Toy Story 4 is the 1 hour & 40 minute epilogue to Toy Story 3. If there’s any Pixar sequel I was against from the very beginning, it was Toy Story 4. There’s never been a more perfect trilogy than the Toy Story trilogy. Pixar’s crowning jewel and poster child. Toy Story 4 is what I like to call the “fatal fourth.” An unnecessary 4th installment in an already wrapped up trilogy. It took 15 years for Toy Story 3 to pick up where Toy Story 2 left off. Despite everything that happened since then, it managed to be a heartfelt conclusion that gave every toy a time to shine. Toy Story 4 was really more of a tag on that was made for money and nostalgia purposes.
Former Disney & Pixar head John Lasseter or director Josh Cooley can claim that it wasn’t, but did it really deserve to win Best Animated Feature compared to more adventurous Oscar nominees? Toy Story 4 asks questions about toys that become far more philosophical. Despite my frequent objections, I was still drawn back as a 24 year old longtime Toy Story fan. My entire family went to see Toy Story 3 (and Incredibles 2), but Toy Story 4 didn’t feel like a big enough event. So my brother and I instead decided to see it with our mom. As a tribute to when she took us to see Toy Story 2 20 years ago. More than anything else, we found it to be really funny. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of its emotional core…
Toy Story 4, for whatever reason, has no short film attached to it. 24 years of filmmaking and I’m still in awe of the stellar computer animation Pixar has made since Toy Story. The detail is so excessive that you can see the toys every stitch, scratch, and thread with a magnifying glass. I don’t know how you could possibly top something like that. Not to mention how much better humans look with each passing film. Every new location is beautifully animated and so impressive that it’s really what makes Toy Story 4 worth the experience. Toy Story 4 was made in response to Rex mentioning Bo Peep as one of the toys who’s been given away since Andy grew up. If there’s anything that cooled my criticism for a 4th installment, it was my need to see Woody reunite with his true love. The entire respectable cast of aging celebrities reunites, but it was far from the first time since Toy Story 3.
Pixar kind of went overboard with continuations. Whether it was theatrical Toy Story Toons like Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex or TV specials like Toy Story of Terror! and Toy Story That Time Forgot. Each one a lighthearted visit with the characters that offered greater insight into other parts of the toy world. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Estelle Harris, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Timothy Dalton, and Jeff Garlin all return, but sadly Don Rickles passed away before recording anything. So they instead made use of archive recordings. Since Bo Peep was now a major character, Annie Potts returned for the first time in 20 years. Just like everyone else, her voice had noticeably aged. Which is once again okay considering toys age on the inside instead of the outside.
Toy Story 4 hits its nostalgia mark by beginning at Andy’s house when he was still a kid. Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Jessie work with Bo Peep to rescue RC from a rainstorm. Together with Barbies and a barrel of monkeys, they rescue their fellow toy. Unfortunately, it’s at that moment that a friend of Andy’s mom shows up to take Molly’s Bo Peep lamp. Woody contemplates going with her, but they instead have a tearful goodbye. Cue the obligatory “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” opening credits. This time it’s Andy playing with the toys in a montage that recaps Andy giving his toys to Bonnie and her growing up with them. Only Andy’s design is practically unrecognizable for some reason. Although the Toy Story movies have always been either buddy or ensemble pictures, Toy Story 4 is entirely Woody’s story. To the point Hamm, Rex, Slinky, Bullseye, the aliens, and especially Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head have almost nothing to do. Even Dolly, Trixie, Buttercup, and Mr. Pricklepants are rarely used. Sometimes it feels like they’re coming up with any excuse to keep Buzz & Jessie relevant to the story.
Toy Story 4 is about Woody realizing he’s no longer the favorite with Bonnie not even playing with him anymore. Which seriously undermines the touching speech Andy made to Bonnie at the end of Toy Story 3. It feels so disrespectful and out of nowhere that I kind of don’t even like Bonnie anymore. Bonnie puts Woody’s badge on Jessie and leaves him to collect dust in the closet. Along with other aging toys like Old Timer. As well as Bonnie’s toddler toys Melephant Brooks, Chairol Burnett, Bitey White, and Carl Reineroceros who are all voiced by their legendary namesakes. When Bonnie gets anxious about going to kindergarten, Woody stows away in her backpack. Unknowingly helping her cope with her first day. Woody pulls art supplies out of the trash and Bonnie makes a new friend out of a plastic spork, gum, plasticine, a popsicle stick, a pipe cleaner, and googly eyes named Forky. I swear Pixar is trolling us at this point. Going so far as to give a spork emotion. Another question that Toy Story 4 sort of addresses is what makes a toy a toy. My theory of a child’s imagination seems to be correct.
Forky is a panicky spork voiced by Tony Hale who faces an existential crisis. He thinks he’s trash, but Woody makes it his mission to make sure he stays with Bonnie. Bonnie’s father makes his first appearance when he takes Bonnie and her mother on a vacation in an RV. Forky’s limited understanding of the world and constantly trying to throw himself away is really funny. Randy Newman of course returned to score and write the catchy song “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away.” So Newman’s had a song nominated from every Toy Story movie. When the job becomes too much, Woody has a heart to heart with his best friend. Only Buzz for whatever reason mistakes a conscience for his voice box. Alerting them to Forky as he throws himself out of the RV. Woody goes after Forky with the intention of meeting everyone else at an upcoming stop. While dragging Forky, Woody tells him all about the joy of being a toy. Including one of several references to previous movies. Forky accepts his place as Bonnie’s toy, but Woody sidetracks them when he spots Bo’s lamp in an antique store window. I can appreciate the level of detail in Second Chance Antiques since my parents are antique dealers.
While searching for Bo, Woody & Forky encounter the villain of the movie. A Chatty Cathy type doll named Gabby Gabby voiced by Christina Hendricks. She gets around with a stroller pushed by creepy ventriloquist dummies. As she talks to Woody, she makes it clear that she needs his voice box in order to fix her broken one. When her Dummies get grabby grabby, Gabby Gabby has them take it by force. They only succeed in taking Forky. Leaving Woody in the hands of the shop owner’s granddaughter Harmony. It’s at that moment in a park amongst lost toys that an inanimate Woody finally reunites with Bo Peep. One thing I definitely wasn’t expecting was her taking on a more adventurous look as opposed to her frilly dress. Bo now has a bow, pants, a cape, and her trusty crook that PETA complained about. The time between her last appearance also meant minor improvements to her porcelain appearance. Her three headed sheep are also given more attention and the names Billy, Goat, and Gruff.
In the time since Bo was given away, she’s had her lamp passed around from child to child until she wound up in the antique store. Her whole story can be seen in the Disney+ short Lamp Life. Bo was never all that deep of a character. Spending most of her appearances flirting with and caring for Woody. There’s no way she could have survived the physicality of Toy Story 3, so it’s ironic that they found a way to make her so adventurous. It just feels like a drastic character change at times. Woody & Bo awkwardly embrace and she introduces him to her new friends. Every new toy in the movie was likely chosen from a list of toys that hadn’t been covered yet. Ally Maki voices Giggle McDimples, a Polly Pocket type cop and Bo’s closest friend. A clever bit of continuity is a set of Combat Carl toys voiced again by Carl Weathers. They’re lost toys just like Bo. Who gets around with a skunk race car and hops around from park to park. A carnival is the main backdrop for the action.
Bo agrees to help Woody get Forky back, meanwhile the toys look to Buzz for leadership. He decides to go after Woody using the ridiculous inner voice thing from earlier. Except most of Buzz’s phrases were never even heard before. Buzz flies with the aid of rides, but a carny with a Pizza Planet truck tattoo makes him a prize in a carnival game with a pair of prizes named Ducky & Bunny. A couple of joined stuffed animals voiced by Key & Peele. Like their show, they’re definitely the funniest toys in the movie (especially with their daydreams), but their brand of humor doesn’t feel right for the franchise. Their insult comedy felt like it took too many shots at beloved characters. Buzz escapes, but is chased by the toys who just want a kid. Back at the RV, Jessie flattens the tires to buy some time. Buzz reunites with Bo and Ducky & Bunny join the makeshift group. The plan is to get to Forky in Gabby’s china cabinet, get the key from the owner, and avoid the perfectly rendered cat. Although it turns out Gabby is just misunderstood. Confiding in Forky that she just wants to be loved by Harmony.
Woody puts Bo’s sheep in danger, so she goes to another toy for help in jumping the gap between the cabinet. People’s favorite Keanu Reeves voices Duke Caboom. A Canadian stuntman based on Evel Knievel stunt toys. Duke is another highlight due to his tragic past with his former kid. SPOILER ALERT! The stunt works out, but everyone leaves when rescuing Forky puts everyone else at risk. Leading to Woody being constantly told he’s wrong for holding onto to the past. A problem that goes with a lack of villains. Since it makes the hero look bad. Gabby convinces Woody to give his voice box to her and it practically destroys me to see Woody without his trademark pullstring. Woody finds Bonnie’s backpack that Buzz was trying to mention, but stays to help Gabby when she’s rejected.
Bo returns too when she realizes Woody’s need to help toys is right. The rest of the toys comically redirect Bonnie’s parents to the carnival, Duke believes in himself enough to make a major jump, and Gabby is stopped by another girl. A lost child that gives her a happy ending. The RV’s awning bridges the gap between toys, but Woody has conflicting emotions. What was supposed to be the peak tear worthy moment of the franchise, didn’t make me cry one bit. I saw Woody & Buzz parting ways coming from a mile away. Woody gives his badge to Jessie and stays lost with Bo. Tearfully saying goodbye to his best friend. Emotional sure, but the whole movie tries too hard to be emotional. So Toy Story 3 is still the perfect ending for me. Toy Story 4 is a commendable addition to the franchise, but I can take it or leave it “To Infinity and Beyond.”
Preceded by: Toy Story 3