It’s been nearly 25 years since the folks at Pixar first made us fall in love with a clutch of inanimate, children’s playthings in Toy Story. Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang have more character, personality, and conscience than most living, breathing humans, and it’s impossible to resist their charm.
In Toy Story 4 the bulk of the charm is provided by a piece of cheap plastic named Forky. He’s a homemade toy assembled by Bonnie on her first day in kindergarten out of a plastic fork and some craft supplies. “I’m trash,” he declares repeatedly hurling himself into the bin, convinced it’s where he belongs. Crippled by low self-esteem, this neurotic fella steals practically every scene he’s in, delivering plenty laughs as he tries to escape Bonnie’s affectionate clutches.
Bonnie, you might remember, is the happy little girl Andy passed on his beloved toys to before heading off to college at the end of Toy Story 3. It seemed, at the time, like the most satisfying send-off to these characters that we’d come to love over the years; a bittersweet goodbye to an emotional saga.
Which is why you have to wonder if we really needed a new Toy Story film in the first place.
Well, it turns out that four movies in, the Toy Story franchise continues to hit us right in the feels. Toy Story 4 is magical and wondrous, with beautifully rendered animation and heart-tugging emotions. It introduces new characters and bold ideas even as it rehashes some of the things that we most love about these movies.
Toy Story 4 is a road movie whose plot is set into motion when Bonnie takes a trip to a carnival with her parents in a rented RV, the toys in tow. The story follows a well-known rhythm, with the toys once again separated from their child. There are daring rescues of ‘lost’ friends, seemingly innocent toys with sinister intentions, confidence-lacking characters who just need to be told that they’re special, and the threat of being no longer loved and needed like new toys are.
Yes, we’ve been through these beats before, but the filmmakers somehow manage to infuse the familiar with the fresh. In this case, it’s the setting where much of the adventure unfolds – a gorgeously realized antique shop whose shelves packed with vintage artefacts hide some dark secrets. There’s also a bunch of new characters in addition to Forky – a chatty baby doll named Gabby Gabby who’s got a broken voice box, a group of creepy-looking ventriloquist dummies, a highly entertaining motorcycle stunt-driver named Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), and my favorites, a pair of smart-talking soft toys Ducky and Bunny, who get some of the best moments including a hilarious end-credits sequence that you must stay for.
Also crucial to the plot is old favourite Woody, through whom the filmmakers reiterate the overarching themes of the Toy Story franchise – loyalty, sacrifice, and a toy’s real purpose. Tom Hanks continues to invest Woody with that earnest ‘Everytoy’ quality which makes him so darn lovable and relatable. It’s no spoiler to reveal that Woody’s old love, porcelain doll Bo Peep also returns for this outing. It’s Buzz Lightyear, however, such a beloved character in the earlier films, who’s relegated to the sidelines, as if he were an afterthought.