Pixar's Toy Story 4 has heart and humor to spare in one more adventure with Woody and the gang, exploring tough themes through toys new and old.
When it released in 1995, Toy Story was the first movie from the then-fledgling Pixar Animation Studios, which has since grown into a powerhouse in animated films rivaling Disney itself. Though Pixar is well known for its original films, Toy Story is the studio's most venerable property, as a whole generation of kids grew up watching Woody, Buzz and Andy. After Toy Story 2 in 1999, and a concluding chapter in 2010's Toy Story 3, Pixar once again revisits the premise of toys come to life in Toy Story 4. Although Toy Story 3 concluded the story of the toys' time with Andy, the film ended with him passing on his toys to the young Bonnie, and their purpose was renewed. Pixar's Toy Story 4 has heart and humor to spare in one more adventure with Woody and the gang, exploring tough themes through toys new and old.
The movie sees Woody (Tom Hanks) struggling to accept that Bonnie may have already outgrown him, and in an effort to do whatever he can for his kid, he takes on the task of protecting her new favorite toy: Forky (Tony Hale). That's easier said than done, but Woody refuses the help of his fellow toys, like Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack). When Forky escapes out the back of the family's RV while on a road trip, Woody goes after him and they get caught in an antique store by defunct doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). With the help of Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her friends Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), all of whom are toys without kids, Woody sets out to save Forky. He's joined along the way by Buzz and carnival toys Ducky (Keegan Michael-Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele). However, when the mission gets dangerous, the toys must reevaluate the lengths to which they're willing to go to make a kid happy and whether that's compatible with their own happiness.
Scripted by franchise writer Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom (Star Wars Resistance), and directed by Josh Cooley in his feature-length debut, Toy Story 4 is a compelling continuation of the series many thought concluded well enough in Toy Story 3. Like 3, the fourth film deals with the idea of what happens to toys when they're no longer needed by their kids. Toy Story 4 takes it much further to explore how "lost" toys can still lead fulfilling lives - whether that's with one kid or not. A major theme of the film is finding a role that makes the toys happy and fulfilled, and accepting when it may not be the role they envisioned for themselves. Bo has found a life for herself without just one kid, but Woody, Forky and Gabby Gabby all have concrete ideas of what they're meant to be, and they're forced to reexamine whether that's truly what will make them happy. It's a theme that offers a good lesson for the kids in the audience, and will no doubt strike a chord with the adults (something Pixar has always been good in balancing, especially in its Toy Story movies).
But in many ways, Toy Story 4 breaks from the franchise's tradition, focusing more on newer toys than those who made the transition from Andy's room to Bonnie's. Though Toy Story 4 is Woody's tale, and he's joined by his pal Buzz, the other toys are content to belong to Bonnie, whereas Woody is questioning his role in the room. But with the return of Bo, and the introduction of many new toys, this animated world is well filled out. Forky and Duke Caboom steal the show, undoubtedly thanks to the voice performances of Hale and Reeves. Meanwhile, Henricks offers equal parts menace and vulnerability to Gabby Gabby, bringing to life the series' most compelling "villain". Key and Peele are hilarious as Ducky and Bunny, infusing Toy Story 4 with many of its funniest moments. Altogether, Toy Story 4 relies on its newcomers more than its returning cast - with the exception of Hanks and Potts - but it's a cast well suited to making these animated characters shine on screen.
Though there will be Toy Story fans who wonder why Pixar felt the need to continue this franchise beyond what was seemingly meant to be a concluding chapter, Toy Story 4 proves Woody and the gang still have lessons to learn - and still have lessons to teach the audience. Further, it's a real treat to see the world of Toy Story 4 rendered in modern animation, bringing Woody, Forky, Ducky, Bunny and Bonnie to life in stunning detail. Animation has come a long way since 1995, and Pixar proves their skill in this realm once again with Toy Story 4. With a keen eye for detail from director Cooley and a sharply written script by Stanton and Folsom - all of which came up through Pixar - Toy Story 4 is a captivating rumination on discovering our place in the world, wrapped in an exciting adventure about a cowboy toy and his spork friend. That's to say, Toy Story 4 is quintessential Pixar, tackling tough subjects through a lens of levity and real heart.
As such, Toy Story 4 is a must-see for fans of Pixar, especially fans of this franchise - even those who thought Toy Story 3 was the perfect capper to the series. In fact, Toy Story 4 proves to be a much more compelling conclusion, while still leaving the door open for future adventures. Pixar's latest is a wholly fun moviegoing experience for all ages, and at an hour and 40 minutes, it's not overlong even for the most restless of youngsters. In a summer blockbuster season full of movies that don't quite live up to their potential, Toy Story 4 manages to surpass expectations and make an excellent case for why the Toy Story series can, and should, continue on. If you don't think too hard about the implications of a sentient spork, when exactly life begins for a toy and how conscious non-toy items are before the come "alive", then it's easy to sit back and enjoy every hilarious and heartfelt moment of Toy Story 4.
Toy Story 4 is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 100 minutes long and is rated G.
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- Toy Story 4 (2019) release date: Jun 21, 2019