James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
There’s a world out there that has appropriated our toys and turned them into a vast array of film franchises that serve very different cinematic purposes. One is about lovable characters with existential issues we have followed for decades, and the other is a jump-scare factory about a doll who can harness evil. Put them side by side and they are completely different. But in the right context, each is an equally horrifying experience.
These are, of course, TOY STORY 4 and ANNABELLE: COMES HOME, two sequels to successful franchises about child’s playthings that found success at critically and commercially this summer. Thankfully, the garbage fire that was the CHILD’S PLAY remake will not be making an appearance on this column. Neither of these sequels is fully able to live up to the success of their predecessors; however, they each find their own distinct tone and message that allow them to be flawed, yet memorable.
Lurking on the edges is THE ADDAMS FAMILY double feature, a macabre comedy that has almost been forgotten but offers up some throwback feels from the 90s. With the new animated film hitting theaters, it fits nicely along with these other offerings.
TOY STORY 4
When the marketing came out for the fourth entry in the TOY STORY saga, all signs indicated that this sequel was going to sink the franchise altogether. The addition of Forky looked like an offensive play at creating a new vision for a story that already ended on a perfect note.
The results could not have been more different. TOY STORY 4 was a hugely satisfying cap to the franchise that used the aforementioned piece of plastic cutlery to significant effect, and it gives Woody a perfect way to ride off into the sunset.
It all starts with Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang’s new human Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) as she’s launches a new chapter in her life: kindergarten.
Sad, alone and overwhelmed by the prospect of starting school, Bonnie creates Forky (Tony Hale), a sentient being that has been deemed a toy but wants nothing more than to be trash.
From there, the Josh Cooley directed film falls under familiar territory, but still is (nonetheless) heartfelt, especially its ending. Along the way, we’re introduced to several new characters like Gaby Gaby (Christina Hendricks), a lonely doll without a voice; Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), an old daredevil toy with something to prove; and two wise-cracking tethered carnival toys Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key).
Cooley’s film still feels fresh, and Pixar’s animation is still progressing to make some incredible images. It may be an unnecessary film, but the ending of TOY STORY 4 hits close to home, suggesting our lives are about accepting that the seasons change.
Extras: Deleted scenes and some nice little tips of the cap to the franchise like Woody and Buzz, which chronicles the iconic friendship; Toy Box, a feature that shows the filmmaking team’s favorite childhood toys; and Bo Rebooted, a look at the new and improved character. Disney typically always brings it in the special feature department, but rarely do they ever require tissues.
TOY STORY 4 is available on 4K, Blu-ray and Digital now.
The doll that just won’t quit has turned into a horror phenomenon. Never has a character that rarely moves, or offers a line of dialogue, gone on to have such widespread popularity. There’s just something about the character design that has audiences shrieking in terror. The idea behind ANNABELLE is inherently creepy, but the execution is lacking, especially with this third entry (compared to the very good ANNABELLE: CREATION from a couple of years back).
Director Gary Dauberman has had his hand in making tons of audience-friendly horror, including helping with the screenplay for the disappointing IT: CHAPTER 2. He has creative ideas; they just aren’t mined for any horror nuance. So if you’re looking for simple jump-scares dressed up to be the movie equivalent of an old-school haunted house, this iteration of ANNABELLE may be for you. ANNABELLE: COMES HOME has the evil doll calling upon a murderers row of spooky figures, including the ghostly Ferryman, a Werewolf and The Bloody Bride.
As lovely as it is to see Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson come back for a couple of scenes, the scares loaded inside this third installment will do very little for veteran horror fans. Everything plays out as a low-rent novelty that gets incredibly repetitive. While the filmmaking displayed on a technical level allows the film to achieve heightened production values, this one can’t help but play exclusively in the realm of cheap thrills.
Extras: Warner Brothers home video has done well by their horror releases as of late, creating some nice packages of special features to dive into. ANNABELLE: COMES HOME features deleted scenes, a look into the Warren’s Artifact Room, a glimpse into the dark and the light sides of the CONJURING Universe, and a look into the new monsters featured in the film.
ANNABELLE: COMES HOME is available now on Digital and Blu-ray.
Tales involving everybody’s favorite finger-snapping, kooky family have been told a few times since they appeared as a cartoon strip and sitcom in the 1960s. Director Barry Sonnenfeld put out two ADDAMS FAMILY movies in the ’90s. Both appeared on cable frequently quite often; however, they never really penetrated the cultural zeitgeist. Tim Burton was too busy taking up space with his brand of lovable weirdos.
Both of Sonnenfeld’s films are enjoyable visions brought to life with a cast and production design that are to die for. The presence of (the late) Raul Julia as Gomez Addams and the legendary Anjelica Huston as Morticia is pitch-perfect casting.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY came out in 1991, and it has aged well based on its visual stylings and overall filmmaking. It just lacks in the story department. It becomes an overly complicated romp that is more dull than exciting. There just weren’t many opportunities for the character work to shine other than in small anecdotal flashes, namely with Christina Ricci as the morbidly curious Wednesday and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester. Sonnenfeld achieves a level of perfection that’s undercut by heavy plotting.
The sequel is an entirely different story. ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES is a gleeful continuation that came shortly after the massive success of the original, and it’s better in literally every way possible. Sonnenfeld expands the world and makes the film a bit more palatable with a sketch comedy feel that lets the Addams’ twisted sense of humor take center stage.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY combo pack available now on Blu-ray.