After creating what many critics have called one of the best film trilogies ever made, why would Disney/Pixar go about creating yet another chapter to the Toy Story franchise? While it may appear to be a simple cash grab, it seems like the animation crew had one more story to tell after all and boy am I glad that they did.
Except for that rather frightening burning furnace scene near the end, Toy Story 3 wrapped up everything nicely. The toys had successfully been moved to Bonnie’s home, Buzz and Jessie started a new romance and everyone was happy. But one character was missing: Bo Peep. In Toy Story 4, we not only learn what happened to the porcelain lamp figurine, but we get re-introduced to the character in her triumphant return to the screen.
The movie starts out with Bonnie’s Kindergarten orientation day and she’s scared to death. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is worried for the girl and wants to go along to help her get through the day. Dolly (Bonnie Hunt) tries her best to get him to relax knowing that Bonnie will do just fine. She’s also observed that Bonnie is choosing to not play with Woody more and more in recent weeks being kept in the closet with the “old” toys. He doesn’t know what to do with himself without caring a child. Against Dolly’s wishes, Woody smuggles his way into Bonnie’s backpack and away he goes.
At the new school, Bonnie tries to make human friends, but fails. However, she ends up creating a new friend out of trash including a spork. Thrilled with her creation, Bonnie call’s him “Forky,” writes her name on one of his “feet,” (meaning that she is his owner) and just like that, a new toy comes to life.
Bonnie returns home happier than when she left, but Forky is completely confused. Woody tries to explain that Forky is no longer trash, but a new toy and has a much bigger purpose in life. This is overwhelming to the little spork (Tony Hale) who wants to make a run for it. (Of course, this sounds like a metaphor for when Christ made us a new creation and we didn’t know how to handle it before the truth set in.)
Since Bonnie’s school doesn’t begin for another week, her parents decide to go on a road trip. Bonnie packs up all of her toys, including Forky whom she has become strangely attached to. But Forky isn’t buying this whole “you are now a toy” thing and makes a run for it. Of course, Woody goes after him with the goal of bringing the plasticware back into the fold meeting them at a local campground. This is when Woody sort of bumps into Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and finds out how this “fragile” character has been able to take care of herself on her own. No longer content to just stand by and watch her life go by, Bo Peep explains to Woody that she loves her new life unattached to any family. Woody can’t understand how she can go about without caring for a kid and though she is reluctant, he convinces her to help him get Forky back to his owner.
While Toy Story 4 is practically perfect, its drawback is that it features way too many new characters and the other characters that we know and love are reduced to saying a few one-liner here and there. However, the new characters are great. Some appear to be sinister until we get to know them better. Others are just thrown in just for comedy. These new characters include Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a doll who’s never had an owner; Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), two carnival prizes waiting to “get a kid” to go home with; Giggles McDimples (Ally Maki), Bo Peep’s own sidekick and Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), Canada’s answer to the American Evel Knievel.
Like the films that came before it, Toy Story 4 may resonate more with adults than kids with its empty nest themes. However, it does so without sacrificing a fun, adventurous story that is just as funny as the previous movies. Chapter 4 is also one of the few family films to be released with an actual “G” rating proving once again that Hollywood can create great tales without a lot of violence or crude humor. There isn’t anything remotely scary and while it manages to pull a few heartstrings, you won’t be overcome with emotion either. Just like finding that hidden sleeve of Girl Scout cookies in the back of the freezer, Toy Story 4 is something you didn’t know you needed until you found it.
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.