Toy Story 4
Updated: Feb 9
Nine years ago, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and their friends had to say goodbye to their owner Andy when he went off to college and gave them to a little girl named Bonnie to be her playthings. Toy Story 3 was a fantastic sendoff to these characters. Every toy needs a child and they would get to see two different kids grow up. It was sweet and really paid off all the deep-seated emotions the series had dealt with. However, no franchise gets a definitive ending so long as there is still money to be made from it. Toy Story 4 sends the gang on another adventure, introduces new characters and gives Woody the chance to ponder the meaning of his existence. Like its predecessors, it is smart, funny and touching. Yet I could not shake the feeling of how unnecessary it is. It is an entertaining movie continuing a series that did not need to be continued.
As the story begins, Woody is as insecure as ever. He wants Bonnie to be happy, but struggles with how to help since she keeps leaving him in the closet during playtime. When she comes home with her new best friend, Forky, a spork she turned into a toy at Kindergarten orientation, Woody takes it upon himself to keep the confused utensil safe. That becomes extra challenging on a weeklong RV trip with Bonnie’s family.
Woody has always been the neurotic center of this franchise. While on vacation, he runs into an old friend: Bo Peep, who was last seen in Toy Story 2. Bo lives on her own these days, a prospect Woody finds terrifying. The purpose of a toy is to make a child happy. How is it possible for a toy to find happiness without fulfilling its one purpose? Woody tries to convince Forky of this (he just wants to be thrown in the trash, like he was meant to be), though seeing Bo again makes him wonder if he is clinging to something that no longer exists. These movies are always deep; 4 is no exception. It mirrors the toys’ emotions with that of their kid’s and the kid’s parents. Even four entries in, it has not lost what makes it relatable to all ages.
It also still has an awesome voice cast. Out of the returning actors, Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz and Annie Potts as Bo get the most work. That is in large part because of the important new cast members. In addition to Tony Hale as Forky, Christina Hendricks is an old doll who has never been played with, Keanu Reeves is a daredevil action figure and Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele are a stuffed duck and rabbit, respectively. Hale, Reeves, Key and Peele are quite funny, with the screenplay finding some amusing running gags for all of them. Hendricks helps carry the emotion of the main plot. They fit right in alongside other fan favorite cast members such as Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Jeff Garlin, Kristen Schaal and Bonnie Hunt, each making the most of limited roles.
Toy Story 4 (93 minutes before the end credits) has a lot to appreciate. I like the characters and this world. I also prefer to see a franchise go out at maximum impact. That was most definitely nine years ago. Taken on its own, this is good/very good. As part of the whole, it is a superfluous piece of the overall narrative. Yes, it takes Woody and Buzz to different places, but the last movie left them at the perfect place. What I am really complaining about is too much of a good thing. It is still a good thing. Fans of the series should absolutely check it out. You may not be bothered by the persistent feeling I had that this entry was not required. Even too much of smart, funny and touching is undoubtedly enough for an easy recommendation.
3½ out of 5
Tom Hanks as Woody
Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear
Annie Potts as Bo Peep
Tony Hale as Forky
Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby
Keegan-Michael Key as Ducky
Jordan Peele as Bunny
Joan Cusack as Jessie
Keanu Reeves as Duke Kaboom
Directed by Josh Cooley
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom