WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Toy Story 4, in theaters now.
Across three movies (and a handful of TV specials), the cast of Toy Story has become beloved. The assorted toys that once belonged to Andy were some of the definitive film characters for an entire generation. Even besides the instantly iconic Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen), the rest of the group displayed an incredible and immediate charm and sense of pathos. Each of the previous films in the series have made sure to give the supporting cast their moments in the sun, even as it grew to accommodate new characters.
That's why it's so disappointing to see them shunted off to the side in Toy Story 4. Woody is the primary focus of the film, along with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who was absent from the previous film. But, between their focus and the assorted new characters, none of the established supporting cast gets much to do. Even Buzz Lightyear is relegated to pure comic relief. Toy Story 4 wastes almost every other character.
THE SUPPORTING TOYS
Most of the supporting cast of these films were introduced in the very first Toy Story. Rex (Wallace Shawn), Ham (John Ratzenberger), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) and Slinky (originally Jim Varney, now Blake Clark) were each given a great deal of personality, even in the breezy first film. They all have specific roles to play in the hierarchy of Andy's toys, and relationships that differ largely from character to character.
The second film refined those supporting characters, while adding Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Bullseye to the group. Jessie, in particular, received a great deal of depth. She was an excitable and friendly toy with deeply human fears of abandonment. The supporting cast was arguably the best part of Toy Story 2, their hijinks during the mission to save Woody providing many of the film's biggest laughs.
They even managed to remain prevalent in the third film. Their relationships came to the forefront of the narrative, especially during the firey climax. It all built to Andy saying a fond farewell to all of them, making sure fans of the franchise gave one last goodbye to them all.
THE NEW TOYS
The supporting cast is largely pushed to the side in Toy Story 4. As always, new toys are introduced throughout the film. But, instead of just being new additions to the cast, they take over many of the beats that would have previously gone to the established cast. While Woody and Forky (Tony Hale) are dealing with the main plot, Buzz is relegated to a subplot that's more centered on laughs than anything else. Trying to listen to "the voice inside" for the first time, Buzz follows the simplistic orders that his voice box throws out. It could flow with the overall arc of the film about finding your purpose again but is ultimately just there so audiences can laugh at his antics.
Most of the rest of the toys are stuck in the camper. But, even the sequences that are there don't focus on the established toys. Instead, the bets in the camper are largely fuelled by Trixie (Kristen Schaal) and Buttercup (Jeff Garlin). The main toys receive a handful of perfunctory lines here and there, but nothing more than that. None of them receive any of the kind of character beats previous films afforded them. Here, it comes across as brief reminders that yes, these characters do technically still exist. Toy Story 4 really isn't all that interested in any of them, and it shows.
BACK IN THE BOX
It's a shame that the film chooses this direction, especially with how the film ends. Woody says goodbye to his long-time friends, joining Bo (Annie Potts) in becoming a "lost toy." Barely any time is spent showcasing the other toys' response to seeing Bo again, and their goodbye to Woody is likewise too brief.
Only Jessie really gets a moment to have an emotional response to the situation. Throughout the film, Jessie has been hinted as Woody's replacement in Bonnie's eye. She's even become the sheriff in Bonnie's playtime imagination. But, the film merely sets that up without exploring it. If the film had dedicated more attention to that subplot, then Woody giving her his sheriff badge would have landed with more resonance.
The entire climatic goodbye feels rushed, mostly because the supporting cast has gotten so little to do. While the new characters like Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves) are all great additions to the world, it comes at the sacrifice of other, more established characters. This undercuts the finale somewhat, and makes what should be arguably the most emotional segment of the series into a more truncated sequence. The rest of the Toy Story cast is beloved, and it's a shame that they don't receive the kind of sendoff that is afforded to Woody.
Directed by Josh Cooley, Toy Story 4 stars Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Keanu Reeves, Annie Potts, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Jeff Pidgeon, Blake Clark, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and Tony Hale.