‘Toy Story 4’ Review: One More Time With Feeling

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too excited for another Toy Story film. After the near-perfect ending to the “trilogy” in Toy Story 3, making a fourth film felt more of a superfluous cash grab than anything. It would effectively trash the perfect ending and cause unnecessary problems for the 24-year-old franchise. Boy, was I wrong. Toy Story 4 is not only the perfect epilogue to the first three films; it might even be the best Toy Story film of them all.

I was one of the millions of fans who found themselves an emotional wreck after Toy Story 3. I’ve still, to this day, never watched it a second time, as I’m not emotionally able to do so. In a way, I dreaded seeing Toy Story 4, as it would tarnish the lasting impact that the last film had on me. But that’s not the case at all. Toy Story 4 is as much funny as Toy Story 3 was emotional. I laughed and laughed here, and not just for the inside jokes, of which there are many, but because the script is well-written and the characters seem more alive than ever.

After all this time, we know these guys. We know what makes them tick. We know their motivations. Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Jesse (Joan Cusack) and the rest are all a part of us in one way or another. For almost 25 years, this group has been a part of us all, and that’s why Toy Story 4 works.

The Toy Story 4 gang

This installment opens with the moment years ago when the group of toys lost Bo Peep (Annie Potts) to another family. That moment still haunts Woody, as Bo was his true love. In the present, the toys all play their roles in Bonnie’s (Madeliene McGraw) imagination now; and most couldn’t be happier. The melding of the two toy groups — Bonnie’s and Andy’s — has created some interesting dynamics, and Woody is no longer the alpha toy. And he’s okay with it as long as Bonnie is happy. Or so he thinks.

When it comes time for Bonnie to start kindergarten, she’s not allowed to bring any toys, but that doesn’t stop Woody from stowing away in her backpack anyway. At school, he sees her struggling to make friends, so she creates one out of items in the trash. Enter: Forky (Tony Hale), her new toy and friend, made from a spork, some pipe cleaner, and a popsicle stick ends for feet.

Forky has some identity issues, which are mined for laughs, and Woody takes it upon himself to protect the newest toy, since Bonnie relies on it as her friend. This leads to chaos as the family takes an end-of summer road trip and Woody has to keep constant eye on Forky.

Meet Forky!

On this trip, Woody and Forky get separated from the group — of course — and have to work together to get back. Here they stumble upon an antique shop, an old friend, and a few toys begging to be loved, triggering an all new adventure.

Toy Story 4 is, by far, the funniest of all the Toy Story movies. I was belly laughing throughout the film, but none more than when Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) appeared onscreen. This Canadian toy, which resembles the old Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle toy I had as a kid, is a perfect addition to the group and his personality meshes well with the others.

In fact, for the first time ever, Star Wars figures are shown, as the 1977 Kenner Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ponda “Walrus Man” Baba are featured in a toy nightclub scene. Yes, old Ben Kenobi and Walrus Man are in a seedy toy bar in Toy Story 4. The inside joke is brilliant and was not lost on this geek.

The script by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, based on a story by the two along with John Lassiter, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, and Rashida Jones, never lets up with the humor, and by the time we’re introduced to Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), two carnival toys looking for a kid to love them, a whole new vein of comedy emerges to be tapped.

Duke Caboom steals the show

But this is a Toy Story film and as the adventure comes to an end, the drama kicks in with some very emotional scenes. These scenes were not as devastating as in the last film, but tears did flow again, and the true purpose of Toy Story 4 becomes evident. This was always a trilogy of films, and this fourth film serves as the epilogue, to end the story on a perfect note as it brings the characters full circle without spoiling the set up of the last film.

It is sheer brilliance and I can admit that I was wrong. This journey needed one more film to complete the saga, and Disney*Pixar delivered.

Toy Story 4 is one of those films that we didn’t think we needed, but are much better off for watching it. The film brings to a close almost 25 years of zany toy-based adventures, and it goes out with the funniest, most poignant notes of the franchise.

I hope now that Disney will let the series end for good, because this sense of closure is what all storytellers seek when they bring their stories to the end. I’ve loved these characters and these films for over half my life, and Toy Story 4 is the emotional, heartfelt, and funny ending I’ve always hoped for.

Toy Story 4 is rated G and is in theaters now.

Toy Story 4 is now in theaters
out of 5

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