Toy Story 4 review: 'Rarely makes the mistake of trading on past glories'
Woody and friends have survived just about every woe that can befall a toy at this stage.
Over the last 24 years they’ve coped with sadistic children and the arrival of messianic interlopers (Toy Story), abductions and yard sales (Toy Story 2), and of course abandonment (Toy Storys 1, 2, 3 and 4). They’d survive the flood, this lot, and pity the poor writers tasked with picking up the reins of perhaps the most beloved franchise of them all, the one that got Pixar started, the jewel of many a childhood.
Andrew Stanton has been with these characters from the start, and on this film he and co-writer Stephany Folsom have found clever ways to invigorate their story, and possibly even bring it to a close.
At the end of Toy Story 3 (2010), Andy passed his toys on to his winsome little sister Bonnie, who took them to her heart. All has been well, but when Bonnie begins attending kindergarten a new threat presents itself.
She comes home from her first day with a new toy fashioned from pipe cleaners and a plastic fork. She calls it Forky, but it’s not best pleased to find out it’s come to life as a toy. So far as Forky’s concerned he’s a disposable implement, and provides an amusing suicidal subtext by constantly trying to throw himself in the bin. Before he can, though, Bonnie’s parents announce that they’re going on a road trip in an RV. All the toys will go with her, and while Woody (Tom Hanks) orders everyone to keep an eye on Forky, it’s not long before he goes missing.
When Woody goes after him, they end up in a strange antique shop, where a vintage doll called Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) tells Woody a sob story about never having been loved by a child. She may have an agenda, and meanwhile Woody runs into his old friend Bo (Annie Potts), who was given away by Bonnie’s mom a few years earlier and is now living wild as a free toy.
Woody is tempted by this invigorating new life, but must come to Forky’s aid when he’s kidnapped by Gabby Gabby and her sinister doll henchmen. Bonnie, meanwhile, is wondering where all her toys have gone, and her parents are itching to leave town.
The Toy Story films run to a carefully crafted recipe, and writers must tread a fine line between innovation and tradition. All the old familiar voices are present here, with Wallace Shawn, Joan Cusack and John Ratzenburger returning as Rex, Jessie and Ham. Buzz of course is also involved, but noticeably less prominent than usual. Could this have anything to do with the bizarre recent pronouncements of Tim Allen? He’s a vocal Trump supporter, and a couple of years back compared life as a Republican in Hollywood to being Jewish in 1930s Germany. Oops.
Buzz does come to the rescue late on, but is mostly consigned to the wings while Woody and Forky (nicely voiced by Tony Hale) drive the story. Their adventure in the antique shop is very nicely handled: Gabby Gabby’s underlings are like those creepy dolls from the horror films, and as they escort Woody into her presence a passing gramophone plays music from The Shining.
Perhaps the film’s most winning vocal performance comes from Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a daredevil motorbike toy and presumably Canada’s answer to Evil Knievel, who talks a good game but is plagued by nagging self-doubts that are illustrated in a hilarious backflash.
The reimagined Bo is less demure and lady-like than previously, and now seems more like Lara Croft than a shepherdess. This nod to the #MeToo movement is playful rather than heavy-handed, however, and Toy Story 4’s script has a light and subtle touch. It’s a good deal funnier than Toy Story 3, and rarely makes the mistake of trading on past glories. There are some lovely moments, particularly a soulful sequence in which Woody dispenses some much-needed worldly wisdom to Forky while they wander down a lonely, moonlight country road looking like something out of Waiting for Godot.
One takes the voice work of Tom Hanks for granted in these films, but he is their heart and soul and is quite superb here as a stuffed cowboy who’s running out of road. The film’s finale suggests this might indeed be the end for Woody, Buzz and the gang, and if so it would be an entirely appropriate one. But Disney and Pixar might be loathe to close the lid on this illustrious franchise, so don’t be shocked if plans are announced for a Toy Story 5.
Read more: Toy Story: How Apple boss Steve Jobs almost pulled the plug on Pixar’s first success
Making Toy Story 4 was lonely but sent me back in time, says Tom Hanks
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