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REVIEW: ‘Metaphor, philosophy, and dream language’ – Ebert was right: Toy Story 4 is great

Toy Story 4. Publicity art.
Toy Story 4. Publicity art.

A Brief Review by Patrick B. McGuigan


Toy Story 4” is a blockbuster headed toward a billion dollars in ticket sales around the world, having earned back many times its budget. The voice of Tom Hanks seems ageless in his reprise as Sheriff Woody, Tim Allen is stellar as the voice of Buzz Lightyear, and, to the viewer’s joy, Little Bo Peep (Annie Potts) takes a strong turn. “Bo,” as Woody calls her, employs her staff, in this one, as a kind of ninja warrior’s tool and occasionally as a weapon.

For those who have not yet seen it – go.

This is simultaneously the best of all the series and the finale.

While certainly a product of these times, the film is not crushed with political correctness – yet nicely renders a softly feminist story line, in which a guy follows a girl for reasons of the heart, and the future.

I’ll not spoil the story line, but it is fine. At a modest 1 hour and 40 minutes, there’s lots of time to get reacquainted with old friends and new.

A road trip, a Carnival, a longing for home, good music. Grace notes are there, with a plot that twists and turns and resolves itself believably. Believable is the right word: A compliment for … a cartoon.

A teacher and now a grandparent, I have often used films and stories that yield great (even if highly popular) literature to draw out the imagination. Each passing year, fewer and fewer youngsters (perhaps because of a decline in reading, or stresses on family time, or other factors) naturally imagine themselves “in” a story, or intuitively see themselves as versions of characters on screen or pages.

The remarkable achievement of Toy Story 4 is it proves me wrong: Kids of all ages and those older folks who love them see in this story … themselves.

In this work, it is not hard but easy to get young minds to go to a special corner of human imagination, bringing forth the empathy, compassion and perception that enables to walk a mile or more in the shoes of another person.

One could quarrel that the Toy Story franchise is “just” an animated series, but my goodness.

In his late June review of this film, Roger Ebert captured the status of Toy Story 4 in our culture and in the hearts of millions: “Few blockbuster movie series are so likable and accessible to people of all ages and cultures, yet at the same time so rich in metaphor, philosophy, and dream language.”

Maybe it’s just a great story. Grandchildren who saw it for the first time with their Opa, your humble servant, regaled adults with moments from the film (which they had not seen previously) describing this or that moment as “cool,” another as “scary.” They related events from start to finish, with the sweetness and avidity of youth.

When the film was released, Hanks related at one press conference a moment when, recording Woody’s voice for the last time, he was convinced he was using the same headphone and microphone as in the earlier films. Whether that was an imaginative leap or literally true, he said that as he removed from his head the device that helps deliver magic, he wept.

Whether viewed in the adult mind through the lens of passing decades as capturing stages of life, or in the perception of a child (unborn when the first three films were released) as something to see again and again, the Toy Story saga remains human work that can aptly be deemed: Art.

Great or simply good? See it and decide for yourself.

Toy Story 4. Publicity art.

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