What do toys do when you aren’t watching? It’s as scary an idea as it is sweet. Pixar has shared their ideas of a world where toys talk and interact with each other, unbeknownst to their human handlers, since 1995. The Toy Story franchise has now been around for an entire generation. Delighting children and adults alike. While the films have always catered to the pint-size demographic, the overall story and characters remained both entertaining and thought-provoking for all ages.
You can pickup several lessons from these films. For instance a child may learn how to care about others, helping out whenever possible, and appreciating your toys no matter where they come from. A grown up might be reminded of the wonders of imagination and how important it is to keep your spirit when all hope seems lost. Also trust your friends, but be aware of false kindness in strangers. Sincerity is key. The meaning of life certainly comes into play as well.
Which brings us to this 4th installment. Now everyone who is a fan of these movies will tell you that it all ended on a high note with Toy Story 3. Andy goes to college, his toys are given to Bonnie, and the journey ends happily for Woody and the gang. A somber goodbye with an uplifting message about sticking together and letting go of the past. Every story has an ending, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to tell. It just means the stories we consider the best about these characters have run their course and what else is there to say. Well I’m hear to tell you that there is plenty of story left to discover. It starts with a great script and a captivating premise.
In Toy Story 4, directed by Josh Cooley, Woody(Tom Hanks) is worried about Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten. While trying to help give her the best day possible, he inspires her to make a toy out of craft objects and trash. The end result is a spork with popsicle legs named Forky (Tony Hale). Forky is completely caught off guard by his surroundings and Woody tries to help him realize his position as Bonnie’s new favorite toy. It’s unfamiliar territory for the both of them. Woody doesn’t know how to convey the importance of being a toy to Forky, but he has also begun reevaluating his relevance in Bonnie’s life.
If things weren’t heavy already, Woody also reunites with an old friend after Bonnie and her family set out on a road trip. Bo Peep (Annie Potts) returns as a discarded toy without an owner, appearing fearless and able to conquer any obstacle with ease. She resides in a small town with her sheep and other friends, including a motorcycle-riding daredevil action figure named Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and two stuffed animals at a carnival named Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele). Woody needs Bo Peep’s help with Forky and Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a mysterious doll living at an antique shop. It’s up to all of Woody’s friends to keep their tight-knit family together, but there is one lingering problem that only he can solve.
It’s amazing how much depth an animated movie can have. Every single Toy Story film has a certain amount of layered maturity mixed in with the family fun; but with each installment, the mature elements become more nuanced and developed. A single line or facial expression can evoke so much emotion and self-analysis from the audience. You get several of those moments in this movie and it’s a testament to how far this franchise has come. Don’t get me wrong though. As an overall film, the achievement is balancing these weighty issues with pure enjoyment.
It’s a real treat to see characters like Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Rex, and Slinky again; but you also get more of Trixie, Dolly, Buttercup, and Mr. Pricklepants, among others. Seeing these toys back in action warms your heart, but the comedy written into the story is pure gold. Especially from Ducky and Bunny. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are outrageously hilarious as stuffed animals and I don’t think I laughed so hard at any of these films than when they were on screen.
One particular scene had me in stitches and it just plays into the strange new world this movie takes you to. The dolls that reside at the antique shop are at first glance frightening and this movie plays around with that idea with great results. In fact all the misfit toys that are sprinkled throughout this movie really send home the message of finding your own purpose in life and not being beholden to any pre-conceived ideas of self-worth. Pulling off that message and not compromising the entertainment aspect is pretty remarkable.
Toy Story 4 is the end of one fantastic story and the beginning of many more. How and if those stories get told is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure Pixar and Disney have plans. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, and the rest of the original cast are outstanding as always and don’t miss a beat in their performances. The newer cast, including Key and Peele, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves, enhance the film even further. The pacing is good and how the plot unfolds is also done well. Randy Newman’s wonderful score and songs bring you back immediately to this world. I think we all know by now that a Toy Story movie offers more than just watching inanimate objects come to life and getting into hijinks.
At its core, Toy Story 4 is a tale about family, loyalty, devotion, depression, isolation, neglect, abandonment, inspiration, salvation, introspection, and perseverance. All that and it finds time to make you laugh and cry as well. Sometimes simultaneously. Make sure to stay all the way to through the credits. So with all this in mind, was it worth pulling these guys out of the toy box for one more adventure? Yes. Will I go back for more? Absolutely and so should you.
About Toy Story 4
Synopsis: When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.
Director: Josh Cooley
Writer: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale
Runtime: 1 Hour, 40 Minutes