'Toy Story 4': What the Critics Are Saying

The new film sees Woody and Buzz reunite with Bo Peep and discover a new friend, called Forky.

Can Pixar strike gold a fourth time, or is its latest installment in the Toy Story franchise a mere money grab aimed at the nostalgic? 

After the review embargo for Toy Story 4 lifted on Thursday, critics argued that, overall, that the film still has the same charm and magic as its predecessors. 

The latest film in the Pixar series picks up after the events of the third film, when the kid who owned and played with toys Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) had gone to college and they received a new playmate in the young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw).

In the new film, Bonnie has gone to kindergarten and created a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale) that emerges as a competitor for her affections when all the toys go on a summer road trip with Bonnie's family.

In The Hollywood Reporter, critic Todd McCarthy writes that the film "takes off" when a trip to a secondhand store reunites Woody with his former love interest Bo Peep (Annie Potts). "Their lively banter and mutual understanding provide a romantic backbone for the story as well as a genuine rooting interest in a couple that seems better matched than the vast majority of those to have turned up in live-action films of late," McCarthy writes.

He also commends the voice cast, with Tom Hanks sounding as "energetic" as ever as Woody and Keanu Reeves delivering a memorable voice performance. "With some Pixar franchises having worn out their welcome and lent the impression of a capitulation to Disney's desire for more sequels at the price of less preparation and care," McCarthy writes, "this one conveys the confident feel of a creation that, as a big man used to say, has not been served before its time."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw was less impressed with the latest addition to the Pixar canon, noting that the film's creators were repeating old plotlines with the toys' new owner, Bonnie: "This movie is fundamentally repeating itself: repeating characters, ideas and plotlines – even if it does it with buoyancy and charm," he writes. Bradshaw particularly wonders why the toys look shiny and new 24 years after the events in the original film, considering Toy Story 2 discussed the allure of becoming a collectible and Toy Story 3 saw the toys feeling abandoned after their original owner went off to college. He then argues there are more hints that the film is another reboot in today's reboot-heavy culture: "Toy Story 4 also joins the X-Men and the Men In Black in trying to achieve a bit more gender balance, and this is something it does with artless persuasiveness," he writes.

Indiewire’s David Ehrlich is quick to note that the fourth installment of the beloved Pixar film "doesn’t initially appear to have any compelling reason to exist" but that changes thanks to the new character Forky (voiced by Tony Hale). "Forky is the god’s honest truth," Ehrlich writes, also describing the character as the "beating heart" that the films have been working towards having. Nonetheless, the story remains "character-driven and paced to perfection" with Ehrlich praising the film for reminding viewers that "this franchise is still better suited to Pixar’s style than anything else the studio has ever made" and "Woody could never be useless so long as he’s capable of sparking this much joy." Though many believe the franchise’s third installment made for a good conclusion to the story, Ehrlich notes that "this finale ties a much stronger bow around the franchise by cutting it to its core instead of just circling back to the start." 

Over at Forbes, Scott Mendelson also expressed his original thought that Toy Story 3 was a good "stopping point" for the franchise, but believes the new film makes a case for being a "logical progression from what’s come before." "I don’t know if Toy Story 4 is the best of the series, but it might be, and it solidifies the franchise as perhaps the best quadrilogy in cinema history," he writes. Continuing to celebrate the film, Mendelson describes director Josh Cooley’s take as not a film that "negates Toy Story 3’s perfect climax, but rather it mitigates and expands upon it in a way that is both natural and inevitable." He also describes the film as being the final "farewell to at least some of the standard Pixar themes" without John Lasseter "at the helm." "I looked side-eyed at the notion of a fourth Toy Story movie, but I was wrong… after four movies this good, I see little reason not to greet the fifth one in several years with open arms."

The AV Club's critic A.A. Dowd writes that the film "taps into the bittersweet magic of the most existential of family-friendly franchises, where life is tough and then you get boxed away in the attic, or thrown on a landfill." Dowd further describes this installment as a hearty "tragicomedy" of neurosis "about the inner lives of sentient playthings," offering the basic pleasures that we have come to be familiar. The critic identifies that the film is "capably" directed by first-time Pixar-helmer Cooley, though concludes that it offers a more minor adventure than the previous films — Dowd emphasizes that the others had a sense of danger that this one distinctly lacks. Nevertheless, Dowd ensures that the film is a crowd-pleaser for fans of the series. 

In the BBC, Nicholas Barber acknowledges that Toy Story 4 was a nerve-wracking prospect for many fans of the lovable characters, but claims that the gorgeous animation and reunion of the band of misfits was a worthwhile venture. "On the other hand, if Toy Story 4 doesn't tarnish the series, it doesn't polish it either," Barber writes. "It's a smaller, less moving, and mercifully, less traumatizing entertainment than the last one, less satisfying in its plotting and less provocative in its themes." Barber later concludes that the message of the film is muddled, expressing to children that some toys are important and others aren't. 

USA Today's Brian Truitt was also content with the fourth installment, which he describes as a "funnier story" than its predecessor films, in particular, with the third one that left viewers in a "weeping mess." As every other Pixar film, Toy Story 4 is centered on a relatable theme, with Truitt writing that adults are sure to "appreciate" how the characters' are each "navigating their own existential crises — often in hilarious extremes." One particular memorable character Truitt mention is the action figure Duke Cabook (Reeves), which Truitt notes is symbolic of the “real Keanuaissance in Hollywood" being that the actor “oozes winning Canuck machismo and goofiness."

Overall, Truitt writes, that the animation is "top-notch" and the story "turns into a true romp when everyone’s plot coincides." "Toy Story 3 seemed like the end of the story, but there’s a finality to this film, too, and one that finds certain beloved mainstays making mature life decisions. Generations have grown up with the Toy Story movies, and it’s fitting that these lovably loyal pals do so as well."