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One More Roundup for Woody and Friends

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
Walt Disney Studios
 100 Minutes
Rated: G
Directed ByJosh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen    
Toy Story 4

It’s hard to believe today, but, in the early 1990s, Pixar was a struggling venture whose library comprised a handful of short subjects designed to showcase the possibilities of computer animation. Ironically, Disney chose to throw the fledgling company a lifeline with a three-picture production deal, at a time when the Mouse House’s traditional animation division was riding high with hits like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. But then, when Pixar was seemingly down to its last strike, it hit a grand slam home run by the name of Toy Story. The adventures of Woody, Buzz, and the gang proved to be the foundation of the most successful commercial and creative animation franchise in history. Those adventures and the Pixar magic continue in Toy Story 4.


When Toy Story 3 was released in 2010, the franchise seemed to have run its creative course, with a dramatically satisfying conclusion, as the toys’ original owner Andy went off to college, and they wound up with a new owner, a little girl named Bonnie, demonstrating that the circle of life (or neverending life in the case of the toys) goes on. But the public wanted to see more of the beloved Pixar creations (and hear more of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen), so Pixar went back to the drawing board. When Toy Story 4 was announced, many fans and a few critics were worried that the film might turn out to be a mere cash grab, slick looking and professional as are all the Pixar efforts, but plotwise a mere rehash of events from earlier films. They needn’t have worried; Toy Story 4 proves to be just as entertaining and just as emotionally satisfying as its predecessors.


Toy Story 4 is set two years after its predecessor, and, as it begins, Sheriff Woody (Hanks) and friends learn that, with the toy box now under new management, there have been a few personnel shuffles. Woody increasingly finds himself left out of Bonnie’s playtime as Bonnie has her own favorites. But when an obviously distraught Bonnie goes off to kindergarten for the first time, Woody stows away in her backpack for moral support. He gets his opportunity sooner than expected when Bonnie makes her own toy during arts-and-crafts, a plastic spoon with googly eyes and a pipe cleaner for arms that she names Forky (Tony Hale). Forky helps Bonnie get through the trauma of going to school, and soon Bonnie takes Forky and all the rest of the gang on a family vacation.


Unfortunately, the vacation does not go as planned, thanks to Forky. Bonnie’s newest toy can’t grasp that he’s now a toy rather than trash, so he keeps trying to throw himself in the garbage. Eventually, he gets out of the family’s RV, and the ever-reliable Woody follows to retrieve him. Woody finds Forky, but their adventures are just beginning. Soon, they arrive in a new town where Woody meets an old friend, Little Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Bo introduces Woody to a group of her new friends, all of them toys who have been discarded or lost by their owners and are now enjoying life on their own without being at the beck and call of often fickle children. Bo is enjoying her new life and would like Woody to join here. However, the sheriff still has his mission to finish, that of reuniting Bonnie and Forky.


Throughout the first three movies of the Toy Story franchise, the characters’ purpose was always being a part of their owner’s life. Indeed, the prospect of life without Andy was the primary driving force in Toy Story 3. While the characters all had their own personalities, likes, and rivalries, their primary purpose remained paramount. Toy Story 4 is the first film to examine the concept of independence, ironically contrasting Woody’s thoughts about leaving the nest with Bonnie’s dread of leaving home for the first time to go to school. Pixar has always managed to introduce new characters into the franchise seamlessly, and the primary addition here fits perfectly into this them. Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is a popular 50s toy that now resides with other unclaimed toys in an antique store. She is so desperate for acceptance that she becomes the film’s villain and provides a stark contrast with Bo, who has no need to fit in anymore.


The reason Toy Story 4 works is the same reason all the other films have worked. True, the movies have great scripts and terrific animation. But, at the center of everything is Sheriff Woody, as perfectly embodied by Tom Hanks. Without Hanks, Pixar wouldn’t be where it is today. As the movie progresses, the old familiar faces and voices like Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, and Wallace Shawn become almost afterthoughts, disappearing for most of the film. It’s especially sad to note the final appearance of Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head. Rickles died before filming began, but the producers had enough archival footage of his character that they could tailor his lines in the script to match the existing material.


Toy Story 4 is a bit bittersweet in the best sense of the word. By now, an entire generation has grown up with Sheriff Woody, and he and his friends are practically family. Even more than the last film, there’s a sense of finality and parting of the ways here that will likely bring a tear to many eyes. And, unlike many “serious” animated film moments, the emotions here are genuine.


From this description, people might think that the movie is a mixture of sadness and wistful nostalgia, but the Pixar mindset, as exemplified in the script by series vet Andrew Stanton (with Stephen Folsom), always ensures that laughter and action aren’t far away. As usual, the humor in Toy Story 4 appeals to both children and adults, with new additions to the cast carrying a lot of the load. Keanu Reeves plays a Canadian Evel Knievel-like motorcyclist named Duke Kaboom (who isn’t quite as brave as his reputation would suggest). The team of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, who have mainly gone their separate ways in the last couple of years, play a couple of carnival prize plush toys that are literally joined at the foot. They wind up with most of the one-liners in the movie.


Toy Story 4 isn’t immune to the animated film bugaboo of action scenes that go on too long, but, fortunately, they usually have enough comedy interwoven in them to make them passable for adults. Once audiences get past the obligatory action scenes, what remains is the typical Pixar flawless, state-of-the-art computer animation that really brings the characters to life, in service of a script that’s one of the studio’s more imaginative and emotionally touching ones. Pixar has set such a high bar with the Toy Story movies that it would be impossible for this most recent film to top them, but, in comparison with the rest of the animated fare out there, Toy Story 4 is a Woody head and shoulders above the rest. The year is only halfway over, but the competition for the Best Animated Film Oscar is now a thing of the past.

In this clip, Woody meets some of Bo Peep's friends.

Read other reviews of Toy Story 4: 

Toy Story 4 (2019) on IMDb