It’s hard enough to end a trilogy on a good note (see The Godfather Part III, The Hangover Part III, The Matrix Revolutions), but why ruin one of the best conclusions with a fourth installment? That was the million dollar question with Toy Story 4.
Was it really necessary? Also, why risk leaving a bad taste with audiences after reducing them to teary-eyed, choked up messes with Toy Story 3? Turns out Pixar might actually know a thing or two about its beloved franchise and all concerns about a lackluster installment weren’t warranted after all.
Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and the gang are in a transition phase with their new kid, Bonnie. Unlike the old status quo with Andy, Woody is no longer the favorite as Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) isn’t obsessed with cowboys.
Poor Woody keeps a positive attitude, but more often he’s relegated to the closet of discarded toys. He’s even picking up dust bunnies from a lack of activity in Bonnie’s world.
Forgotten or not, Woody retains his dutiful sense of loyalty to his kid and tags along to make sure Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten is a success. It starts off dicey but eventually things pick up as Woody provides Bonnie the tools to make a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale).
Forky isn’t interested in being a toy and in a pretty funny meta take knows exactly his origins as trash and wants to return to his comfort place. But with Forky’s new status as Bonnie’s favorite toy, that’s not an option for Woody, who tirelessly tries to keep Forky with the gang and in Bonnie’s grasp.
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When Forky tries to escape during a family road trip, Woody takes the initiative to get him back. Before rendezvousing with the gang at the RV camp, Woody stumbles onto a familiar sight and goes into an antique store. It’s run by the polite Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her army of Howdy Doody-influenced dolls. Gabby thinks getting Woody’s voice box will be the key to getting out of the antique shop after years of being stuck on the shelf. Gabby isn’t the standard villain, but she definitely goes after what she wants.
Eventually Woody gets reunited with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), his toy equivalent of a crush. Bo sat out Toy Story 3, but makes a grand return this installment and has evolved into a daring, obligation- and responsibility-free toy. Woody was always enamored with Bo, but now he admires how well adjusted Bo is as she is definitely living her best life. It’s like reuniting with an ex who’s looks better than you last saw them, is killing it in their career and is just altogether happier.
The new additions to the toy box for Toy Story 4 are inspired with a Polly Pocket clone Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), motorcycle racer Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves, Always Be My Maybe) and a pair of carnival plush toys Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key). This reduces the screen time for the longtime fan favorites like Buzz and Jessie, but makes sense in the context of the film while showing there’s plenty of space for new toy throwbacks.
As usual, the animation is superb. Director Josh Cooley graduates from Pixar shorts to a major project, but there’s hardly a drop off. Cooley seems to add a bit more child-friendly action to this installment while creating numerous magical moments. Maybe Gabby’s minions would be scary for younger viewers, but Cooley opts for quick jumps scares followed by a sight gag to disarm any real sense of dread.
What stands out most in Andrew Stanton (Toy Story 3) and Stephany Folsom’s script is how smoothly it conveys that sense of outgrowing your childhood. Having to step out on your own, leaving your parents/guardian’s home and your childhood pals to establish one’s identity can be scary and at times uncomfortable, but is ultimately necessary.
This is a film that should age tremendously well with viewers who watch this as children now who’ll then be able to appreciate it on another level 20 years from now.
And as far as that conclusion? How is it possible to get weepy-eyed and emotional just as much for a second time with this franchise? I’d say this puts a fitting cap on the series, but if they remain at this level of quality, I’ll happily look forward to Toy Story 10 regardless of how perfectly the last installment seemed to wrap things up.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Disney