How many really good fourth movies are there? After STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME and, depending on your 80s tolerance, ROCKY IV, I’m drawing a blank. TOY STORY 4 did not need to be a thing, and yet it I can’t deny that it more than justifies its existence.
When Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) creates a new friend from trash at her first day of kindergarten, it’s up to Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang to teach Forky (Tony Hale) the joys of being a toy. But Forky’s escape attempt during a family road trip leads Woody to question his own place in the world and to reconnect with an old flame.
It might be because it’s more explicit this time round, or maybe I was just too young when I watched the other films, but I’d never really appreciated the toys as parents message before. The toys see their role as supporting their kids, being there for them whenever they need them and for as long as they need them.
I would have never expected a character determined to kill himself to be central in a Toy Story movie. Forky, who from the first teaser trailer looked like a cynical, even lazy creation, is a master stroke. Anything can become a toy if a kid plays with it (I for one was particularly beguiled by empty cardboard boxes and saucepans as a small child) but given sentience, would every object be able to cope with the sudden responsibility of emotional attachment? Forky has an existential crisis when he is no longer thought of as disposable (his favourite thing to say for much of the film is a hopeful “Trash?”). He can’t do his job once well and then sleep forever in the comforting trash: more is expected of him, and he didn’t ask for this.
Woody is again acknowledged as an antique toy, making you wonder how many more Andys there were he perhaps can’t remember anymore. Do toys have perfect recall or do their memories fade and go fuzzy just like ours? Does whatever magic that brings these toys and utensils to life wear off or are they cursed to be alone when their loved ones move on?
A good chunk of the film takes place in a shop called Second Chance Antiques. How on the nose can you get? I also can’t think of a quicker route straight to the heartstrings (that unwanted toy gathering dust is *sob* going to get another chance at being loved). It’s a literal jumble of interesting and mundane objects and the setting allows for talented animated to invent imaginative chase scenes and hide in-jokes in the background.
There’s a fair amount of disturbing horror imagery in the shape of our antagonists, a doll and her retinue of four antique ventriloquist dummies. Scares are not alien to this franchise – just look at Sid and his Franken-toys in the first TOY STORY – but it may catch some younger viewers (and their parents) off-guard. Speaking of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), you’re gearing yourself up for a Stinky Pete or Lotso-style twist and they refreshingly go in a completely different direction.
It’s Hanks’s movie, mainly Woody’s emotional arc. Tim Allen given noticeably less to do as Buzz, usually just acting as a punchline (was Buzz always this stupid?). I loved Bo Peep-as-Sarah Conner from T2. Annie Potts gives the most layered performance of the ensemble and makes you regret her absence from much of the series. Keanu Reeves gamely sends himself up as Canadian daredevil Duke Kaboom (“Yes…I…Canada!”)
Besides all the usual Pixar big-heartedness, there’s some good one-liners, well-timed slapstick and running gags. There’s an unexpectedly dark suggestion of how to delay Bonnie’s family leaving to give Woody and Forky chance to get back: “Let’s frame the dad and send him to jail!”, new double-act toys Bunny and Ducky (Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele) have a creative solution to every challenging situation that comes their way and the third of a trio of “Combat Carls” (all voiced by an appropriate Carl Weathers) is always left hanging in the celebratory high-five stakes.
The ending to Toy Story 4 may not be as pitch-perfect as those that came before, may not be as much of an outright “weepie” but the implications of it all, where and how we’re leaving these characters has a time delay: it may well floor you by the time you get back home. They’ve tied up this story in an incredibly satisfying manner once again, that is until they come up with an idea for TOY STORY 5 in another ten years. SSP