If you liked the first three Toy Story scores, then you’ll be very pleased with number four…as it’s basically just more of the same. It’s good, it’s just not different.
Toy Story 4 seems determined to be a movie that tugs heavy on the strings of nostalgia, and the same is very much true of its score album, as it opens with yet another rendition of the classic You’ve Got A Friend In Me; the song and main theme from the original Toy Story. It is and always has been a fantastic piece of music, but I question whether it was really necessary here, especially as it’s a pretty much exact recreation of the original 1999 track. Still, it is Toy Story I suppose, and you can’t have a new entry to the franchise without them whacking you over the head with memories from the old ones.
The actual score begins with Operation Pull Toy, and it’s here that we get to hear Randy Newman go full Toy Story-style for the first time since 2010. The familiar upbeat strings and near heroic brass kick in pretty much immediately as Newman quickly reprises a theme from the first film, before then diving straight into action territory. Tense strings and rapid brass then take up the next few minutes, slowly building up in volume and intensity until we get a rather wonderful-sounding thematic throwback to the original Toy Story score with a few borrowed musical moments from its final action setpiece. Things then down towards the end with soft and hopeful strings before the track then draws to a close. All-in, this opening cue does a pretty great job of reintroducing us to the musical world of Toy Story in a very short amount of time, and also is a pretty enjoyable track all on its own.
A Spork In The Road introduces the first new theme on the score; the one for the new toy Forky. It’s a rather sombre and sad piece, primarily using low piano notes and melancholic strings in an almost blues-like jazzy fashion. The new theme is also mixed with the theme from the original Toy Story at several points throughout the track, which while it does help to bridge the gap between old and new, I feel also detracts slightly from the new motif as it isn’t really allowed to shine on its own (here or indeed anywhere else on the album). It’s also not helped by the fact that the original Toy Story theme is leaps and bounds more musically interesting than the new one, so it gets kind of overshadowed on its own debut track.
More music from previous entries in the franchise is reprised in Buzz’s Flight & a Maiden, this time from the opening sequence from Toy Story 2; Buzz’s action theme. The track plays slowly at first, with low and soft strings before then rapidly building up with dramatic brass and backing percussion until the action theme finally arrives in gloriously epic fashion. I’ve always been a fan of this particular motif (as it’s simple yet so damn good) so I was particularly pleased to see it getting an appearance here, despite its unfortunate shortness (as this thematic cameo only lasts all of ten seconds).
The brass-based action then continues through into Moving At The Speed Of Skunk, where more of the final action setpiece of the original Toy Story makes an appearance, though in a similarly short manner as Buzz’s Flight as the track is only a minute or so long. I must admit, I’ve never been a fan of this “reprising a theme for a few seconds before moving on” business. It’s a recurring musical idea that composers seem to have for a lot of film sequels, and I’ve never really understood it. If you’re going to bring a theme back, then bring it back. Don’t just give us a little bit of it and then whisk it away, that’s just unfair. It also I feel detracts from the rest of the album, as on multiple occasions I found myself listening out for little bits of the previous Toy Story scores more than I was looking for new themes. If you’re going to reprise an old theme, then please use it properly.
The action returns in Let’s Caboom!, with the rapid strings and dramatic brass kicking in right off the bat. Marching percussion then arrives shortly afterward, making for a pretty frantic opening minute before things slow down slightly as the familar Toy Story strings reappear for a few softer moments. This doesn’t last long however as the percussion starts to build up in the background until the brass steps back up and the action then continues. There were also a few moments here where I thought I heard hints towards a new theme, and if so it was likely for Duke Caboom, the new Canadian stuntman toy in the movie. Being quite an action-centric piece I’d say it fits his character quite well, but like with Forky’s theme I think I’d struggle to recognise it outside of the album.
The album’s finale (and incidentally, the standout cue) then arrives with Parting Gifts & New Horizons, a rather sad and strings-heavy piece of music. Sad endings seem to be a bit of a recurring theme with these movies, and it would seem that Toy Story 4 is no different, judging by the music anyway. Several of the major themes from the first movie get short and sombre reprises about midway through the track, and this combined with some rather breathtaking strings work and a surprisingly hopeful final minute (featuring another thematic reprise from a previous movie) makes it the best piece of music on here, and a great finale to the album on the whole.
Overall, Randy Newman’s score to Toy Story 4, is good, even great. If you liked the first three scores then you will most certainly like this, as it’s basically just more of the same. There are a few new themes dotted around here and there (most notably Forky’s) but they aren’t particularly memorable nor very present on the album (as other than in their debut tracks I struggled to pick them out again). As a result, it’s the sadly short reprises of previous Toy Story themes that stand out the most here. The familiar strings-based sound of Newman’s previous work for the franchise is very much present, and while I would certainly say that it’s a well crafted and quite enjoyable album overall, I do feel that it perhaps needed a bit more to it in order to stand out from its predecessors.
Standout Cue: 24. Parting Gifts & New Horizons