OnScreen Review: "Toy Story 4"

  • Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic

“Not all those who wander are lost.” These words were a line from a poem written by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Appearances can be deceiving, mainly because they often depend on perception, which can often be wrong or misinformed. With Toy Story 4, Pixar is challenging perceptions in what could very well be the final Toy Story film.

At the end of Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the gang had found a new home with a little girl named Bonnie after Andy, their previous kid, had grown up. While bittersweet, it was still a happy and satisfying ending, something that Pixar is known for. Pixar is also known for not resting on its laurels either. Before Toy Story 4 goes forward, though, it looks back to a moment in Woody’s past in Andy’s childhood where he says goodbye to Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who was absent in Toy Story 3. It’s a moment where Woody is presented with the opportunity to go with Bo or stay with Andy, and his loyalty to Andy and fear of the unknown make him stay. Even though he belongs to Bonnie now in the present, he still has not gotten over Andy.

And even though Woody is happy with Bonnie and goes out of his way to be there for her, he suddenly becomes sidelined in her playtime, spending time in her closet while the others get played with. With Bonnie scared about starting Kindergarten orientation, Woody, in an attempt to help her and ease her anxiety about going, indirectly leads to the appearance of Forky (Tony Hale), a “toy” that Bonnie creates during arts and crafts out of a spork. Seeing Forky quickly become the most important toy in Bonnie’s life because he helps her navigate the scary waters of Kindergarten, Woody makes it his goal to look out for Forky, who was made out of trash and is constantly inclined to return to the trash. Forky is a unique creation by Pixar, and a character that raises a whole slew of philosophical, existential , and downright weird questions that I never expected from a Toy Story movie, but I very much look forward to the inevitable think pieces that will pop up across the internet relating to the existence and sentience Forky.

A family road trip in an RV before school starts, coupled with Woody constantly having to monitor Forky, results in mayhem when Forky flings himself out the window of the moving RV late at night to return to the trash from whence he came. Knowing how important Forky is to Bonnie, Woody goes after him.  In an attempt to rendezvous with the RV, Woody manages to reconnect with Bo Peep, who has been living as a “lost” toy for several years now. He also encounters Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), an antique doll that has designs for Woody’s voice box, as hers was defective from the beginning.

Here is where Toy Story 4 begins to challenge perceptions and expectations. Gabby Gabby, despite having henchmen in the form of ventriloquist dolls, doesn’t conform to the typical villain role. It’s an interesting move, but one that felt a little messy in transitioning her from where she is when we first meet her to when we last see her. She has one big moment that she has dreamed of, and her perception of what that moment will be like is very different from reality.

The return of Bo into Woody’s life is another catalyst for challenging perceptions. In Woody’s eyes, Bo being on her own for so many years must have been a nightmare. In reality, it’s been liberating for Bo to be free and on her own, independent of a kid. She spends her time helping other lost toys connect with new kids. Woody’s fears of being a “lost toy” begin to change by reconnecting with Bo. She shows him that there is a life and a world beyond the comfort of what he has always known. In a lot of ways, Woody himself is more lost than Bo and her friends, which include minicop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). During their adventure, they also befriend Ducky and Bunny, two carnival plush toys voice by Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele.

Of course, it’s not a Toy Story or Pixar movie if it doesn’t pull at your heart strings more than once, and the final moments of this film will likely have people fighting back tears (I certainly was). It positions the Toy Story franchise at a potential ending point or on a very new path forward. I am certainly not going to tell Pixar how to do their job and I certainly won’t say no to future Toy Story installments, but this was the first time where some of this began to show its age in that not everything worked for me. Bonnie is a bit too dependent upon Forky for her happiness and Forky almost verges into annoying territory. But it’s also got one of the funniest visual gags, involving Bo Peep’s arm, that I’ve seen in these movies, so there is still plenty of life in this franchise. Of the four Toy Story movies to date, I’d probably rank this behind the previous three; it’s like finishing fourth in an Olympic event, even if you don’t medal you’re still an Olympian and that’s no slouch.

Even though it’s not my new favorite Toy Story movie, Toy Story 4 is still a very enjoyable and satisfying movie. If this is the end of the road for these characters, then it’s been a great run. If they continue the story, then I’ll be very interested in what that new direction will be. For now, I’m happy to be challenged by another Pixar film and to ponder the deep questions posed by the existence of a character like Forky.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars