Woody Takes Center Stage As Buzz Lightyear Gets Regulated To A Few Lines (bummer), While Keanu Reeves Steals The Show As Canadian Stuntman Duke Caboom. “Toy Story 4” Doesn’t Feel Like A Cash Grab That Manages To Still Be Heartwarming & Funny With That Magical Pixar Animation.
I remember watching the first “Toy Story” in theaters like it was yesterday. It opened 24 years ago on the same weekend as Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn”, which my parents refused to let me see (still sad about that one).
We parted ways as they headed into the theater for one of the greatest vampire films and me headed into one of the best animated films to come out of the house of mouse. If you were a kid as I was when the original “Toy Story” was released back in 1995, you’re old enough to have kids of your own. If you do and they have never experienced a “Toy Story” film then take them to “Toy Story 4”. They will enjoy it as much as nearly all of us have loved every entry in Disney and Pixar’s timeless, enchanting and generation-spanning franchise.
If you can believe it or not it’s been nine years since “Toy Story 3” wrapped up with what was the perfect ending to their nostalgic trilogy, as now “Toy Story 4” arrives with anticipation and worry. It opens with a flashback taking place following the events of “Toy Story 3” as the opening act sets up certain key events to follow, and then settles into present day. Returning are Woody, Buzz, Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and a host of the original characters who have been mainstays through the franchise. Andy’s sister Bonnie is now in Kindergarten and has been gifted with Andy’s favorite toys.
Ah, but as Bob Dylan said “The times they are-a-changing” as the once super popular Woody is no longer a Bonnie favorite, and is regularly left in the bedroom closet come playtime. After Bonnie returns home from her first day of kindergarten having made a new friend. She actually makes a new friend that she calls Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), a plastic spork utensil with one eye much larger than the other, pipe cleaner arms and pieces of popsicle sticks for feet. I know what you’re thinking, because this was my initial reason of skipping this film altogether.
Frankly, the character of Forky seemed downright ridiculous, but in all honesty you’re gonna love Forky. He’s dopey at first, as all he wants to do is to return to the trash can from which he came but he also enters a consciousness as he is in an existential crisis, trying to figure out who he is and what purpose he has in the grand scheme of things. This little fella has an amazing relationship with Woody, and perhaps a whole new perspective on life as a “child’s plaything”.
This feature brings back all your favorite characters, as well as introducing a few fresh faces that feel perfectly at home within the “Toy Story” world. And yes, even that ridiculous looking “spork” character that isn’t nearly as ridiculous as it appears. Although it does get ridiculous when Bonnie squeezes the fork as if it were a teddy bear as she goes to sleep. But he is one of two characters I had the most laughs with.
“Toy Story 4” is a perfectly beautiful, mixture of characters that opens up new possibilities, new chapters, and teaches that there is always something to look forward to. While “Toy Story 3” may have been a perfect finale, the latest chapter doesn’t feel like a cash grab as it actually rekindles our child-like spirit with a funny and poignant adventure.
Even more than the previous “Toy Story” movies, this one focuses on Woody as the spotlight is all on him who is struggling to adjust to life with Bonnie. While he may be feeling left out, Woody’s loyalty to Bonnie remains strong, taking up the role of protector to her new favorite toy, the handmade Forky. When Forky gets separated from the group while on a family road trip, Woody sets out to bring him back because he knows how important he is to Bonnie.
While the 1 hour and 40 minute run time whizzes by as “The Woody Show”. Fan favorite Buzz Lightyear becomes more of a benchwarmer than ever. It’s as if Buzz was forgotten about and added in the script in the very last minute. There is a subplot where he must learn to find his own voice and be more than just Woody’s sidekick, which feels like it goes nowhere. For fans of Bo Peep she has undergone the greatest change of all. With her experiences as a lost toy in the great big world, has turned her into a strong independent woman who can fend for herself. Even the writers at Disney and Pixar know to follow the headlines, and that now is the time for a dominant female character, and they have done that with Bo Peep.
It’s not “Toy Story” if there isn’t an addition of a new character and it’s newest one is Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil from the 1970s who comes complete with motorcycle, jumping ramp and Fu Manchu. Caboom who’s been tossed away by his original owner has never been able to get over his dismal plastic performance compared to what was promised in his flashy commercial. Keanu Reeves is an inspired choice for the part, and he steals the show completely. Go see “Toy Story 4” just for his character. It’s worth the price of admission as Reeves just kills it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a spin-off film as he deserves it. His jokes, one liners and his ability to pose in all kinds of ways keeps the laughs coming.
Marking his directorial debut is Pixar veteran artist Josh Cooley, his attention to detail is astonishing, especially when the antique store becomes the focal point of the movie. So many antique items are packed in the animated cells that it’ll take multiple viewings to spot each item. We’ve seen this kind of beauty from the Pixar geniuses film after film, for the better part of three decades now, but here is another one that needs to be seen on the big screen.
The old antiques shop is the setting for a large portion of the film. It sets the tension for some genuinely chilling escapades, led by a 1950-1960’s doll named Gabby-Gabby (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks), she was born with a defective voice-box and has her sights set on stealing Woody’s as she’s aided by four spooky ventriloquist dolls as henchmen Who work as muscle to help make it happen. This is where “Toy Story 4” gets a little dark on us.
“Toy Story 4” written by Pixar veteran and writer/director of “Wall•E” Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom and a team of other writers, including actress Rashida Jones (“The Office”), share a “story by” credit. The script is funny, exciting, and emotional, and it doesn’t carry a cash grab vibe like other sequels. The script also manages to create a personal story for Woody, one that once again closes the “Toy Story” chapter but in a meaningful way, it also brings yet another possibility of a continuation.
Filled with laughs, great music by legendary Randy Newman (returning for the fourth time) and featuring an original track by Chris Stapleton. “Toy Story 4” is a perfectly choreographed slapstick adventure, that knows just when to insert the life lessons and when to deliver the moments that’s guaranteed to put tears in your eyes. Did we need another sequel to the Pixar series? Not at all. Does it ruin the reputation of a solid franchise? Not at all.
If and when “Toy Story 5” comes about, it’s going to find these characters in different places both geographically and emotionally. Pixar could retire this series with a clean sweep of films after this one. But if they can maintain this level of wonderful, warm hearted adventures then keep them coming.
(3 & 1/2 out of 5)