Toy Story 4 is the story of Woody’s (Tom Hanks) continuing adventures as a stuffed cowboy. After enjoying being top toy for Andy, Woody now finds himself playing more of a support role to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) while getting less and less of her actual playtime. As Bonnie begins kindergarten, she ends up constructing Forky (Tony Hale) as a type of support toy; however, the sentient spork is consistently in the middle of an existential crisis, believing that he belongs in the trash rather than the loving arms of a child. When Bonnie’s family decides to go on a road trip, Woody explores and contemplates his place in the world as an old toy, while making sure Forky stays by Bonnie’s side.
What works in Toy Story 4 is the humor and the heart. While it is impossible to measure objectively, Toy Story 4 may enjoy the new honor of being the funniest film within the franchise. The blend of comedy reminds of Pixar of old where the thoughtful and plentiful jokes appealed to all ages. Indeed, kids are likely to let out giddy squeals of delight while adults will be eying each other with knowing glances asking: “you caught that reference, right?” Toy Story 4 is unquestionably laugh-out-loud hilarious.
After the swan song of Toy Story 3, many people probably questioned if a Toy Story 4 was even necessary. While their quality thus far has never disappointed, there’s surely been some fear that this sequel would just be a cash grab and a faint attempt to make the franchise relevant again. Allay those fears—Toy Story 4 is both entertaining and heartfelt. While it may not have quite the gravity of Toy Story 3, this fourth entry raises some remarkably interesting ideas about love of self, love of friends, and self-imposed duty. Woody has earned another chapter, and not one minute of the opportunity is squandered. The journey these characters continue to take is still surprisingly emotional, and audiences will likely feel their hearts swell at just the right moments.
While Toy Story 4 excels at delivering high-quality family fun, some might be wanting more from the legacy characters. Woody plays a prominent role, but Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and even Buzz (Tim Allen) to a certain degree, all have minor roles. Instead, the focus shifts to newcomers such as Forky, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and Bo Peep (Annie Potts)—the latter of whom isn’t a “new” character, but definitely an evolution of how she’s previously been portrayed. Depending on one’s affinity for the old gang, this change might feel like the film is straying too far from the legacy, however, the new toys have a great depth and help give the series fresh life.
Toy Story 4 is a magical film that comes together in unexpected ways. Finding a way to blend the old with the new within a story that feels refreshingly relevant, Toy Story 4 is poised to be both special and memorable.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc.
FINAL GRADE: A
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