Sure, it looks like a fun family film, but don’t be fooled by the marketing materials. Toy Story 4 is actually a horror movie. Critic Luke Buckmaster has 10 reasons to prove it.
You might remember, if you cast your mind back to when Toy Story 3 bounced into cinemas in 2010, two strange events occurring around the time of its release. The first: the appearance of news stories reporting that grown men had been reduced to blubbery wrecks, torn asunder by the film’s emotional messages.
And the second: when you watched the critically acclaimed cinematic eye-waterer for yourself and discovered those reports were not hyperbolic. You possibly shed a tear also. This film was always, in other words, going to be a tough act to follow.
The belated third sequel Toy Story 4 gets off to a thoroughly unimpressive start. A déjà vu-evoking intro captures Woody executing a failed toy rescue mission, followed by a montage set to the tune of Randy Newman’s You Got a Friend in Me. Been there, done that.
But then, when young Bonnie (voice of Madeleine McGraw) sits by herself during Kindergarten orientation day, fiddling around with a plastic spork and a piece of pipe cleaner, something – well, a couple of things – pretty magical and pretty damn messed up transpires. The film becomes an increasingly alarming romp across the terrain of scary genre movies such as Frankenstein, Get Out, Mad Max and even Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Strangers on a Train.
First, there’s the creation of Bonnie’s new bestie Forky – a jerrybuilt, googly-eyed toy who is weirdly endearing, with his mischievous charm and misshapen figure. Then there’s what this moment signifies: a spork in the road, if you will, with director Josh Cooley saying sayonara to formula and sending the film hurtling into a world of batshit weirdness.
I put it to you, friends, that at that point Toy Story 4 becomes a horror movie. I can prove this with the following 10 reasons. Beware of spoilers, because there’s lots of ‘em below.
1. Bonnie creates malformed life, like Frankenstein
Bonnie constructs her new best pal, mad scientist style, using the aforementioned materials in addition to a blue rubber band (for Forky’s mouth) and two halves of a popsicle stick (his feet). The ‘it’s alive’ moment, with Forky (voice of Tony Hale) rising from the proverbial operating table, occurs when Bonnie writes her name on his feet. At this point Forky becomes sentient. But…why is this madman creating life willy-willy? Did she stop to consider the ethical ramifications of bringing into the world a fully conscious being? It is concerning because…
2. Forky is freaky
Remember that horror movie The Hills Have Eyes, about a family of deranged cannibals not meant for this world? Forky is like one of them: born with weird limbs, a very strange body structure, and various, er, distinctive qualities. So viewers won’t be surprised to discover his initial days are rough. They will be more surprised to discover that…
3. Forky is intensely suicidal
Woody stations himself on toy suicide watch. This is necessary because Forky is constantly trying to commit suicide, by flinging himself off ledges and throwing himself out of windows. He longs to return to a state of trash. Trash, Forky says, is “warm, it’s cozy, it’s safe.” Being trash also means being dead. Unless Toy Story 4 is concealing a parallel world of anthropomorphic talking garbage.
4. A creepy girl doll is like the villain from Get Out
In an antiques store Woody meets an old Chatty Cathy-type doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who, like him, has a string that activates her speech. She (very creepily) tells him “you’ve got what I want.” Gabby isn’t talking about Woody’s hat or his badge. She’s talking about his voice box, which she is desperate to rip out of his body. This is like a scene from the horror film Get Out, when the diabolic Jim (Stephen Root) tells the terror-struck protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) that he intends to remove his eyeballs. “I want your eyes, man. I want those things you see through.”
5. Toy Story 4 then becomes a post-apocalyptic survival style
So maybe not horror per se, but certainly batshit weird. As Woody gets wrapped up in a rambunctious adventure in and around a carnival, we meet gangs of vagabonds and marauders who rocket across this landscape, Mad Max style, including an Aunty Entity or Furiosa-like Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts) and her remote control car disguised as a skunk. The influence of George Miller’s dystopian desert movies is particularly noticeable in moments involving a sandpit.
6. Then it becomes a creature feature
A ferocious cat named Dragon polices the aisles of the antiques shop, ready to rip the stuffing out of the principal characters. At one point Woody and his companions spy a toy that Dragon has mauled. It has been ripped in half, its innards spilling out of its decapitated body. “Is that how we look on the inside?” asks Bunny (who is voiced by horror auteur Jordan Peele).
7. Dolls called Vincent have a super creepy way of running
Gabby’s henchmen are a bunch of voiceless ventriloquist dolls all called Vincent. Their necks can’t support the weight of their heads, so their faces slump to the side as they move. It’s freaky.
8. Characters risk their lives underneath a carousel
Bo leads a bunch of character underneath a carousel, where the prospect of death becomes very real. The group is rattled when they witness machinery underneath the ride crush a tin can like a paper cup. This moment recalls Alfred Hitchcoock’s classic 1951 scary movie Strangers on a Train, when, during the film’s intense finale, a carnival worker makes a daring mission to stop a fast-moving carousel by crawling towards the brakes from underneath it.
9. The human adults drive an RV that becomes haunted
Haunted is one way of putting it. Another would be to say that a bunch of beloved toy characters take over the RV (driven by Bonnie’s dad) like evil impish elves. First they imitate the GPS system and then, once the pesky humans decide to think for themselves and drive their own way, they take over the RV’s controls, including accelerator and brakes, seemingly giving it as a life of its own. Like cars from the sci-fi horror film Upgrade.
10. Buttercup the unicorn is a maniacal son of a bitch
Buttercup the unicorn was introduced in Toy Story 3. In this film he is revealed to be, if not the devil himself, certainly a no-goodnik and sadist completely obsessed with the idea of framing Bonnie’s parents for a crime. When the toys are brainstorming ways to control the movements of Bonnie’s parents, Buttercup contributes the following idea: “We could frame Dad for a crime so he goes to jail.” He suggests this multiple times. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the face of pure evil.