‘Toy Story 4’ Evokes Descartes in a Captivating Action Caper
Since the epidemic of sequel-itis is upon us, the proposition of Toy Story 4 feels like another corporate idea peddled as a creative one. After all, Toy Story 3 made a billion dollar at the box office, and Pixar, the great animation giant, is making sequels to its now-classics more or less. But Toy Story 4 debunks all our preconceived notions about Pixar. It repositions the elegant mastery of the studio in our consciousness, with the same sweep we witnessed in their renowned masterworks.
The original Toy Story introduced us to the wondrous idea of toys having their inner life. We got to know the rivalry between Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), triggered by the shifting moods of Andy, the human owner. In the consecutive chapters, we saw the toys fighting with the very idea of mortality and the purpose of their life as Andy grows up. By the third chapter, their toyhood gained a new life with Andy passing the baton to young Bonnie. Didn’t we all suffer a certain lack of visibility because of that damn thing called tears?
In its fourth chapter, it’s again a rip-roaring adventure, with animation oh-so-dazzling that you can feel the skin, the fur, and the rain. The wizardry of computer graphics lends beautiful depth to images, when it moves, its photorealism challenges your very sense of reality.
Like its predecessors, and Pixar’s finest moments, Toy Story 4 extends its mythology in such an invested manner that the new instalment feels more like an essential progression than just another add-on. It does all of it by introducing a new character: a new toy that is actually not a toy like the rest, but a DIY production that has been made out of trash.
Like its predecessors, and Pixar’s finest moments, Toy Story 4 extends its mythology in such an invested manner that the new instalment feels more like an essential progression than just another add-on. It does all of it by introducing a new character: a new toy that is actually not a toy like the rest, but a DIY production that has been made out of trash. The character is Forky (Tony Hale in unbalanced brilliance), a meek being that little Bonnie puts together on her first day at school, out of plastic utensil and googly eyes. Now Forky opens his eyes, and speaks!
Even by the inherent logic of the Toy Story universe, Forky is a sentient. He is Bonnie’s adorable Frankenstein, and he quickly finds himself in deep existential crisis. Why is he alive? He knows he is trash, and he longs to get back to the garbage bin, to cuddle other kinds of trash, and turn his back towards the horrible world he’s been born into.
Debutant director Josh Cooley (working out of the screenplay of Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom) literally evokes the ghost of René Descartes in a children’s film. That does not mean the kids can’t have fun. They can, and they will, for the film pans out like an action caper, with constant twists, slapdash humour, and a bundle of feelings. But for the adults accompanying the young ones, there is a reservoir of profound ideas that the film constantly engages with.
With Forky’s existential crisis, Woody finds a sense of relevance. When Bonnie’s family decides to visit an amusement park, Forky decides to jump out of the van window because he doesn’t see any point in going on living. Woody jumps out too, to bring him back, and with this, the film jumps into action, with philosophical discourses garbed as funny banter.
When Woody finds Forky, he must convince the latter of the joys and purpose of toyhood. That Forky is alive as a toy, that the joys he would bring to Bonnie are reasons enough to be happy and worry-free. The two walk on the road, like the two men in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Woody, who so far battled the idea of mortality in earlier chapters, grows up further. Here, he questions the very nature of existence and consciousness. He also meets Bo Peep (Annie Potts), one of the old toys of Andy who was given away earlier (explained in the introductory minutes). She illustrates how a life free of a human owner is worth vying for. She takes Woody through a new set of feelings and questions, while introducing him to her new friends: a Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom voiced by the man of the moment, Keanu Reeves, a miniature cop Giggles McDimples (Ally Maki), and conjoined fluff buddies Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele).
Woody is further beguiled by Gabby Gabby (a terrific Christina Hendricks), a neglected talking doll with loose-limbed ventriloquist dummies for bodyguards, quite simply the stuff nightmares are made of. With her voice box broken, she is after Woody’s voice box to restore her chances to find a human owner. She begins as a scary creature, but Woody slowly realises the reasons of her rage, for an assembled trash like Forky receives more love than a polished doll like her. Isn’t the world unfair? Woody’s realisation turns a villain into a figure of loneliness and empathy.
Toy Story 4 is a call of epiphany for the studio that reduced its churn of originality in favour of market demand. While its characters are exploring the nature of their existence, the studio through them is trying to map the nature and purpose of their own being.
It’s an exploration that refuses to give in to an expected trajectory. It’s not possible to locate a particular kind of feeling in Toy Story 4, for it moves from horror, to comedy, to action, and finally to an ocean of pathos. In the age of sequels, it offers glorious entertainment in a constantly switching narrative, quite contrary to the streamlined manufactured blockbusters we’ve gotten used to.
Tell me, isn’t that what you call movie magic?
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