Blu-ray Review: Forky Meets 4K With 'Toy Story 4'
by Luke Y. Thompson
Another Toy Story movie, another billion dollars grossed worldwide. It would be so easy to hate this franchise, which couldn’t be more blatantly about selling toys. And yet, each time Pixar makes one, they seem to pull a miracle out of their toybox, with a new installment that isn’t just good, but primally hardwired to our deepest emotions. Yes, these are movies about toys, but they are movies that retain the emotional knowledge of just how important favorite toys are to kids. Who knows how today’s children, who mostly prefer video games to action figures, will respond in later years...but then, that’s why the Wreck-It Ralph franchise exists. Perhaps Disney and Pixar will have them fight in a crossover movie one day.
Time will be the true judge, but at the moment I’m thinking Toy Story 4, out now on Blu-ray and 4K, is the best sequel in the series. Part 3 has always come off just a little too manipulative to be perfect, while 2 isn’t different enough from the first. But this latest one, which leaves a radically different status quo for its characters at the end, and preps young fans for the day when they’ll inevitably leave the old family behind to start a new one, feels empowering. The world outside is no longer a giant dangerous thing to be feared, but a new frontier. Yes, it has its dangers, but it also delivers new allies and things to care about.
One of which – perhaps the most important one – is Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a Canadian-themed cyclist toy based on the popular ‘70s Evel Knievel stunt cycle that almost never worked as advertised. I’m not being facetious here. When you work in entertainment writing, as I have done for a while, Keanu Reeves is somebody one is likely to encounter. And no, I’m not claiming to know him or anything, but I have sat at tables with him, and in audiences of panels featuring him. One thing that struck me every time was that the Keanu who shows up in person, simply hasn’t ever been captured on film. The typical Reeves role is either somebody who is total zen cool, or an impulsive dude with not a lot of thought going on upstairs. The actual Reeves is incredibly warm, relaxed, emotional and thoroughly human in the best way, and it’s deeply ironic that the performance which brings this through more than any other is a plastic toy that doesn’t work right. But it’s true: Duke Caboom is closer to the real Reeves than any of his other roles, ever. And if you doubt it, note that Reeves is the cast member who is the most all over the extras – the bit where he faux-grimly intones that he always preferred playing LEGO alone is instantly meme-able.
Weirdly, the breakout character was supposed to be Forky (Tony Hale), a suicidal spork-based homecraft toy, who maintains his true purpose is to become trash. Disney had him front and center in the first teaser, then oddly seemed ill-equipped to provide the right amount of merchandising. And he is a great addition, allowing for the Toy Story universe to show its equivalent of children developing. Anyone who has ever had to supervise a very young child knows they are ingenious (if that’s the word) at coming up with ways to accidentally hurt themselves that you’d never have predicted. And faced with a “newborn” toy who does exactly that, stalwart Woody (Tom Hanks) finds himself in a parental role, which in turn subtly nudges him into growing up and beyond the comfort of a kid’s room.
Caboom, on the other hand, is a toy who got treated like trash, and still bears borderline-PTSD scars from it, having several flashback triggers to his trauma. His maturation depends upon cutting loose the memory of the person he failed, and joining fellow comrades with whom he can help others instead. Meanwhile, new primary antagonist Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) exists to show us there’s a fine line between “trash” and “antique” – in neither case is the item really being used as intended, but rather put away, either behind glass or just somewhere else nobody truly sees. Bottom line: you can tell this is a movie made by adults who still like to play with their toys. And that’s a fundamental change over 25 years of this franchise: initially, it was a movie made by adults who remembered toys of the ‘50s. Now, with Star Wars figures, references to He-Man, and characters based on Polly Pocket and Evel Knievel, it’s made by my generation. Which may explain why I get it more, and can appreciate an Alan Oppenheimer voice cameo. (He was Skeletor, y’all.)
All of the key Toy Story characters, including the new ones, are bright and candy colored in order to read clearly and from a distance. In 4K, they take on a broader palate, with more subtle shading and grades that form more natural color schemes. Dust particles and cobwebs hang in the light, and the world overall looks photo-realistic – save the humans in it. We’re at an odd place in Pixar movies where a whole lot of effort is exerted to replicate a location one could probably find cheaper in real life...but the humans remain cartoons, as the only signifier left that this is in fact a cartoon, since the toys are now close to photo-real as well.
Considering how loaded with extras The Incredibles 2 was, Toy Story 4’s “over an hour” seems a bit scant, but there is at least a commentary track from director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen. It’s fairly technical, but Cooley in particular delights in pointing out all the ways they cheated the rules of reality just for a cooler effect, and it’s to the film’s credit that most viewers likely won’t notice until they hear this. Rex stars in a short cartoon in which he befriends Bonnie’s bath time toys, then of course floods the entire house. Another odd short consists of small vignettes that appear to make use of extra incidental grunts and sounds recorded during the voice-acting sessions.
Deleted scenes, mostly in storyboard form, show numerous avenues unexplored, including Bonnie’s fear of books, and an initial concept of the antique store as a thriving city of toys – a notion too similar to Wreck-It Ralph 2’s concept of the Internet. Most feature temp actors, though an extended Duke Caboom intro does include additional Keanu Reeves lines. In other quick featurettes, we learn more about the process of dialogue recording, and hear some of the actors describe their own best memories of playing with toys.
I’m hoping Toy Story 5 deals with adults trying to buy back their favorite toy characters. Or, now that Disney owns Fox, depicts NECA’s Aliens and Predator action figures as active characters. I suspect the latter is still unlikely. Woody will probably remain the focus, after all. maybe Woody and Buzz in whatever the toy version of Grumpy Old Men is. Whatever they do, I hope it’s as much a departure as this was.