Toy Story 4": Even toys are sometimes tired of life

Critique The astonishingly robust plastic gang from the children’s room is once again caught up in existential crises – and discovers creepy realms. A film that nobody needed, but which is still fun. From Thursday at the cinema.

There’s the Canadian stuntman (original voice: Keanu Reeves) with his plastic motorbike, which has been plagued by inferiority complexes ever since he realized that his tricks weren’t as spectacular as his commercial image. What’s the value of an action figure that can’t be used for anything but posing? Then there’s Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the daredevil in a space suit who now wants to listen to his inner voice. So he pushes the buttons on his chest, and commands sound: “To the rescue!”, “Return to base!”. Is that his conscience? Even the clarified cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) is back, but he is plagued by feelings of rejection and first dust fluff: Maybe a kind of midlife crisis.

And then there’s the new one in the nursery: Forky (Tony Hale), a sad little man made of a plastic fork, pipe cleaners and broken ice sticks as feet. The girl Bonnie made him in kindergarten and immediately declared him a darling. But he has problems with his existence as a recycled toy: he belongs in the garbage! Generally: “Why am I alive? With suicidal determination he regularly throws himself into the next dung bucket, and Woody has to tirelessly pull him out again: You can’t thank him so easily when a child’s well-being depends on you. Or?

In its fourth round, the “Toy Story” series, which has been extremely successful since 1995 with its humanization of toys, is also dedicated to deeply human questions: It’s about identity, about self-esteem, about fear of change. Yes, about the meaning of life! Of course, this plastic gang has often been confronted with existential crises: In the first part, the first completely computer-animated film ever, the characters had to realize that they were toys; in the second that their only true purpose is to be used by children (and that immortality doesn’t make them happy); in the third that happiness doesn’t last forever and you sometimes have to let go and dare a new beginning. A round trilogy that didn’t really need to be continued. But a series of successes that always exceeds all expectations at the box offices of cinemas and the toy market as well as among critics is something that a company like Disney naturally doesn’t ignore.

Another adventure, then. The director was Josh Cooley, who previously worked with short films and as a storyboard developer at Disney’s animation company Pixar. Like its predecessors, the film combines family-friendly jokes, elegantly animated action scenes, and the charming notion that once objects are out of our perception, they lead a life of their own.

Behind all this is melancholy.

Again some toys – this time on a late summer camper trip – have been separated from their owner Bonnie and have to find their way back to her. And again, behind all the toy car chases, the cuddly toy jumping and the precocious joke is the spirit of deep melancholy. The transience of being is, after all, painfully conscious of figures that are dragged and stepped on as standard. Two new brands, Stoffhase and Stoffküken, also learn this. “That’s what we look like inside,” they ask in amazement when they first see a beheaded conspecific. “So much fluff!

The toys here are surprisingly robust anyway: “Toy Story”, nostalgic like many Disney films, holds up ideals from times when toys were handed down from child to child and lasted for decades. Tablets or smartphones can’t be seen here, nor can children’s cupboards bursting with junk. But dolls that are so creepy that even adults could get queasy: In an antique shop, the smart Gabby Gabby runs an iron regime with the help of an army of insidious wooden ventriloquists. She is a tragic villain. She was always spurned by girls – because she came out of the factory with a broken tape, she thinks. Now she wants to snatch a spare part from Woody, who also has a loudspeaker in his back. Will this make her happy?

Meanwhile, Woody is exploring new, self-determined life forms: His girlfriend, the cheeky shepherdess Bo Peep, a porcelain figure, was once discarded and sent away in a box. Now he meets her again, as an independent vagabond, who is rushing around playgrounds in a vehicle disguised as a skunk and sticking Tixo to her arm, which had been broken off during a fight. Who needs a nursery, if he can have all that, she raves at the view from the top of the merry-go-round to a glittering amusement park.

Visually, “Toy Story 4” plays all the pieces – and demonstrates how animation technology has evolved. The scenes in the dim antique shop stand out: the characters sneak through cobwebs and over dusty cables. Forky looks really fragile and cheap next to the many perfectly textured figures – he is basically a plastic fork. What will Disney’s merchandising department come up with?


Success Story. The first completely computer-animated film, “Toy Story” (1995), told of the fears, hopes and relationships of toys. The co-production with Disney became a resounding success for Studio Pixar, which was owned and financially stumbled by Steve Jobs at the time. In 1999 a second part followed, again staged by John Lasseter, in 2010 – Pixar had meanwhile been taken over by Disney – a third. The fourth part is released under the title “A Toy Story: Alles hört auf kein Kommando”.

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Christina Cherry
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