PLOT: When Woody finds himself a protector to a new and unusual character named “Forky,” he and his pals realize that change is inevitable, even for toys. It all leads to a family road trip that becomes yet another glorious adventure in the Toy Story universe.
REVIEW: When TOY STORY 3 arrived in theatres, the 2010 animated sequel became an instant classic. It was a rich and heart wrenching way to bring this masterful trilogy to an end. In fact, it was so good that taking on yet another sequel appeared to be a fool’s errand. How can you possibly top a film with that kind of praise? Well, thankfully, nearly a decade later, we have a sequel that comes pretty damn close to doing just that. TOY STORY 4 is better than anyone could have ever expected it would be. This fantastic feature brings back all your old favorite characters, as well as introducing a few fresh faces that feel perfectly at home in this world where toys come to life. And yes, even that ridiculous looking “spork” character isn’t nearly as bizarre as it appears.
You may remember from the last film, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and the gang have found a new home courtesy of a little girl named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). However, like all children, the young girl is facing some serious changes. One of them is the fact that she has grown tired of playing with the cowboy Woody. As well, she happens to be getting ready to start school and she is terrified. In an effort to sneak back into her life, Woody makes his way into her backpack in hopes to regain her love. Instead, he finds himself becoming a protector to a brand new character named Forky (Tony Hale) – something Bonnie makes in class which automatically comes to life when he is officially called a toy. Soon, the old cowboy realizes that this strange new “toy” makes his child happy, so he decides that he’ll do everything in his power to protect it. This becomes a far more challenging duty when Bonnie and her family pack up their stuff for an end of the summer road trip.
The Toy Story movies have always had the ability to please both the young and old. In fact, I’d be willing to bet most of the crying you may have heard in TOY STORY 3 was from the adults. The way they present the power of imagination, and still manage to provide a brilliant metaphor for how challenging facing life can be for a child is inspiring. The new film directed by Josh Cooley – with a script by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom – offers up yet another intriguing idea, and it’s a powerful one. It’s also one that will connect to nearly every single viewer in the audience. What happens when its time to move forward in life and find a new direction? And how do those that you leave behind cope after the separation? It may sound a bit dark, but TOY STORY 4 presents it with a joy and wonder – and maybe a few really creepy dummies.
One of the best things about the latest chapter is that the new characters add much more than expected. Frankly, the character of Forky seemed downright ridiculous before watching this ffeature. You have to accept a lot watching a movie where your toys have a whole life of their own, but a spork made by a little girl? How is that not a terrible idea? The answer is by giving this little fella an amazing relationship with Woody, and perhaps a whole new perspective on life as a plaything. Other stand outs include the incredibly talented Christina Hendricks who plays a desperate dolly named Gabby Gabby who may not have others best interest in mind. And then there is Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a stunt cyclist who is a bit more cowardly than brave. As well, you have Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key stealing a scene or two as Bunny and Ducky, a pair of carnival toys that are quite literally linked together.
As well as a number of excellent new characters, we also have all the old friends back. However, due to the massive amount of toys that not only Bonnie keeps, but a few that the gang run into while on the road, some of the old favorites don’t have much to do. In fact, a few of them – like the lovable alien characters – are minimized to basically being a cameo. That said, seeing all of them together again is a far more satisfying experience than you may expect. As well, the script manages to create a wonderfully personal story for Woody, one that not only closes this particular chapter in a meaningful way, but it also brings a possibility of a continuation by truly opening up the landscape for all of the toys out there looking for a family, or whatever situation they find themselves in.
The storyline surrounding Bo Peep may be a favorite for many, and will likely connect with the older crowd. Annie Potts has always given this franchise something special with her take on this particular character, yet this is really her time to shine. And thankfully, the woman tending sheep really rises to the occasion in the third sequel. When Bonnie finally tires of her beloved Bo Peep and her sheep, the doll is donated and sent away. However, we soon learn that she has found something that is even more exciting for her than just getting a bit of play time in a child’s room. Honestly, the Woody and Bo Peep dynamic could have been an incredible story on its own, and it is certainly a highlight here.
TOY STORY 4 is a massively successful sequel that delivers on everything we’ve come to expect from this delightful franchise. The latest chapter is one of the best and brightest films so far this year. The only drawback for some may simply be that a few of the familiar characters don’t get as much screen time. Even still, it’s impossible to resist seeing Woody and Bo Peep together in a new way, while also entertaining in the fact that their pals are always trying to help other toys in need. Like the others, this film manages to teach a few terrific lessons to the young viewers, yet it never fails to bring laughs and tears to the adults in the room. If you were skeptical about how they could pull off a good movie after the masterwork that was TOY STORY 3, fear not, because this is a damn near perfect way to continue this fanciful adventure.