The “Toy Story” franchise has always left a cowboy and space ranger-sized imprint on us, and not like many other long-running movie franchises. Instead of rekindling nostalgia, these films play with tiny toys having adventures in a massive, threatening world, delving into the psychology of a toy and why they find joy in being play things, but most importantly it captures the awe and imagination of being a kid playing with your toys. The reasons to love these films are as vast as the scenarios you created with your toys. They are some of the most wholesome, exciting, imaginative, down to earth movies of all time.
The newest entry in this series, “Toy Story 4,” is no different, offering up the best Pixar sequel to any of their products. While the film was not necessary, there is no sign of rust or complacency on display here. Like every other entry, it is always heart-warming, gorgeously animated, and funny. But what propels this film above Pixar’s many sequels is how it offers something fresh and innovative to a series that continually reinvents itself, as themes of purpose and association make these 25-year old characters seem just as shiny and out of the box as ever.
Set shortly after the events of “Toy Story 3,” Andy’s old gang of toys are settling into their new roles as Bonnie’s toys. But Bonnie quickly starts to develop favorites amongst her new toys and Woody (Tom Hanks) is not one of them, often spending most of the day in her closet. When Bonnie is terrified of going to kindergarten though, Woody does everything he can to help his new owner, including giving her supplies to make a new friend, a spork with googly eyes and pipe-cleaner hands named Forky (Tony Hale). This comes as a surprise to all of Bonnie’s toys, especially Forky whose only desire is to be put back in the trash.
While the previous “Toy Story” movies focused on the relationship between Woody, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and their owner Andy as he grew up, “Toy Story 4” focuses more on Woody and his own personal journey after losing Andy. While it is a little disappointing to see beloved characters like Slinky Dog, Ham, Rex and Mr. Potato Head having significantly smaller roles and only getting a few good jokes each, you don’t mind it as much because Woody’s development is so strong and the new toys introduced are just as lively and funny as ever.
In fact, I loved all of the new toys this film introduced. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play a pair of stuffed animals joined at the hand with vivid (and hilariously violent) imaginations, while Keanu Reeves plays a Canadian-toy equivalent of Evel Knievel with an over-inflated ego and crippling abandonment issues. There’s a creepy baby doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) that wants something from Woody and is not afraid to use her army of terrified ventriloquist dummies to get it. But the best new toy is certainly Forky, who can’t understand his existence and always has a difficult time doing the simplest tasks using his pipe-cleaner hands and popsicle stick feet, but always remains excitedly optimistic, whether that’s for questioning how the world works or getting back into the trash bin. Each of these characters, along with many of the veterans, gets a moment where their vibrant personalities shine.
Overall, “Toy Story 4” is a return to form for this series. Always beautifully animated, often terrifying and heart breaking, but always adventurous and thoughtful. The biggest takeaway for me was just how funny it was, especially when it came to Buzz’s own adventure with his “conscious” and the many great side characters. This was easily Pixar’s funniest movie to date, which added to the already charming experience. While it is not the best film in this series, “Toy Story 4” is the best family film experience since “The Lego Movie” and Pixar’s best sequel, a great addition to an already wonderfully creative film series.
Final Grade: A-