The toys are back, looking for love, meaning and life beyond the bedroom closet
Toy Story 4
Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele
Directed by Josh Cooley
The Toy Story movies, you know, were always about more than toys.
They drilled deep into emotions that resonated on multiple levels with parents as well as kids—about friendship and loyalty, the importance of imagination and play, and the deep, long-lasting bonds that children can (and do) have with playthings that moms and dads don’t always fathom.
And now, nearly 25 years after the original Toy Story in 1995, the toys have come to a fork in the road.
Make that a spork, actually—a brand-new character, Forky, around which this new installment of the celebrated Disney-Pixar franchise crafts its fabulous, fanciful kaleidoscope of a tale.
At the beginning of Toy Story 4, things aren’t looking so good for Woody, the original plastic cowboy (voiced as always by Tom Hanks). You might remember that, at the end of the previous film, he and his fellow playthings were given by their previous owner, the college-bound Andy, to a new kid, a little girl named Bonnie.
But now Woody is gathering dust bunnies in Bonnie’s closet. She rarely plays with him anymore, and his sheriff’s star has been pinned on cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack). And Bonnie’s new favorite toy is a crude craft project—Forky—she’s made using bits and pieces of classroom flotsam and jetsam from her kindergarten wastebasket. He’s a plastic spork with gangly pipe-cleaner arms, glued-on googly eyes, broken-off popsicle-stick feet and a mouth made with a dab of modeling clay.
Bonnie adores Forky (voiced by Veep’s Tony Hale), but Forky is oblivious,; he doesn’t even know he’s a toy. He doesn’t know much of anything—he’s only been around for one day, and the only word, or concept, he knows at first is “trash.” Forky thinks he is trash, and he keeps trying to return to his roots, flinging himself into any nearby garbage bin or trash can. Trash is his world.
And all of that is before the movie really kicks into gear—when Bonnie and her family, and her toys, go on a road trip. That’s when Forky eventually makes his break for freedom, Woody sets off to find him, and the setting expands to a carnival, an antique store, colorful new characters and a rousing, rollicking adventure.
Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is a cherubic (but creepy) 1950s doll missing more than one thing that Woody has—and she’ll do almost anything to get it, with the help of her crew of silent-sentinel ventriloquist dummies. Woody reunites with the shepherd Bo Peep (Annie Potts), now a “Lost Doll” whose porcelain shell has been hardened even more by life on the “outside.” (“You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen,” she tells Woody. “Some kids play rougher than others.”). Peep introduces Woody to Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), an angst-riddled motorcycle daredevil. A pair of carnival-prize plushies (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), Ducky and Bunny, become essential to the plot, and audience favorites.
Gung-ho astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) gets in on the action, but the rest of the old Toy Story crew—Rex the timid dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton)—is pretty much on the sidelines; a line here, a scene there. The real story in Toy Story 4 spins around Forky, and the journey of maturity and self-discovery for Woody to which it leads.
Just as the original Toy Story was never just about toys, Toy Story 4 isn’t just about the new toy made from a spork. First-time feature director Josh Cooley (whose previous experience was mainly with Pixar shorts) steps up to the plate and absolutely delivers (from a script with some 10 sets of handprints on it)—this is another franchise triumph of meta, existential cleverness, pop-culture Easter eggs, high-spirited humor, swelling, sweeping emotions and Disney-Pixar’s typical stratospheric standards of animation excellence. It’s about lost toys that find their purpose, bittersweet partings, happy reunions, and how—as the old saying goes—one person’s trash can, indeed, become someone else’s treasure. It’s about how toys need love, not just batteries.
Toy Story 4 is everything you want in a Toy Story movie, and more—rich with detail, full of fun and adventure, spiced with excitement, peril and bits of darkness, comfortingly familiar and yet—once again—pushing its story into a new direction and expanding its characters and its scope.
It’s about growth, closure, choices, endings and beginnings, friends old and new, family, empathy and understanding, all wrapped up in the eternal mystery of nothing less than life and existence itself.
If a spork, made from bits and pieces from a waste basket, can become a beloved toy…if an inanimate object can be loved, maybe even come to life, just because someone gives it a name, and loves it… Well, anything is possible—maybe even a Toy Story 5.
Where next? To infinity and beyond, of course!
In theaters June 21, 2019