“TOY STORY 4” BRINGS NEW ADVENTURES FOR WOODY AND COMPANY
A Film Review by Tim Riley
TOY STORY 4 (Rated G) Launched in 1995, “Toy Story” marked a major milestone in animated moviemaking as the first fully computer-animated feature film. But there’s so much more to the franchise than Pixar’s trailblazing artistic technology. The character-driven franchise hooked audiences young and old to stay attached to the story of beloved toys like the relatable pull-string cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the delusional Space Ranger with an identifiable catchphrase.
That “Toy Story 4” has come to fruition nine years after the third installment is remarkable in that “Toy Story 3” seemed like the end of the line for Woody and company when Andy, heading off for college, no longer needed his toys. Yet, Andy’s handoff of the toys to live with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a young friend of the family, turns out to be, just like in life, a situation where every ending is a new beginning. With Woody and his friends moving on, the transition is a big thematic piece of the fourth chapter. For one thing, Woody, now consigned to the closet, must adapt to a new role but he makes sure to remain very much in the picture. Confident about his place in the world, Woody’s priority is to take care of the young Bonnie, and as she approaches kindergarten with a little apprehension, the cowboy stows away in her backpack so that he may stick by her side.
During the arts and crafts class, Woody retrieves a discarded spork from a trash can that enables Bonnie to shape her own toy, Forky (Tony Hale), by adding googly eyes, pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle stick feet and red wax lips. Well aware of his origin, Forky declares himself trash and not a toy, leading Woody to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy and give up his desire to jump back into the nearest trash receptacle. Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang, including newcomer Forky, accompany Bonnie on a vacation road trip to in the family’s RV to the tourist town of Grand Basin to enjoy the big carnival where plush toys hanging in game booths eventually get liberated.
Before reaching this destination, Forky leaps from the moving RV to escape his newfound role of Bonnie’s toy in search of a trash heap, while Woody, adhering to his self-appointed duty as a protector, sets off in hot pursuit. While Buzz and the other toys fret about losing their friends, Woody and Forky, hiking along a desolate highway, finally catch up to the gang but not without encountering some distractions The tourist town has a secondhand store with a lamp in the window that Woody spots like the one from his former home that was adorned with the porcelain doll Bo Beep (Annie Potts), his long-lost friend.
Slipping into the store through a mail slot, Woody and Forky search for Bo Beep but instead, at first, find a host of other toys, including Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), her creepy ventriloquist dummy henchmen, and daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). A vintage pull-string doll, Gabby Gabby has a manufacturing defect in her voice box that has left her sounding anything but adorable, and hence a toy that would not be invited to be adopted by any child. Gabby proves to be borderline creepy herself when she takes Forky hostage because she has the misguided notion that if she could purloin Woody’s voice box that she would finally get the love and affection of the store owner’s granddaughter.
The antique store is the closest thing to a chamber of horrors for any toy so unfortunate to be trapped by Gabby Gabby and the foreboding ventriloquist dummies who patrol the premises with a looming quietness that is inherently unsettling. Meanwhile, Bo Beep has left the old lamp behind, transforming into an adventurer to enjoy life on her own terms as she rides around in fake skunk mobile with her diminutive sidekick Giggles McDimples (Ally Maki). The reunion between Woody and Bo Beep is arguably the emotional core of the story, where the cowboy stands tall, just like the hero of any Western, and the porcelain doll, unlike a fairy-tale character, is a free spirit whose strength and sarcasm belie her delicate exterior.
The magic of the “Toy Story” franchise comes in large part from the view of the world from a toy’s perspective, with Woody being the wisest one of the bunch and Buzz probably the most comical. Welcome additions to the series include the carnival prize stuffed animals Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Canadian action figure Duke Caboom, who imagines that he has the fearless confidence of doing Evel Knievel-style motorcycle stunts. “Toy Story 4,” perfectly flawless family fare, appears to be likely the franchise’s fitting last chapter suffused with genuine feelings of love, friendship and loyalty that deliver the proper code of a masterfully animated franchise with astonishing heart and soul.