THE STORY – Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang embark on a road trip with Bonnie and a new toy named Forky. The adventurous journey turns into an unexpected reunion as Woody’s slight detour leads him to his long-lost friend Bo Peep. As Woody and Bo discuss the old days, they soon start to realize that they’re worlds apart when it comes to what they want from life as a toy.
THE CAST – Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Don Rickles & Estelle Harris
THE TEAM – Josh Cooley (Director), Stephany Folsom & Andrew Stanton (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
I was skeptical. We all were skeptical. How do you possibly follow “Toy Story 3?” It was the perfect conclusion to the Andy/Woody saga and provided us with what is now regarded as one of the best trilogies of all time. Now, the “Toy Story” series is a quadrilogy and the big question on everyone’s mind is “was it justified?” The answer is a resounding yes! While the story of Woody and Andy may have ended, Woody’s own story has not ended. “Toy Story 4” continues the themes of the series (parents being there for the children) by exploring how Woody deals with life after Andy, what is his purpose now and what does that mean to the other toys he is a leader to and calls his friends?
Woody (Tom Hanks) has been collecting dust in the closet ever since being handed over from his previous owner Andy to Bonnie in “Toy Story 3.” However, this does not mean Woody won’t be there for Bonnie or as a leader for the other toys, some of whom he has fought to keep together for years. When Bonnie goes to kindergarten, Woody feels compelled to be there for her and he watches as Bonnie creates a new toy from trash items named “Forky” (Tony Hale). Believing he belongs in the trash and not understanding his role as Bonnie’s new favorite toy, Woody does everything he can to keep the jittery newcomer under control. Things go south when Bonnie and her family take a road trip to a carnival and Forky gets separated from the group, leading Woody to take charge once again until he runs into an old friend from his past: Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Torn between his loyalty to Bonnie, his love for Bo and his desire to want everyone to stick together, things become more complicated when an antique doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her minions of ventriloquist dummies seek something from Woody.
As soon as those familiar musical notes start playing and you hear “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” play once again, you cannot help but wash all of your skepticism away. It feels good to be back with the toy gang. It’s irrefutable. Even if the story was not up to the par of excellence set by the previous three films, at least we get to spend more time with the characters we’ve all grown to know and love over the last 23 years.
And that’s one of the great things that “Toy Story 4” does so well, is it strikes a balance between the original toys from Andy’s room, the new toys from Bonnie’s room and the newer characters we are first introduced to in this latest and final(?) installment. Definite highlights include a nervous, twitchy and lover of all things trash Forky, Canada’s best stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), the comedic duo of Key and Peele playing Bunny and Ducky, two toys who are humorously stuck together. And then there’s Christina Hendricks playing the 1950’s doll Gabby Gabby with a disarming amount of charm and sensitivity, proving that the best antagonists are the ones with complex and relatable motivations. She is amusingly backed by her ventriloquist dummies who have a jump scare for every time they appear on the screen, which becomes a hilarious running gag throughout.
As far as returning characters are concerned, many will take notice of Bo Peep, voiced once again by Annie Potts (“Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2”). We receive the backstory as to why she was missing in “Toy Story 3” and although “Toy Story 4” may be yet another “we need to rescue this toy in the real world” adventure, Bo Peep’s commanding presence makes the experience thrilling and worth taking. She is capable, strong, adventurous, takes charge and shows Woody a few new eye-opening aspects of life that he’s been blind to, revealing further depth for the themes of the series and for the character of Woody.
Woody’s arc is one of the more fascinating ones in all of cinematic history. Woody has always been a stand-in father figure to Andy and now, he’s trying to do the same for Bonnie. However, when Bonnie makes a toy of her own who she shares a special connection with (one could even equate this to your own child having grandchildren), Woody still has a need to protect and look after his owner. When does it end? Does it ever really end? What is Woody’s purpose? Are there other aspects of life worth living for besides being there to be played with by your owner? It’s a very moving, resonate and personal story that I was easily able to connect with despite not having any children of my own yet.
The “Toy Story” series has become a story about friendship, love, loyalty and letting go and these are all themes which we can understand and relate to. It’s how the wizards at Pixar are able to work their storytelling magic once again and of course, provide us with some breathtaking animation in the process. The environments, lighting and weather effects, in particular, are absolutely stunning to look at. It’s possible that the question of whether or not a fourth “Toy Story” film was necessary will forever be asked but I wholeheartedly believe that this was a story worth telling and I truly believe and hope that this is where the geniuses over at Pixar choose to end it. They took a huge risk, coming back to this franchise but it surprisingly and miraculously paid off this time. Now let’s allow the complete story of Woody to live on in our hearts to infinity and beyond.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A completely justified story. The characters we all know and love, balanced with some memorable new ones. Just as moving, funny and gorgeously animated as the previous three films.
THE BAD – There will always be those who feel that this film was not up to par with the others and shouldn’t have been made to begin with.