By: BabyRuth (Two Beers) –
Arguably the lesser scary of the two sentient toy movies released this weekend, Toy Story 4 picks up not too long after a college-bound Andy gave his beloved toys away to little Bonnie and we all ugly-cried buckets of snot.
Settled in to their new life, the toys wait anxiously every day for Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) to choose which ones will be the stars of her adventures. She often picks Jessie (Joan Cusack) to be the hero, leaving Woody (Tom Hanks) with nothing to do but watch from the inside of the closet along with the other unlucky, not selected toys.
Though having a hard time getting used to his current status, Woody still assumes the role of leader of the toys and protector of Bonnie, as he always had with Andy. When Bonnie is nervous about going to her kindergarten orientation, Woody secretly tags along to keep an eye on her and unknowingly has a hand in helping her construct a companion when she has trouble making new friends: a combination of a spork, pipe-cleaners, a popsicle stick, and googly eyes she names Forky (Tony Hale).
Because of Bonnie’s love, Forky becomes “alive,” but once back home with the other toys, does not understand what he is and feels he does not belong with the rest of the bunch as much as he belongs in the trash (here we go with Toy Story doing that thing it does where it turns lighthearted plot points into incredibly deep existential concepts! In this case, Forky literally wants TO DIE.) Woody tries to explain to Forky that he has a purpose other than shoveling mashed potatoes into someone’s gaping maw and then sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years, he now has a kid that loves him, the greatest gift a toy could ever receive!
Nah, Forky would still prefer to be trash. And if it’s hard for Woody to keep the spork out of the trashcan at home, wait until Bonnie’s family takes a week-long roadtrip in an RV! Woody, along with Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang all come along and attempt to keep Forky at Bonnie’s side, despite his protests.
The family stops for a few days in a small town where there is a carnival taking place. While attempting to once again wrangle Forky back to the RV, Woody spots a familiar sight: his lost love Bo Peep’s lamp in the window of a nearby antique shop. Woody ventures in to look for Bo, but instead meets a vintage doll named Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her super creepy ventriloquist dummy entourage. The oddly friendly Gabby is soon revealed to have an ulterior motive: there is something that she wants from Woody. Woody is able to narrowly escape but Forky is left behind in the store and the toys must figure out a way to get him back.
Help comes in the form of Bo herself (welcome back Annie Potts!) , now a “lost toy” meaning she’s been on her own since Andy’s family donated her all those years ago (we get an opening flashback scene as a reminder of these past events). But Bo is anything but lost. She’s T2 Sarah Connor: self-sufficient, confident, and badass, with a new wardrobe to match (which I still don’t understand, considering she’s porcelain, but I’m just going to let it go). Bo’s become a survivalist in the small town along with several other lost toys including Canada’s answer to Evel Knievel, stunt-motorcyclist Duke Caboom (most wonderful human being alive, Keanu Reeves).
The Keanusssance is not slowing down anytime soon.
Woody, Bo, and the rest of the toys team up to rescue Forky and reunite him with Bonnie while the clock ticks down to the family’s RV leaving for their next destination. All the while Woody, now reunited with Bo, wonders if maybe his purpose has changed and questions where his place truly is.
When plans for a fourth entry into the Toy Story franchise were announced, many, myself included, had one response. Why?
Rarely has a film trilogy, animated or not, been so perfect overall, and come to a satisfying and complete conclusion. Another sequel seemed like an unnecessary cash grab and even unwelcome, as it would threaten to tarnish the memory of the near-flawless trio of films that came before it. Still though, it is Pixar and it is Toy Story, so that was at least a little reassuring.
But still, why?
Somehow, the nine-year-later part four we never thought we needed is a relevant and natural continuation of the characters’ stories, introduces more ideas, and provides a deeper exploration into the themes of the original trilogy. After all, it’s only a matter of time until Bonnie will also outgrow her toys; then what? Is the only purpose of a toy to be the recipient of a child’s love? What happens to those who cannot fulfill their purpose? What happens to those after they do? (Empty nest syndrome anyone?) But what if they don’t know what their purpose is? It’s heavy stuff and provides additional closure to several toys’ journeys, Woody’s at the forefront.
As always, the film tackles the weighty subject matter in a way that is respectful and never condescending to children or adults, and gets its messages across to both in a way that resonates differently depending on the viewer’s age and life experience.
The story feels familiar (in a good way) with the characters embarking on a new adventure/rescue mission that is as much fun as any of their previous quests, but also covers new territory and adds in elements of other genres (even horror). It might seem like juggling a road adventure, heist film, and an existential drama is a lot, especially for an animated family film, but it all fits together in the way that only Toy Story can make work. Oh, add romantic comedy to that mix too, as this film puts Hanks back into a male rom-com lead, which he, of course, is still great at several decades later.
Toy Story 4 also goes to some wonderfully weird and dark places. There’s a whole subplot involving – I shit you not – toy organ harvesting, as well as a fantasy sequence with an old woman repeatedly getting attacked. It’s bananas, but somehow manages to make sense in the context.
Gabby makes for an interesting, layered villain, more so than the previous films’ Sid and Lotso, and is perhaps the scariest of them all (and not just because she looks an awful lot like the new Chucky design, though that’s definitely part of it!) And if you thought the monkey in Toy Story 3 was creepy, just wait until you meet the dummy posse! (Your move, Child’s Play.)
Crossover movie in the future?
I went into the film armed with waterproof mascara and a wad of tissues, waiting for that last gutpunch of emotion, but while I shed a few bittersweet tears, this installment thankfully goes much easier on the viewer than its predecessors. (After the double-wallop of TS3’s incinerator scene and Andy saying goodbye, how much more could they really put us through?)
Do I really need to be mention that the animation is incredible and even one-ups everything that came before? The photo-realism, the textures, the movement of the characters, the action scenes- no detail, no matter how tiny, was half-assed. If you are waiting to watch this at home, don’t. I don’t care how big your TV is, this one deserves to be seen in a theater.
The voice talent is top-notch as always, and the new additions fit in nicely. Along with Hendricks, Hale, and Reeves, we also get Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a couple of scene-stealing carnival prize toys who provide much of the comic relief.
*These are very, very small nitpicks
It’s great to have many of the original characters back again one last (?) time, but most of them get little more than a few lines and spend the better part of the movie in the background. So fans of Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles- his parts were posthumously pieced together from over two decades of archived voice sessions) may be left wanting more than quick cameos.
Likewise, there aren’t many scenes with Woody and Buzz together, which is always a highlight of the Toy Story movies, their close friendship being the main constant throughout the series. It would have added more weight to their resolution at the end of the film.
Oh and this is more of an FYI, though for some it may be disappointing: For anyone who looks forward to the Pixar animated shorts before the feature, or uses the time to visit the concession stand or arrive later, take notice, there is NOT a short before Toy Story 4.
Like Woody himself, the initial Toy Story trilogy served its purpose, so where was there to go next? Fortunately, the answer is plenty of places and it’s a pretty fun route with many laughs and even a few tears along the way, all the while staying true to the tone and heart of the series. While Part Four feels more like a bonus add-on than a crucial chapter to the full (toy) story (this opinion may certainly change with time and repeat viewings), it’s still highly recommended viewing for fans of all ages.
Toy Story 4 (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Forky tries to dispose of himself
Take a Drink: every time Woody stops him
Take a Drink: whenever Buzz consults “his inner voice”
Take a Drink: whenever the creepy dummies appear
Take a Drink: every time one of the toys is separated from the group
Take a Drink: every time Duke Caboom attempts a jump and crashes
Take a Drink: for every easter egg you spot. There are already several articles and internet posts from sharp-eyed viewers. (NOTE: I swear there is a Howard the Duck – aka, the movie that we actually have to thank for Pixar – shout-out but so far I have not been able to substantiate that. But I swear, it’s there!)
Last Call: STAY IN YOUR SEAT when the credits start to roll (haven’t you learned anything by now?) Among other things, we get one actor’s famous one-word catchphrase.