Disney and Pixar continue to churn out sequels to beloved properties to varying results, but I am happy to report that Toy Story 4 largely retains the quality and entertainment value of previous films. The story directly follows 2010's Toy Story 3, itself a sequel to the massive animated hits of the 1990s. Did we need this film? Probably not, but what is a studio to do when it has a billion-dollar property with enough gas left in the tank? Josh Cooley directs after making his Pixar debut as writer of Inside Out, and returning voice talents Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are joined by Keegan-Michael Key, Christina Hendricks and Jordan Peele. Familiar themes of loyalty, growing up and remaining relevant are woven into the fabric of this and other franchise films, and Toy Story 4 offers a lively story of Sheriff Woody (Hanks) reconnecting with Bo Beep (Annie Potts) on a mission to save Bonnie's (Madeleine McGraw) new handmade toy, Forky (Tony Hale).
The opening scene recalls events from Toy Story 2, and Woody sees Bo being donated to a new child. He ultimately stays with Andy, who eventually gives Woody to Bonnie when he goes to college. Bonnie does not play with Woody and Buzz Lightyear (Allen) like Andy did, and even gives Jessie (Joan Cusack) Woody's sheriff's badge. Nevertheless, Woody wants to make sure Bonnie is happy on her first day of kindergarten, and sneaks into her backpack for a trip to school. When some of Bonnie's classmates take her art supplies, Woody grabs items from a nearby trash can, including a spork, for Bonnie to use in her art project. She makes Forky, who comes to life and comes home with Bonnie, ultimately becoming her favorite toy. On a family vacation in an RV, Forky jumps out a window, causing Woody to chase him and begin an adventure that reconnects him with Bo Beep and takes him to an antique store ruled by Gabby Gabby (Hendricks) and her ventriloquist-dummy muscle.
As expected, Toy Story 4 is beautifully animated by Pixar and the voice talent is excellent across the board. While the overall feel of Toy Story 4 is similar to its predecessors, the screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom offers unique action and humor. I like the film's detour into finding Forky and focus on Woody and Bo Peep, and there are some colorful, fun additions to the character roster. Gabby Gabby starts off almost hilariously creepy, and we find her being wheeled in a carriage through the antique shop by the ventriloquist dummies. She has created her own feudal kingdom and is looking for a voice box, which Woody has, to replace her own broken voice. Gabby Gabby, like Woody, wants to be adopted and loved by a child, and she becomes a sympathetic, reluctant hero as the film moves forward. Also introduced are pocket-toy police officer Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Evel Knievel-parody Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).
This movie would fail without recurring characters that viewers already love, and Toy Story 4 hits all the right beats with just enough Woody, Buzz and company to go around. This film feels like it is on a smaller scale than its predecessors, with a more compact world and smaller story, but this offshoot remains welcome entertainment. Like previous Toy Story films, this fourth movie offers an easy blend of humor and emotion, and again proves that animated films can offer affecting human drama and belly laughs. The original three films felt like a complete trilogy with a satisfying beginning, middle and end, so it will be interesting to see where Disney and Pixar go from here with this franchise. With the holidays right around the corner, I suspect a lot of families with be purchasing Toy Story 4, which should prove a hit for franchise fans.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Disney provides a 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with HDR10 for this native 4K film. To no one's surprise, it looks absolutely incredible. It's kind of weird to say "animated" and "lifelike" in the same sentence, but this animated film looks absolutely lifelike in motion, with gorgeous detail and incredibly deep and textured backgrounds. Sharpness is near-perfect, detail is unlimited, and depth is very impressive throughout. Blacks are inky, shadow detail is abundant, and black crush is no issue. Colors are bold and beautifully saturated, and the 4K's HDR pass improves on the already excellent Blu-ray with bolder colors, deeper blacks and more impressive contrast. There are absolutely no issues with artifacting, digital noise or banding.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, improves on the Blu-ray's audio with livelier acoustics, immersive sound panning and crisp dialogue reproduction. This mix does not have the "Disney volume-level problem," and was plenty loud at my receiver's normal settings. The score is weighty and appropriately integrated, dialogue is clear and never crowded, and ambient effects waft through the surrounds. The sound field opens up with punchy, LFE-assisted action effects and plenty of sound pans. This mix complements the transfer as lifelike and immersive. English Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, and French Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 mixes are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This three-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray for the feature, a Blu-ray bonus disc and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a black 4K case (two are stacked on a spindle) that is wrapped in an embossed slipcover. There are no extras on the 4K disc. On the Blu-ray feature disc you get Bo Rebooted (6:21/HD), about the return of the beloved character; Toy Stories (5:38/HD), comments from the cast and crew about their favorite toys; and an Audio Commentary by Director Josh Cooley and Producer Mark Nielsen. On the bonus disc you get Let's Ride with Ally Maki (5:41/HD), about the Giggle McDimples character; Woody & Buzz (3:35/HD); Anatomy of a Scene: Playground (9:31/HD); Carnival Run (1:00/HD), a look at the carnival set; View from the Roof (0:29/HD), another digital set tour; Toy Box (13:00 total/HD), which looks at a few of the characters; Deleted Scenes (28:00 total/HD), with comments from Director Cooley; and Trailers and Promos (10:45 total/HD).
This latest Toy Story sequel feels more contained and less grand than its predecessors, but still offers beautiful animation, dramatic heft, humor and satisfying themes of growing up and staying relevant. Disney offers an excellent 4K presentation for this entertaining film, including a fine audio track and a couple of decent extras. Highly Recommended.