera and Mark Nielsen, Director Josh Cooly, and voice stars Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom), Christina Hendricks (Gabby Gabby), Tom Hanks (Woody), Annie Potts (Bo Peep), and Tony Hale (Forky), I did not yet know how much I was going to enjoy this film.
Then, over Memorial Day Weekend, while visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios as a long-time Annual Passholder, I saw the extended movie preview for Toy Story 4 shown inside the Walt Disney Presents attraction (and which also played at Disneyland and aboard Disney Cruise Line). That extended preview was roughly the first ten minutes of the film, and it showed off a promising adventure.
Note: from this point on, there may be some very light spoilers.
Toy Story 4 opens in Andy's bedroom "Nine Years Ago." It turns out that the moment we enter the story is really nine years before the events of Toy Story 3. We see Woody and the gang engage in one of their heroic efforts to make sure no toy is left behind from Andy's exuberant playtime outside as a thunderstorm rolls in to his neighborhood. But, after completing their mission, we witness Bo Peep's departure from Andy's home. As you may recall, her absence from Andy's house was noted during Toy Story 3.
The film does a brief homage to the end of Toy Story 3, showing Andy growing up and handing off Woody and the gang to young Bonnie, and then we are in the world of Bonnie's room, pretty much where Toy Story 3 left off. Listen carefully to the toys in this scene, as there are quite a few comedy legends that have brief vocal parts (some more immediately recognizable than others, but you will see them listed in the credits) beyond the returning voice cast. And, yes, for those wondering, though Don Rickles, voice of Mr. Potato Head, passed away before the production team had an opportunity to record new material with him for Toy Story 4, they were able to lend his voice to Mr. Potato Head throughout the film from other recorded performances over the years. In fact, the film is dedicated to his memory.
When Bonnie is off to her kindergarten orientation day, Woody stows away in her backpack and makes sure all goes smoothly for her. It is on that day that Bonnie "makes a friend," Forky (with some help she does not know she got from Woody). It was at this point that the extended preview ended. The adventure, of course, was just beginning, as Bonnie's new friend is the toy that drives the plot of the movie forward, while we follow along with what could best be described as the continuing adventures of Woody and the gang after Andy.
Forky is voiced by Tony Hale. On television over the past couple of decades, he is best known for playing Buster Bluth on Arrested Development and Gary Walsh on Veep. To help introduce him to the part, Tony Hale said that the team at Pixar, "attached some lines from Buster Bluth and Gary Walsh from Veep to Forky just to kind of give him his kind of essence and his kind of neurosis." He acknowledged that Forky very well could be part of a group of "neurotic avengers" with those other characters, and that he was very comfortable in the role.
I remember when they brought me up to Pixar and they kind of described him as he's kind of nervous. I was like check. He asked a lot of questions. Check. And he's kind of gullible to a fault now. It's like bingo. I'm in. So I just love that he sees everything as new. And mainly I love that he's a character that his home place is trash. That's all he knows is to help people eat soup. And then Woody comes along and shares that he has a greater purpose. I think just in life, anybody who might see themselves that way and they have worth. They have purpose. That's just a beautiful message that Toy Story is giving us.
As Bonnie and her parents go on a road trip in the time between kindergarten orientation and the start of school, Bonnie's toys come along for the adventure. While trying to make sure Forky learns his place is as a toy rather than trash, Woody finds Bo Peep and her sheep. Tom Hanks and Annie Potts shared how special it was for them to be able to record some of their dialogue together for this film. If you did not already know, it is vary rare for actors in the Pixar animated movies (and many other voiceover situations) to be in the studio at the same time; Tom Hanks and Tim Allen never recorded together as Woody and Buzz for the entire film (and yet, because of these films, they say they have become good friends).
Along the way, we are introduced to Gabby Gabby, a baby doll voiced by Christina Hendricks, that Producer Jonas Rivera described as sort of like Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard and Director Josh Cooley described as also like The Godfather, with ventriloquist dolls as her minions doing her bidding. Christina Hendricks said that she thought the Pixar production team was kidding her when they described these characteristics to her because she actually did get a Charlie McCarthy-style ventriloquist doll as an adult after asking her parents for one year after year as a child.
"Toy Story 4" Producers Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera, Director Josh Cooley, Christina Hendricks (voice of “Gabby Gabby”), Tim Allen (voice of “Buzz Lightyear”) & Keanu Reeves (voice of “Duke Caboom”) discuss the new film during the press junket at Walt Disney World. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
As the adventure continues, Woody discovers the more free-spirited adventure-seeking side of Bo Peep. She introduces him to Duke Caboom, a 1970s toy based on Canada's greatest (Pixar-invented) stuntman, who likes to show off his stunt poses but has some personal failings that cause him angst. Duke Caboom is voiced by Canadian actor Keanu Reeves, and according to the production team, was animated by Canadians that work at Pixar (100% if you are to believe Director Cooley). Indeed, if you listen closely, you may notice that even the Randy Newman score that plays under many of Caboom's scenes pays homage to the Canadian National Anthem. Keanu Reeves may have even done a bit of stunt posing of his own during the production.
There is so much more to say about this movie, like be sure to enjoy watching Buzz learn to listen to his "inner voice," the absolute hilarity of Ducky and Bunny (voiced by the comedy duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and the hijinks created by some of Bonnie's other toys when they have to delay Bonnie's parents from driving home before everything is resolved for the gang. Like all Pixar movies, this film is loaded up with Easter Eggs—keep your eyes open for nods to lots of other Pixar films, especially during scenes in the antiques store which was founded in 1986 (an important year in Pixar history itself). But I do not want to spoil the fun of this movie to share all of its details.
You can hear me discuss the movie a bit more with National Radio Hall of Fame Inductee Garry Meier in Episode 499 of The Garry Meier Show (starting at 20:30).
As Tom Hanks said during the press conference:
What I have truly appreciated, is that no matter how old you are now, when you see one of the [Toy Story] movies, you are the same age you were when you saw the first one. There's not a bump. There's not a jolt. There's no nostalgia; nothing ages poorly. It's exactly as it was and sort of always will be. In some ways, it is like the definitive Disney enterprise, is that there is a cohesiveness and an eternal quality to not just the stories and the characters but the emotional bonds that we all have with each one of them.
The Randy Newman musical score and new songs in this movie are truly a delight. Visually, the movie is also beautiful. The technology behind the digital animation of the film has certainly come a long way since 1995, and every bit of that shows on the screen. As I said at the beginning, the 1s and 0s are able to tug at the heartstrings. If you are easily emotionally moved by a movie, bring a whole box of tissues. I am not easily moved to tears, and yet, even when I had the opportunity to see the film a second time last week during a Disney Vacation Club Members preview screening at Disney Springs, I shed some tears even though I knew what was coming.
I asked Tom Hanks about his emotions recording the end of his performance of Woody for Toy Story 4. His answer was priceless, noting that he recorded Woody's last lines in the same studio where Woody began all those years ago.
Tom Hanks, sitting between Annie Potts and Tony Hale, discusses his emotions recording Woody's final lines for "Toy Story 4." Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
Of course, as both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen commented, it is remarkable that an entire land at Disney's Hollywood Studios has now been devoted to the Toy Story films. As the park says, guests can now live their Toy Story adventure by visiting Toy Story Land which opened last summer.
As you can imagine, there are quite a few pieces of Toy Story 4 themed merchandise available now too. For reading all the way to the bottom, a tip to be sure to follow MousePlanet social media channels, as we will be giving away some items from the press junket before too long too.