Film Review: Toy Story 4

24 years after the first in the franchise, the fourth Toy Story movie is yet another delight, with beautiful animation, a glittering voice cast, some gorgeous gags, innovative touches, and a typically Pixar serving of sincere feeling.

The Toy Story movies have always been special and very much the company’s flagship series, and there was talk of not continuing after Part 3 nine years ago, but the fans never stopped screaming for more and what we have now (thanks to first-time director Josh Cooley and a who’s-who of Pixar writers and producers) is a movie that feels like a reboot or even rebirth. And while Part 3 copped some criticism for having a dark, semi-fatalistic mood, this one opts instead for an emotionally rich study of change, transition, regrouping and, again, the sad inevitability of growing up.

An opening flashback sequence has Andy still a kid and Bo Peep (Annie Potts’ voice) being sold to a new owner, and while she suggests that Woody (Tom Hanks’ voice, of course) come with her to an unknown home, he declines and stays behind with his friends. We then cut forward to the college-age Andy giving a box of his beloved toys to young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who then tends to ignore Woody in favour of making Jessie (Joan Cusack) the Sheriff – something he finds puzzling at first but grows to accept.

When Bonnie has her first day at kindergarten she feels lonely and, using a plastic spork, pipe-cleaners, an ice cream stick, putty and googly eyes, creates the weird Forky, who (as per the Toy Story rules) comes to confused life (as voiced by Tony Hale). Woody tries to introduce Forky to the gang but the poor thing has a full-blown existential crisis where he keeps thinking he’s trash and throwing himself away, and when this happens while Bonnie’s family is on a brief RV holiday Woody must save the bewildered toy. Because that’s the kind of thing Woody has being doing for 24 years.

We wind up with Woody by chance reconnecting with Bo, who’s been an independent toy for seven years on the road (in a skunk-on-wheels) with Billy, Goat, Gruff and tiny Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), and they all join forces to find the beloved Forky along with some new characters. And these include Ducky and Bunny (Keegan Michael-Key and his old comedy partner Jordan Peele of Get Out and Us fame) and, of course, Duke Caboom, ‘Canada’s Greatest Stuntman’, as pricelessly voiced by Keanu Reeves, who was born to do a Pixar vocal role (and you seriously should watch him on YouTube as he hammed it up during the recording too).

More adult material is supplied by some creepy, wobbly-walking ventriloquist dolls (recalling films like 1945’s Dead Of Night and 1978’s Magic) who work as goons for Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), a lonely doll stuck in an antique store who seems sweet until you realise that her name is a direct link to 1932’s classic Freaks (and indeed the Ramones’ fave Pinhead).

Naturally this installment (like the other sequels) isn’t quite on par with the first Toy Story, which remains a revolutionary work, and yet it’s still a most delightful outing anyway with an ending truly for the ages. And will there be a Toy Story 5 in 2030 or so? Why not? Toys don’t grow old… even if we do.

Toy Story 4 (G) is in cinemas now

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