Friday 19 July 2019

Film of the week: New toys give beloved Story shelf life

Forky and Duke Caboom add something special to Pixar’s winning formula in this witty sequel, says Paul Whitington

The toys go on an adventure in an RV
The toys go on an adventure in an RV
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Woody and friends have survived just about every woe that can befall a toy at this stage. Over the last 24 years they've coped with sadistic children and the arrival of messianic interlopers (Toy Story), abductions and yard sales (Toy Story 2), and, of course, abandonment (Toy Story 1, 2, 3 and 4).

They'd survive the flood, this lot, and pity the poor writers tasked with picking up the reins of perhaps the most beloved franchise of them all, the one that got Pixar started, the jewel of many a childhood.

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Andrew Stanton has been with these characters from the start, and on this film, he and co-writer Stephany Folsom have found clever ways to invigorate their story, and possibly even bring it to a close. At the end of Toy Story 3 (2010), Andy passed his toys on to his winsome little sister Bonnie, who took them to her heart. All has been well, but when Bonnie begins attending kindergarten, a new threat presents itself.

She comes home from her first day with a new toy fashioned from pipe cleaners and a plastic fork. She calls it Forky, but it's not best pleased to find out it's come to life as a toy. So far as Forky's concerned, he's a disposable implement and provides an amusing suicidal subtext by constantly trying to throw himself in the bin. Before he can, though, Bonnie's parents announce they're going on a road trip in an RV. All the toys will go with her, and while Woody (Tom Hanks) orders everyone to keep an eye on Forky, it's not long before he goes missing.

When Woody goes after him, they end up in a strange antique shop, where a vintage doll called Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) tells Woody a sob story about never having been loved by a child - she may have an agenda. Meanwhile, Woody runs into his old friend Bo (Annie Potts), who was given away by Bonnie's mom a few years earlier and is now living wild as a free toy.

Woody is tempted by this invigorating new life, but must come to Forky's aid when he's kidnapped by Gabby Gabby and her doll henchmen. Bonnie, meanwhile, is wondering where all her toys have gone, and her parents are itching to leave town.

Woody with Duke Caboom, who is hilariously voiced by Keanu Reeves
Woody with Duke Caboom, who is hilariously voiced by Keanu Reeves

The Toy Story films run to a carefully crafted recipe, and writers must tread a fine line between innovation and tradition. All the old familiar voices are present here, with Wallace Shawn, Joan Cusack and John Ratzenburger returning as Rex, Jessie and Ham. Buzz, of course, is also involved, but less prominently than usual. Could this have anything to do with the bizarre recent pronouncements of Tim Allen? He's a vocal Trump supporter and, a couple of years back, compared life as a Republican in Hollywood to being Jewish in 1930s Germany. Oops.

Buzz does come to the rescue late on, but is mostly consigned to the wings, while Woody and Forky (nicely voiced by Tony Hale) drive the story. Their adventure in the antique shop is very nicely handled: Gabby Gabby's underlings are like those creepy dolls from the horror films and, as they escort Woody into her presence, a passing gramophone plays music from The Shining.

Perhaps the film's most winning vocal performance comes from Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a daredevil Canadian motorbike toy who talks a good game but is plagued by nagging self-doubts that are illustrated in a hilarious flashback.

The reimagined Bo is less demure and lady-like than previously, and now seems more like Lara Croft than a shepherdess. This nod to the #MeToo movement is playful rather than heavy-handed, however, and Toy Story 4's script has a light and subtle touch. It's a good deal funnier than Toy Story 3, and rarely makes the mistake of trading on past glories. There are some lovely moments, particularly a soulful sequence in which Woody dispenses some much-needed worldly wisdom to Forky while they wander down a lonely, moonlight country road, looking like something out of Waiting For Godot.

One takes Tom Hanks for granted in these films, but he is their heart and soul and is quite superb here as a stuffed cowboy who's running out of road. The film's finale suggests this might indeed be the end for Woody, Buzz and the gang and, if so, it would be an entirely appropriate one.

But Disney and Pixar might be loathe to close the lid on this illustrious franchise, so don't be shocked if plans are announced for a fifth instalment.

Toy Story 4 (G, 100mins) - 4 stars

Films coming soon ...

Yesterday (Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon); Apollo 11 (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins); In Fabric (Hayley Squires, Julian Barratt, Marianne Jean-Baptiste); Metal Heart (Moe Dunford, Jordanne Jones).

At the Movies: Your guide to all the week’s new releases

Brightburn (16, 90mins) - 3 stars

What if Superman was a bad seed? That's the premise of this stylish horror directed by David Yarovesky and written by Mark and Brian Gunn. Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) are trying to get pregnant when a strange vessel crash-lands on their farm. Inside is a tiny infant they decide to raise as their own. But Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is an alien, and when he reaches puberty, terrifying powers are unleashed. Storm clouds lower as Brandon's mood darkens, and the twinning of teenage strops and superpowers is an interesting premise. But the promise of Brightburn's first hour is squandered in a messy, gory climax.  

Child’s Play (16, 90mins) - 3 stars

In 1988, a nasty little B-horror called Child's Play introduced us to the questionable charms of Chucky, an angelic-looking doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer. There were sequels, lots of them, and now this reboot gives the story a digital update. A tech company has created a child's companion called Buddi, a computerised doll which dedicates itself to its owner. When Karen (Aubrey Plaza) gets one for her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), she doesn't realise it's defective, and will soon embark on a bloody rampage. Lars Klevberg's film evokes the hokey 80s horror of films like Gremlins and is amusingly nasty for a while.

Rolling Thunder Revue (Netflix, 15, 142mins) - 4 stars

In 1975, Bob Dylan embarked on a raw and ramshackle trans-American tour in the company of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and others. Dylan wanted to bypass the huge arenas and connect with the people in smaller, more intimate venues and as his ragged band honed its act, some unforgettable live performances ensued. Martin Scorsese's long but absorbing Netflix documentary uses archive footage to give us a grainy snapshot of the watchful, clever, mischievous maestro in his prime. And interviews with an older, wiser Bob provide some hilarious insights.

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