Pixar lands another winner with “Toy Story 4”

Updated: Jan 11


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) reunite at a playground in Grand Basin, U.S.A.






“TOY STORY 4”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; G for everyone; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: Commentary with director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen









THE OPENING FRAMES of “Toy Story 4” are radically different from its predecessors. You might not have noticed at the multiplex when Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the gang first appeared, but this is the first Disney/Pixar animation out of 21 feature-length films to be rendered and mastered in the higher 4K resolution. Boy, can you see that difference!

Photorealistic visuals, clarity and brilliant, natural colors look better than any previous computer-animated film.


The opening scene unfolds during a thunderstorm at night in front of a suburban two-story brick home where Andy and his toys live. Thousands of raindrops are falling, showing impeccable detail as they hit the pavement, grass and windows. From corner to corner, the film’s superior resolution reveals the smallest and most complex elements. This fourth installment is also delivered in the super widescreen aspect ratio 2.39:1, another first in the Toy Story franchise. The others were framed in 1.85:1 minimal widescreen aspect ratio.


Pixar used its own RenderMan software originally launched in 1988. An early version, Reyes, created some of Hollywood’s first computer visual effects shots for “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985), a film by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. In “Young Sherlock,” a figure jumps from a stained glass window and walks as it hits the ground. The advanced RenderMan technology was used in other Hollywood greats such as James Cameron’s “The Abyss,” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”; then Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993). Since its launch, the software continued to evolve, with nearly 30 major and 60 minor releases providing improved shadowing, lighting and other state-of-the-art computer animation and visuals.


(1) True 4K mastering reveals the finest of detail during a summertime thunderstorm in front of Andy's house. (2) Andy left his radio control car out in the rain, so Woody, Bo Peep, Jessie, Buzz, and Slinky plan “Operation Pull-Toy” to rescue RC from a flooded gutter near a storm drain. (3) Woody and RC are nearly run over by a car that enters the driveway. (4) Bo tells Woody goodbye as she, her sheep and lamp have been sold.




When Pixar unveiled “Toy Story” (1995) the thought of rendering a complete 81-minute animated film seemed impossible. It could take months, even years to process. For that first film, Pixar assembled 117 computers running 24/7 for a projected 800,000 processing hours with a resolution of 1,536 by 922 pixels – that’s below HD – for the first-generation animation. Each frame took between 45-minutes to 30 hours. Today’s computers could zip through “Toy Story” and deliver it in less time than it could be watched. By 2006, when Pixar released “Cars,” their computer render power was 1,000 times greater than what they had for “Toy Story.” 


Fast-forward to the multifaceted imagery of “Toy Story 4,” where the new RIS RenderMan was used to process the complex 4K frames. Even then, processing time ran at a snail’s pace ranging from 60 to 160 hours per frame, according to producer Jonas Rivera. The thunderstorm scene averaged between 11 to 13 layers. “Toy Story 4” has an approximate 133,920 frames depending on how many were used for the end credits. Pixar uses its own “Rendering Farm” at an undisclosed California location. It has an endless bank of computers to handle the 13 million-plus hours needed to make this film come alive.


Story supervisor Valerie LaPointe calls the rainstorm prologue “the big dramatic moment that tees us up for the rest of the story,” in the exclusive Apple/Movies Anywhere featurette “Anatomy of a Scene – Prologue.” Pixar developed over 20 different versions of the opening; one including a zombie musical number.


Can you imagine that?


“Toy Story 4” begins with a rescue mission that took place nine years ago, when RC the radio control car is left out in the rain and is trapped in a flooded gutter near a storm drain. Woody and pals Jessie, Buzz and Slink jump across the hallway into the room of Andy’s little sister where Bo Peep (Annie Potts) stands watch on her lamp with her three sheep, Billy, Goat, and Gruff. From the nightstand, they raise the window blinds, and Bo and Woody spot RC in the gutter. “Operation Pull-Toy” is called into action. Slinky joins them at the window as three Barbie dolls maneuver like Olympic gymnasts to the nightstand and help propel Jessie to the window lock. It’s a perfect launch and the window is opened.



(1) Woody and the gang are inherited by five-year-old Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). (2) Woody is left in the closet and views Bonnie playing with cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) through a slot in the closet door. (3) During kindergarten orientation day Boonie creates Forky, her new best friend. (4 & 5) Woody introduces Forky to the gang.




As Woody heads outside, Bo pulls his hat down to keep the rain out of eyes like a heroine in a classic Western. He jumps out, and with Slinky’s tension-spring help, reaches the ground without a hitch. “Hang on RC,” Woody yells. He and Slinky stretch across the driveway and yard toward the raging waters. They are short by a foot. Then Bo applies her shepherd's crook and directs a string of monkeys-in-a-barrel to extend the line. RC is saved just as a car pulls into the driveway causing the toys to spring back to the side of the house. Woody remains trapped under the car. 


Someone jumps from the car and we discover he’s there to take Bo Peep, sheep and the lamp away. Molly’s outgrown her night-light. Woody and Bo share a tender goodbye under the car, leading us to believe there was more to their relationship. Woody almost leaves with Bo, but when he hears Andy calling for him, he can’t go.  


Then the opening credits start rolling under Randy Newman’s Oscar-nominated song of ’95, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Flashbacks show Andy growing up, heading off to college, and leaving his toys behind. Five-year-old Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) inherits Woody and the gang, who try to adjust to their new world. Bonnie’s name has replaced Andy’s on the bottom of Woody’s boot, but after some initial playtime, the little girl ignores him in favor of other toys. Bonnie even pulls off his sheriff’s badge and pins it onto cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack).



“The crew and the filmmakers [wanted to] get this right. These films are so important to us and our studio. In talking to people, we knew they were important to the world. People have had personal connections to these characters throughout their childhood, so with a 25-year history, all of us on the crew cared about nothing more than making this worthy of being a ‘Toy Story’ film.” — Mark Nielsen, producer


We follow Bonnie to her kindergarten orientation day. She’s afraid, like many children her age, and doesn’t want to go. Woody hops into her book bag to be there for her and, by day’s end, she returns with him and a new toy that she’s made – Forky (Tony Hale), assembled from a discarded plastic spork, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and Popsicle-stick feet. Forky feels its his destiny to be trash and keeps breaking away for a dumpster dive, but Woody, knowing how important he is to Bonnie, keeps reeling him back. 


(1) Woody tries to keep Forky from diving into the trash can. (2) Woody spots Bo Peep's lamp in the front window of an antique shop. (3) Woody and Forky go inside the antique shop and greeted by Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and Vincent a ventriloquist dummy. (4) Bo and tiny toy Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki). (5) Gabby Gabby is holding Forky as bait with hope Woody will return and then she'll grab his voice box machine.





More complications ensue. Bonnie’s family takes a road trip, and all of the toys go with them, especially her new favorite, Forky. Beautiful landscapes have been orchestrated by Cooley’s team using the full spectrum of HDR color. They end up in Grand Basin, USA at an RV park, carnival, and an antique shop which is home to a number of vintage toys including Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a 1950s-era talking doll akin to Chatty Cathy. Unfortunately, her voice box doesn’t work properly. With the help of a gang of sinister ventriloquist dummies – which could scare little ones – she tries to steal Woody’s vocal mechanism. “I grew up going to flea markets and antique stores and estate sales … She’s a creepy kind of doll,” Hendricks says in a featurette highlighting Gabby and her gang.


A surprise reunion between Woody and Bo leads to a thrilling chase and climax, ultimately involving a commandeered GPS, a carousel and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) Canada’s answer to the toy version of Evel Knievel. Duke’s apprehensive about his motorcycle stunt skills since he failed his first kid right out of the box.


The 4K set and digital versions include a number of featurettes. They showcase the creation of Forky, Duke Caboom, tiny toy Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), and stuffed, wisecracking sidekicks Ducky & Bunny, cheap carnival toys voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key. They are natural scene stealers. There are seven deleted scenes, and “Toy Stories,” where the Pixar staff reveals their workplace toy collections, which are mostly stored in offices that look more like toy stores than work areas. A personal favorite is “Bo Rebooted,” highlighting the resurgence of Bo who was MIA in “Toy Story 3.” She was developed by a team of women animators.   



To me, her character really started to embrace the story of a woman’s life. It was really cool that there were so many different women working on Bo, from story to modeling to animation.” — Mara MacMahon, character modeling & articulation artist


The team considered a complete re-imagining of Bo. At one point, she was a “Rosie the Riveter,” then another traditional collector’s doll with a fancy dress, and a space girl with a spacesuit. The designers looked at gymnasts, dancers and figure skaters to give the character an underlying smoothness, while developing the grace and beauty of an action heroine. Even though Bo’s outer shell is porcelain, “she’s not something that just sits bedside to serve. She’s much more multidimensional than that. There’s a lot to her,” voice actor Annie Potts says.


(1) Buzz Lightyear ends up attached to a carnival game booth backdrop, right beside wisecracking sidekicks Ducky & Bunny (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key). (2) Woody discovers Bo's porcelain body is broken in several spots. (3) Bo recruits Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) Canada’s answer to the toy version of Evel Knievel for a rescue mission to free Forky. (4) Bo, Ducky and Bunny watch as Duke and Woody zoom toward their jump ramp to cross the antique hallway. (5) Duke attempts another jump, this time across the carnival grounds.




The 4K and digital sites include the Dolby Atmos eight-channel soundtrack, a perfectly balanced blend of dialogue, effects, and music. Newman’s score supplies humor and heart with strings, brass, and strong percussion. It’s bound to receive another Oscar nomination. Again, Woody confronts some very adult situations that children and adults will understand. Newman’s music delivers the magic it always has, with reminders of the three previous films and a joyous touch of Aaron Copeland. There are two new songs “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” sung by Newman, 75, and “The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy,” performed by Chris Stapleton. “I have a hunch it might be the best [score] I did for ‘Toy Story,’” he says in an interview for NPR.


Top critics stepped all over themselves giving “Toy Story 4” the highest praise – landing a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Families and moviegoers felt the same. I saw “Toy Story 4” with my son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons 5 and 3 earlier this summer and everyone was glued to the screen. The film cracked over $1 billion globally, topping “Toy Story 3” box office returns by a hair.


Pixar exec Mark Nielsen and Tom Hanks say “Toy Story 4” will be the last in the franchise. The plan is to focus on making original films instead of sequels. Even so, it doesn’t seem the story is over, at least not in our hearts.


This 4K is a “Must Have” for its spectacular imagery and for its uplifting story of friendship and self-sacrifice.


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer


(1) Gabby Gabby spots a little girl lost at the carnival. (2) The girl and Gabby Gabby find each other, then the little girl is reunited with her parents. (3) Woody gives a hug to Forky during the emotional finale.





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