While the narrative does ultimately work, there are quite a few speed bumps along the way. The opening and ending of the movie don't belong as they utilize uninspired tropes that make you feel like your watching a completely different thing. Then there are two separate moments where the score is overbearing and ruins some genuine heart to hearts or dispirits the final act. These problems all play into a bigger issue that goes beyond Pixar films. The act of cutting off emotional resonance with a joke or music cue is used to relieve the audience of brunting any emotional work. It's a modern problem that gives viewers a pass as filmmakers only want people to cry at the very end. I wish those moments could be given room to breathe.
Pixar has always seemed more interested in telling stories than chasing digital superiority. Unlike recent Disney Animation movies, there was never an instance where I thought I was looking at something real. The more stylized approach works here as the fantasy setting ends up validating itself by the end. Even though photorealism isn't achieved here, the animation technology on display is no slouch. The hair on characters melds the abundant strands with a course look that makes it the best hair I've seen in animation. Magical effects are wonderfully rendered and realized.
Onward is the best thing from Pixar since Up. It has the heart, it looks great, and my entire theater clapped... twice. It's a safe bet to take the whole family to when it comes out on March 6, and everyone will have a good time. Children and adults laughed, awed, and the adults teared up. I hope this is a sign that Pixar will go back to making moving animated stories that hit the mark. Not only would audiences finally be going to movies that are worth their time, but the whole industry would benefit too.
I hope this isn't an Incredibles 2 moment where I really like it then realize its not that good
values, Toy Story 4 takes a page from the first movie and centers on Woody. Most of the pretense of being a toy is ripped away as a story about moving on and deciding when it's right to focus on yourself takes center stage.
The change of pace was the main factor of enjoyment for me. Cutting out the beloved cast and pushing new characters into the spotlight broke the series from its holding pattern. Nothing is lost with the absence of favorites though as keeping an emotional center grounds the experience. Not having to divide screen time across a large cast allows for more time with Woody, cementing his hold on the franchise.
With all of that praise out of the way, I can tell you that this is not a perfect film. It lacks a strong sense of energy to propel the plot forward. For a movie so reliant on its ability to stir emotions, this is counter-intuitive to making you feel them. Instead of developing strong relationships between characters, it leans heavily on the soundtrack to get a rise out of the audience. The constant battle to keep you entertained is sabotaged with a slower pace, stagnating the overall feeling of the film.
Toy Story 4 relies heavily on the viewer to fill in blanks, hoping they had seen the three previous entries. In its attempt to tell a smaller story, it discovers something new but doesn't have the juice to make it compelling. Too reliant on old tricks and the use of too many crutches, it stumbles and ends up being an average movie. Sure, Disney is the only studio able to afford the amazing rendering technology to make features look this good, but the loss to Spider-Man speaks volumes. All of that doesn't matter though as movie-goers will come out in droves to see it. Toy Story 4 is not for kids, its made for the adults who have grown with the property, and tells a story for them. Hilariously, it's still one of the best movies in theaters, so you don't have to wait for it on streaming.
Please, no more Toy Story movies