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Movie Review: Toy Story 4
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Toy Story 4
Director: Josh Cooley
Writer: Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Ally Maki, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Rated G | Minutes: 100
Release Date: June 21, 2019

It has been an incredible journey for the Toy Story gang. Though Toy Story 3 is hailed as one of the best of the franchise, many questioned the need to have another sequel about Woody and Buzz. Well, everything seen and heard in Toy Story 4 validates that need.

An emotionally and visually beautiful epilogue to Pixar’s flagship films, Toy Story 4 takes some bold risks by inserting heavy themes and thrusts beloved characters into unfamiliar territory. By doing so, we get to see these treasured characters in a whole new light and are given even more reasons to continue loving them. Most importantly, the film continues to have all the heart and the humor that the franchise is known for. Check out my full review here below.

The film starts off explaining what became of Bo Peep (Anne Potts) and why she was largely absent in the third movie. Having been given away, Woody (Tom Hanks) sees an opportunity to go with Bo, but refuses to because of his sense of loyalty and duty to Andy. Flash Forward nine years later, he hasn’t lost that ideology, even when Bonnie, his new owner, refuses to play with him. While he is still trying to get acclimated to this new life of being left behind in the closet, Woody helps Bonnie make a new friend during a kindergarten orientation. There she creates Forky (Tony Hale), a spork who believes he wasn’t made for anything but to consume various foods and insists that he belongs in the trash.

Try as he might, he continually thrusts himself into the trash, and Woody is there to throw him back out of it and into Bonnie’s arms. See, Woody firmly believes that Forky will be the most important to Bonnie, much to the confusion of the other toys. Nevertheless, Woody stands by this belief and acts as Forky’s guardian. So when they embark on a family road trip, Woody does all he can to protect Forky, even if that means jumping out of a moving vehicle.

On their way back, Woody explains what it means to be a toy to Forky, that is until they arrive at Second Chance Antiques, where the sheriff sees Bo Peep’s lamp setting. He believes that it is hers, so he goes in and investigates with Forky, only to run into Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a 1950s vintage doll with a defective voice box. She yearns to be played with and believes if she can find a voice box, she can be. So she targets Woody and kidnaps Forky.

With the help of Bo Peep, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a Polly Pocket-like figure Officer Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), stuffed-animal pair Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele); and a Canadian stuntman toy Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), they will all try to rescue Forky from his captor. But they will discover that it won’t be easy, especially with Woody’s stubbornness and unwillingness to accept the reality of the situation. But with Bo’s help, he will discover that maybe being a “lost toy” isn’t such a bad thing, and that simply being played with is the greatest kind of joy a toy can bring to a child.

One of the most surprising things about Toy Story 4 is the deep and heavy themes that it explores. Here Woody is going through an existential crisis as he has been reduced to a toy that is left behind during play time and forced through a closet door other toys being played with. Though it is a strange feeling for him, his loyalty never wavers. But it is that same kind of loyalty that blinds him to the truth. Oftentimes, he sees Bonnie as Andy. He tries to relive those moments with Andy through Bonnie. And it doesn’t work.

Although, he does find new purpose in explaining what it is to be a toy, no matter how simplistic the build is, to Forky, who is a literal fork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner for arms, and two broken popsicle sticks for legs. Forky believes he is trash, and Woody tries his damnedest to convince him otherwise. And it is on this figurative and literal journey that Woody begins to reevaluate his purpose and what he was ultimately meant to do.

For so long, Toy Story fans have understood that being a “lost toy” was a bad thing. But in Toy Story 4, it flips that idea on its head by having Bo Peep show Woody what it’s like to be a “lost toy” from her perspective. And it isn’t such a bad one. Such a toy can still have a purpose whether or not it has an owner, just as long as it still manages to bring out those same joys of being played with.

Ultimately, Toy Story 4‘s theme of purpose affects all of the toys, even the antagonists. If anything, Gabby Gabby is a tragic villain, who has long suffered not being played with because of her defective voice box. So when she finds a functional one in Woody, she does all she can to get his voice box so that she can see those same joys in the kids through her eyes. There is no real malice behind her intentions, although how she goes about it is highly questionable. Still, one can’t help but sympathize with her plight.

Credit to director Josh Cooley for taking Toy Story 4 in this bold and new direction, and not retreading familiar themes or falling into the same traps that some sequels fall into. By exploring these themes, we get to see some of these beloved characters confront their worst fears and come to grips with their purpose in life. It only adds to their character development. Cooley understands what makes these characters so endearing and what they need in order to become the best versions of themselves.

Visually, Toy Story 4 looks stunning. The film displays a great deal of restraint when it comes to the use of photorealistic technology by grounding the humans with animated textures but giving the toys a more tangible feel and showing off how far the technology has improved by leaps and bounds with the use of lights, dirt, and an assortment of textures from ragged carpeting and scuffed metal to the way that figures are distorted by glass and the way the lights gleam. It’s truly incredible to see what Pixar is able to do in this.

Though the Toy Story films are largely ensemble pieces, Toy Story 4 is about Woody’s journey and his acceptance about the possibility that his life is about to change. And as with all sequels, there are new characters added to the mix. Key and Peele provide non-stop laughs, while Maki is a bundle of energy that cannot be contained. Reeves is also charming. But the film shows off how much Bo Peep has changed since we last saw her in Toy Story 2. Going through a loose-reinvention, Bo is now a survivalist with a new lease on life due to living it as a lost toy. She may not be as reserved as she once was, but she is still very much the voice of reason and is now not afraid to take any risks no matter now dangerous it is.

Toy Story 4 could very well be the bittersweet capper to a beloved franchise, a fearless finale that isn’t afraid to put beloved characters like Woody and Buzz into very unfamiliar situations. These may be toy characters, but they still have to address very human themes about what their purpose in life is. By doing so, we gain a new appreciation for them as they answer the complexities of these questions. Though these answers may not be the same for everyone (or every toy), we can be happy with knowing that these toys come to the answers on their own. Sure these themes may be a bit heavy, but it’s not unusual for a Pixar film to address very human issues through the eyes of toys, monsters, or even cars. And what Toy Story 4 reminds us is that these animated films have the capacity to reach anyone of any age. They will make us laugh and cry. But most importantly, they allow us to connect in more ways than one.

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