The toys. It’s so good to see them back on the big screen. If there was ever a franchise made for sequels it’s Toy Story. That’s because toys age well (if they’re taken care of), but also because the animation at Pixar Studios gets a little more beautiful every year. It’s been a decade since Toy Story 3. Woody, Buzz, and all the colorful characters have never looked better. And we haven’t even gotten to the magnificent story.
Toy Story 4 makes you want to use embarrassing words like “magnificent” when you never would otherwise. The franchise has been around for almost 25 years. It’s cross-generational, Like Star Wars. Except every movie is good. Toy Story 4 is a bold introduction to true animated magic for kids, and it’s a nostalgia machine for their parents, who grew up with the first films.
Directed by Josh Cooley and written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton, Toy Story 4 had a lot to live up to. Toy Story 3 is widely considered one of the best sequels ever made, and it seemed to neatly close the series with a touching ending. Andy gives his toys to Bonnie and heads off to college.
That’s where the new film picks up — a few years after Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) gets the toys. Woody (Tom Hanks) is no longer a favorite. Dolly (Bonnie Hunt) is the new leader of the toys and Jessie (Joan Cusack) is Bonnie’s go-to. Woody still has influence, however, and he strives to stay relevant, at least to his friends, if not Bonnie.
It’s the introduction of a new toy, however, that sets off the events of the film. Forky (Tony Hale) is brought into existence by Bonnie herself. He’s a spork she glues googly eyes and a mouth on, and he’s very confused about his purpose when he suddenly springs to life. Forky’s immediate inclination is to return to the salads from whence he came and, eventually, the trash bin. But Woody gets his back and becomes his champion. Soon, the other toys are trying to help Forky understand what it means to be a toy. The spork’s a neurotic mess, but it soon becomes clear he’s the deepest fears of every toy made manifest, especially Woody. Forky’s existential crisis drives the film into philosophical territory R-rated dramas wish they could achieve.
Bonnie and her family head off on a road trip after Forky’s intro and the film splits into different narratives, each about a different toy’s existence and what it’s worth. It’s Bo Peep (Annie Potts), in a triumphant return to the franchise, who teaches Woody his own value may not depend on his owner’s whims. Fantastic new characters, like Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a Canadian stuntman who’s dealing with his own fading popularity, and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), carnival toys yearning to be won, keep the narrative on theme while invigorating the movie with new blood. Reeves is particularly great, lending Duke soul while staying goofy and funny.
The laughs can be found everywhere in Toy Story 4. The slapstick hijinks come in waves and Forky is a fantastic surprise. (Gotta say, I was underwhelmed by the introduction of a piece of plastic silverware when He-Man and Voltron remain fantasy casting possibilities. But of course Pixar can make a spork into an amazing character. I’ll never doubt them again.) Forky brings random goofiness and sight gags to all his scenes, as his eyes fall off or his expressions morph into Mr. Bill territory. He also provides the emotional heart of the story as the symbol of Bonnie’s love which must be protected.
Perhaps most astoundingly, Toy Story 4 concludes just as neatly as Toy Story 3 does. If it’s the last one, it’s very worthy. It’s touching, poignant, full of pathos, and all those other forbidden words we keep locked up to protect our hearts. Don’t be afraid to give yours to this movie. It’s about the human truths we all share. It’s about what it means to be alive.