You can’t teach this old toy new tricks.
I felt like I was moderating my expectations pretty well in the lead up to this film. I’d heard a lot of people saying that it was an unnecessary sequel and wasn’t as good as the first three, but that it was still fun to spend time with the characters we’d known and loved all these years. So I didn’t go in expecting it to be a masterpiece or be on par with the masterful original trilogy or anything. I went in with pretty middling expectations; and it managed to not even clear that bar. The movie has some decent ideas. I liked the idea of Bo Peep being a lost toy and loving it; since the very first movie, we’ve kind of been in Woody’s head where being lost is kind of the worst fate imaginable for a toy and so I liked them flipping that on its head and exploring the reverse of his perspective. And there’s some potential in Gabby Gabby, a creepy antique store doll, given great voice by Christina Hendricks. In a lot of ways, I guess it’s the new characters, or, in Bo’s case, the old characters given a new twist, that work the best here. I’ll admit that I wasn’t as enamored of Forky as a lot of people seemed to be and Keanu Reeves’ much bandied about role is a real bust, but Ally Maki really stole every scene she had as Giggle McDimples, a Polly Pocket-esque mini-doll. But with those old characters that the movie really faltered for me. As I said above, a lot of people got the warm nostalgia hit, even if they found the movie to be flawed, by spending time with the old characters they’ve loved for years, but I didn’t feel like these even really were the same characters. Woody and Buzz both just felt off, like they were broader versions of their characters. It’s a weird way to say it, I guess, but this felt like Toy Story fanfiction to me, not a real Toy Story movie. And if Woody & Buzz didn’t feel like themselves, well, let’s not even get into the way the other characters are barely present; Jessie’s been a real favorite of mine since her introduction in Toy Story 2 and while this movie makes a big deal out of her stepping up into a new role as a character beat, it's just kind of shoehorned in and it feels like she’s barely in the movie at all and only as a plot device when she is. Like I say, I went in with low expectations and I was still disappointed. I think the best I can say is that it’s basically harmless. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it really, but if you catch up to it at some point, well, I can be generous enough to hope it works for you, as it seems like it has worked for a lot of people. But, for me, Pixar has continued its track record of just being all over the map on its sequels; sometimes they’re great – sometimes they’re not. Sometimes . . . like this one . . . I mean, man, Monsters University was better than this. Monsters University is a good comparison point actually. It is, in many ways, a sloppier movie than this one and a movie with less on its mind in a thematic way; but the Mike & Sully in that movie were absolutely positively the Mike & Sully I knew and remembered from Monsters Inc. Woody and Buzz in this movie are kind of the generic knock-off versions of themselves in this one. 2 stars.
tl;dr – unnecessary sequel has a few interesting things, but it’s mostly flat, uninspired and doesn’t even supply the minimum necessary nostalgia. 2 stars.