Directed by: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Keanu Reeves, Tony Hale, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Christina Hendricks, Joan Cusack
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio: Disney/Pixar Animation Studios
The original 1995 Toy Story was a groundbreaking film. Not only did it introduce us to animation juggernaut Pixar, but it was the first feature film ever to be animated entirely by computer. Nearly a quarter of a century later and two-dimensional hand drawn films have become a thing of the past while the Toy Story series is still warming hearts and inspiring wonder with four films falling anywhere between excellence and perfection.
Toy Story 4 falls closer to the latter, though you wouldn’t believe it from the first half-hour alone. In that time we are re-introduced to Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang as they live out playtime with little Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who inherited our toyetic heroes from a full-grown Andy during the heartfelt conclusion of Toy Story 3 back in 2010. At the time, it was the perfect bow topping one of cinema’s most cherished trilogies.
Toy Story 4 is the logical next step that we didn’t know the story needed to take. It’s also the funniest entry in the series thanks to slew of unforgettable new toys who’ve joined in on the fun. Chief among them is Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe cleaner for arms and a broken Popsicle stick for feet that Bonnie crafts out of litter on her first day of school.
Almost from inception, Forky is convinced he’s a disposable utensil destined for the trash heap. Meanwhile, Woody believes Forky to be the “most important toy to Bonnie right now.” Their ideological conflict plays out over the next fifteen minutes of Woody repeatedly rescuing the shambolic plaything from various garbage bins. It’s a charming sequence, but one that initially seems to be setting up a more routine and far less interesting film featuring a very chatty MacGuffin. Hang in there, though. Soon you’ll come to love Forky almost as much as Bonnie does.
On a family excursion to a small town is where the joyful heart and series-highlighting humor of Toy Story 4 begins shinning through. Not coincidentally, it’s also where the old guard fortuitously crosses paths with their old friend, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who was missing from the last film but returns here after living for years as a “lost toy” in a kid-infested carnival. I put “lost toy” in quotations because technically Bo doesn’t have a kid, but nor does she want one. She revels in the adventure of her new life.
Just across the street sits a old-timey antique shop, which doubles as the dusty domain of one Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) doll. Like everything else in the store, Gabby has seen better days and would reside in total abandonment if not for the amusing band of literal dummies who serve her every whim. What sets Gabby apart from previous Toy Story antagonists is a deeper characterization. She is richly complex, which makes her the most empathetic and interesting foe our heroes have ever faced.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele also join the series as Ducky and Bunny, a hilarious pair of excitable, tethered plush dolls. Much like Forky, I initially feared they would grow tiresome by the end. And like everything else in the film, director Josh Cooley (in his feature directorial debut) makes smart and effective use of their screen time.
I would be remiss if I did not mention another notable newcomer by the name of Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). He’s an adorably naive, scene-stealing Canadian stunt toy who makes a big impression.
It is worth mentioning that all these new faces come at the expense of much of the old crew. While Ham, Rex, Jessie, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head and the rest are still present, most of them only get a couple lines. This could be a disappointing revelation if you’re a Toy Story purist; however, Pixar has found a way to expand upon their vibrant world of talking toys in a way that’s every bit as enjoyable as it’s ever been.
Making a big returning to the series is Randy Newman. The singer/songwriter was recognized by the Academy for his iconic work on the original Toy Story and even took home the gold in 2010 for Toy Story 3‘s We Belong Together. Newman works his magic yet again for Toy Story 4. I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away is a new standout that speaks to this film’s overarching parental themes. However, there will always be something to say about the warm feels You’ve Got A Friend In Me inspires during the opening credits.
In the golden age of known IP’s, Toy Story 4 is more than a nostalgic cash-in. It’s the logical and loving progression of a franchise that’s taught us time and time again that you’re never too old to learn something new about yourself.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 (out of five)
Have you had a chance yet to check out Toy Story 4? If so, what did you think? Do you agree with my conclusion? If not, is it something you plan on getting out to the theater to see, if at all? Sound off in the comments below and let me know what’s going on in your mind about this film!