In 1995, Toy Story changed the animation game as we embarked on the adventures of Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Andy’s toys as he worried that his owner was leaving the cowboy behind. This dark premonition came to pass in 2010’s Toy Story 3. Andy, now an adult, hands his childhood pals to a preschooler named Bonnie. While the ending is bittersweet, it is happy enough to bring tears to moviegoers.
While Toy Story 4 is rediscovering lost friends, one’s purpose, and listening to your inner voice, is it really necessary?
This review will be spoiler-free.
Toy Story 4 continues from the previous film, where Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), among their other toy friends, finding new life and appreciation after being passed on from Andy to Bonnie. They are introduced to Forky, a spork that has been made into a toy by Bonnie and embark on a road trip adventure.
Our favorite sheriff is more uncertain than ever. Woody has been feeling neglected as Bonnie moves onto Kindergarten. Believing he would have the same role as he did with Andy, this shift has resulted in Woody questioning his future. His story is over. The Sheriff’s question is the same as mine when it came to Toy Story 4: What is Woody still doing here? While I love these characters, Toy Story 4 felt unnecessary when it seemed like a perfect ending with the previous installment.
I was proven wrong when Bonnie took googly eyes, glue, and loosely-wrapped pipe cleaners to a spork. When Woody introduces Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), who starts stumble walking on popsicle legs and tremble-talking like a frightened adult in Hale’s freaky-poignant voice that’s hilarious whenever he spoke. While Bonnie adores Forky, the delightful mutation detests that affection, though, and would rather embrace the warm embrace of a garbage can. Because of how Bonnie has taken to Forky, Woody takes it upon himself to convince the spork of how important his role is in a child’s life.
The change of scenery for the toys was an assist to the story with the idea of taking the gang on a road trip adventure. It’s nothing new from the past adventures outside of the bedroom such as the suitcase conveyor maze, the prison-like daycare and the coin-op arcade game. After all of that, going to an amusement park and not worrying about the carnies was enjoyable. But as you know, we aren’t here to see humans.
While it is a strength, the carnival also brought a weakness to the film with an over-stuffing of new characters. Gabby Gabby, an angelic faced 1950s doll uncannily voiced by Christina Hendricks, sits on a throne of fine china in the antique store. She’s up to something tricky and assisted by those terrifying Slappy the Dummy dolls from Goosebumps. She channeled retro good cheer and horror-movie obsession that was steeped into sadness. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key voice carnival toys who look like the fluffy version of Sulley from Monsters Inc and an angry bird. Keanu Reeves plays a daredevil Canadian toy, and his line readings will have you laughing the whole time.
Unfortunately, the pile-up of new characters with the old took something away from the original gang. When they appear on screen, you want them to get involved but only end up being disappointed. Jessie is relegated back to seventh banana status as de facto leader while Buzz and Woody are out in the colorful tents and lights of the carnival. The original crew got short end, coming off more as a distraction from the main plot in “don’t forget about us” scenes.
Speaking of the original gang, a member of the first Toy Story cast makes her return. Bo Peep’s arrival gives Woody a new conflict: He wants to take care of Bonnie and feel useful, but he also missed Bo Peep. Woody’s story is emotional and provides the beating heart of the film as you go along with him. Bo Peep offers the sheriff a strange perspective. She shows him, and us, what is on the horizon of the outside world but how different could that wide world be from a kid’s room? It’s something wonderful and heartbreaking to watch play out to the end of the movie.
Toy Story 4 doesn’t hit the emotional highs of its predecessor or the previous two films. The film has comedic parts that hit and some set pieces that don’t work. The ending is moving, causing me to shed a tear. But considering how Toy Story 3 had audiences in tears when they thought it was the end, I distrust any finality to this saga. But if this is truly the end, I’m content with this being the final stroke on an animated masterpiece. Who knows that a computer generated plastic spork could steal your heart?
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