At this point there is not much left to say about the Toy Story franchise. Like a trusty blanket that warms us up with its heart and charm, one knows what to expect with each new film. Truth be told, after three exceptional films, there really was no need to stretch the franchise to a fourth film.
However, much like visiting friends you have not seen in a while, one is happy to fall back into old rhythms if the opportunity presents itself.
This time around Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang have fully adapted to life with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). Concerned with Bonnie’s apprehension about starting kindergarten, Woody decides to stowaway in her backpack as she heads out to her orientation day. Observing her shy nature at school, Woody finds a few scraps in the trash, including a spork, that Bonnie can use for arts and crafts.
To his surprise, the handmade toy she makes, aptly called Forky (Tony Hale), comes to life and immediately suffers from an existential crisis. Wanting to return to the trash where he thinks he belongs, Forky will do anything to not be a toy. Knowing how much Forky means to Bonnie, Woody is forced to embark on a vigilant suicide watch to ensure that the talking spork does not duck out on his duties. When Forky escapes while on a road trip, Woody and the rest of the toys only have a few hours to bring him back into the fold before Bonnie realizes he is gone.
As with all Toy Story films, there are a slew of new toys that Woody and Buzz meet along their journey. There is the motorcycle riding Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves in a hilarious turn), plush carnival prizes Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), Polly Pocket size Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and the 50’s doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). The latter of whom carries sinister motives behind her cheerful demeanor.
While the new additions to the canon provide plenty of amusing moments, it is one returning character, the fearless Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who completely steals the film. After being given away to another family Bo Peep ends up living the life of a nomad. Surviving off the land and her wits, she has come to terms with the fact that at some point a toy will not always be tied to one specific kid.
In making Bo Peep such an engaging character, director Josh Cooley pulls one’s attention away from the disjointed nature of the story. With various story threads at play, Toy Story 4 does not feel as cohesive or as fully realized as previous installments. Even Forky seems to get forgotten for large swaths of time. Factor in the repetitive aspect of the script, and one cannot help but notice how thin the material is this time around.
Despite these shortcomings the film still manages to charm. Forky’s existential crisis offers an interesting new dimension to the canon, and Gabby Gabby’s plan allows Toy Story 4 to venture into some unexpectedly dark avenues. Also, it almost goes without saying, the animation is as wonderful as ever.
In fact, the animation is even more eye catching this time around than in the previous film. Cooley and his animators construct some truly complex sequences that pop off the screen. Furthermore, they manage to extract rich texture out of Bo Peep and Gabby Gabby; which helps to ensure their emotional beats resonate.
Toy Story 4 may not be a classic like its predecessors, but it is nice to spend time with old friends.